Mark Kermode Interview: Soundracks, Atonal Squonkfests, And His New Empire Column

by Chris Hewitt | The Doctor is in. Mark Kermode — broadcaster, critic, world leading authority on The Exorcist, and owner of the best quiff in show business — is also a massive fan of, and expert on, movie soundtracks. And he’s bringing that expertise to a brand-new column in Empire, starting with our May issue (on sale March 18 in all good and evil newsagents). The column, an expansion of Kermode’s weekly soundtrack show on Scala Radio, will see him put together a very special playlist every month. We caught up with him recently to witter about entertainment of the audio variety.

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Tell us about the monthly playlist you’re putting together for Empire readers, Mark.I’ve been doing a show every week on film soundtracks. It’s every Saturday between one and three, and it’s a show of film soundtracks. And what I’m doing with the column is that every month I’m putting together a playlist which will be on a subject. The subject will be as random as the stuff we do on the show, so it can range from a seasonal thing, like summertime hits or baseball blockbusters, to whistling soundtracks by Ennio Morricone. We did a thing about soundtracks that have people playing typewriters on them. You’d be surprised, there’s more than you might think.

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Sounds like an eclectic mix.

Well, another thing we did was soundtracks with whistling in them. I’m a big fan of atonal squonkfests. It’s eclectic stuff — that means anything from electronica like the Bebe and Louie Barron soundtrack for Forbidden Planet, which literally is electronic noise, or the soundtrack to Eraserhead, which I always kind of really loved, but is the kind of thing that Peter Strickland might put on of an evening. And then things like the Cavern Of Anti-Matter soundtrack to In Fabric, or the Blanck Mass soundtrack for Calm With Horses, which was my favourite soundtrack of last year.

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Where did the love of soundtracks start for you?

Soundtracks has always been my big love. That’s where I first got into [film]. And the great thing is that we’re able to play a really diverse range of music. We try and mix it up. We strive to not just play a bunch of male composers, we foreground women composers. The very first programme we ever was an International Women’s Day programme.

Soundtracks has always been my big love. That’s where I first got into film.

The first column you’re doing for Empire is about Ennio Morricone, isn’t it?

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Yes. When Ennio Morricone died, we played a whole bunch of Morricone soundtracks and we’ve kept doing that ever since because there are so many. I’ll be looking to choose some of the Morricone stuff you wouldn’t immediately think of. One of the things we do on the show is a segment called ‘Great Score, Shame About The Film’. And one of my favourite Morricone scores is the score for Exorcist II: The Heretic, which some people will know because it turns up in The Hateful Eight, in the bit with the horses going through the snow. That’s Regan’s floating theme from Exorcist II, which is literally the worst film ever made by anyone. But it’s an absolutely wonderful piece of music.

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I remember going down a rabbit hole when Morricone died. Soundtrack after soundtrack, all of them gems.

That phrase is exactly the point. When you go down that rabbit hole you find, ‘oh, he did something for Friedkin’. He did things you’ve completely forgotten about. That’s what’s fascinating about him is that his productivity was astonishing. When did he sleep?

Perhaps he composed while he was asleep.

Maybe. But it’s also been really nice, because we’ve been able to play things on the show like a bit of Morricone, and then segue into Riz Ortolani’s score for Cannibal Holocaust, which is a beautiful score. It’s a classic case of ‘horrible film, but what a lovely score’. And then you’ve got the Scala audience listening to the soundtrack of Cannibal Holocaust. People send me emails saying, ‘should I watch the film?’

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One last thing before we let you go. Welcome to Empire, Mark.I’m really chuffed about it. Empire is the biggest movie magazine in the world, so I’m really delighted. I’m one of those people who never corrects Wikipedia because that way madness lies. But every now and then I look at Wikipedia, and it’s been saying for ages that I write for Empire magazine. I don’t, but now it’s right.
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