Coming Of Age
Critiquing a critic critiquing a spectrum of film genres sounds like an odd choice for a review. Mark Kermode’s Secrets Of Cinema is BBC4’s latest documentary series that takes us on a historical journey through some of cinema’s most beloved genres, picking out key films or more popular, recent choices in that genre’s history, discussing their influence on cinema and how they tie in to the history of film.
Secrets Of Cinema begins each of its five episodes the same way; a brief montage of films from that chosen genre is followed by British film critic Mark Kermode narrating the series as he discusses key themes and techniques used to make these films so endearing and just how and why they stand the test of time. Each genre is broken up into 5 key components for the episode and these vary from sci-fi’s various characters including robots and aliens, through to The Romcom and the five key stages of every story therein.
While the structure of each episode works well, the choice of film Mark uses sometimes undermines the genre conventions he discusses in meticulous detail. Seeing groundbreaking films like The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey discussed with the same lavish praise as something like The Last Jedi (without a single mention of The Empire Strikes Back) only further illustrates how creatively starved big, blockbuster films have become compared to their historical alternatives. It’s worth noting too that Secrets Of Cinema only really discusses mainstream films while ignoring a lot of Indie or low-budget films. With a title like “Secrets Of Cinema” it almost feels like a missed opportunity that relatively unknown titles weren’t included within this documentary series.
Having said that, the series works as a celebratory documentary, shedding light on some interesting thematic, technical and visual tricks used to make these films so appealing. While you’re unlikely to become an expert in film or learn anything profound that’ll change the way you view films after watching this, the series does do a good job keeping things entertaining and the rapid editing between films showcases a vast range of different mainstream titles.
Perhaps somewhat controversially, this series does pale in comparison to some excellent video essays on Youtube from amateur critics. As a starting point, this is a great series to dive into to get an overview of cinema and genres but for those looking for something more in-depth or intellectually stimulating, various channels on Youtube do an excellent job dissecting and examining conventions in films in exhaustive detail which we would absolutely recommend checking out if you’ve been inspired to look into this subject more following Mark’s brief history depicted here.
How much you’ll enjoy Mark Kermode’s Secrets Of Cinema really depends on your knowledge and experience with cinema as a whole. Those completely enthused with film and its various conventions will find this a relatively brief and underwhelming series that fails to scratch the itch it creates through its intriguing premise. As an introductory entry point to the history of film, this series does a great job filling that void but some questionable modern film choices and a lack of deep discussion on the changing face of modern cinema makes this a somewhat lacking documentary series.
With a second season and a couple of episodes dedicated to the changing mood and attitude toward cinema and how that translates to the big screen, Secrets Of Cinema could be a really fascinating and endearing series long-term but there just isn’t enough here in this five episode season to make this as interesting and endearing as it so easily could have been.