Tuesday, 20 April 2010

An Interview with Kim Newman

Kim Newman ladies and gentlemen.


Author of non-fiction works including "Horror: The Complete Guide to the Cinema of Fear", "Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema" and editor of the BFI companion to horror cinema. He's also written more non-fiction books than I have read (not really but you get the idea) and he is a journalist for Empire magazine.

To say that Kim Newman knows about film is like saying The Smiths are the greatest English band of all time...it's a fact and you can't convince me of anything otherwise (although Kim does make a compelling case for the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band). Imagine my surprise then when this luminary of the British film world agreed to an interview for this tatty blog...you can't imagine it, trust me, I was more surprised than at any other time in my adult life. Having regained my compusure I settled down with Kim to probe him to within an inch of his life. That's not true, I emailed him some fairly silly questions and he sent a reply back but I'm trying to give the impression that I'm a proper journalist here, cut me some slack.

I really like "The Exorcist" Kim. I know it's a bit Kermode Fan Boy but I really do like it. If I could wake up tomorrow and be a character from any horror film it would be Father Karras. Like him I've lost my faith and I understand that internal struggle that defines him and his actions in the film (pretentious, moi?). What about you? Which character from horror cinema would you like to be and which character from any genre most resembles the "real" Kim Newman?

"I don’t know if I’d want to be a character in a horror film – you basically get a choice between monster and victim. Even stalwart heroes suffer ordeals you wouldn’t really enjoy. I might enjoy, say, Dr Phibes’ resources and interior decoration, but no one would want to be him. The character in fiction I most identify with is probably Philip Marlowe."

Did you catch that people? I tried to come over all knowledgable and intelligent in an attempt to impress you and Mr Newman...what did he do? He topped me. Not only did he top me he did so without being a pretentious oaf like me. He cut right to the heart of the horror genre and didn't leave me looking a bit daft. That's Kim Newman right there for you...a man who knows his stuff and doesn't mind letting you know it but who never does so in a way that makes you look foolish. Brilliant.

I was in a band once. We were called "This Years Model". We were rubbish but I had convinced myself that I was only weeks away from becoming the new Morrissey. One afternoon the guitarist and bassist summoned me to a band meeting and dumped me. They threw me aside Kim, like a used something or other and then moved on with their lives like adults. I, on the other hand, have held a grudge ever since. I still loathe them as much today as I did then...sixteen long years ago. I will never forgive them. Enemies then, enemies now and enemies tomorrow. We all have people like that in our lives though, don't we? So, which method for disposing of an enemy in film would you employ?

"If I have enemies (I probably do), I tend to ignore them. Offhand, I can’t think of a movie which features that as a method of murder."

Damn it. Not only is he movie literate he is also too nice to harbour grudges and want to put his enemies through some awful "Saw" like torture. This all seems a bit too good to be true. Surely it can't just be me who is bitter, twisted and unfulfilled in life?

Wikipedia (I know, I know) says that a recurring theme in your work (and I happen to agree) is your fondness for "reinterpreting historical figures" then placing them in new settings...which character from cinema, that you may not have used in this way, would you like to take and place in an alternate setting and what would that setting be?

"I suspect I’ve already done that a little too often. A few notions of mine that have never made it anywhere near being actual stories … what if a cryo-frozen Walt Disney woke up in the future of Buck Rogers? (Eric Brown did a defrosted Walt story, which went in a different direction – but was enough to make me not think much more about this nebulous idea) … and what would happen in a Nazis-won-the-war timeline to the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce 1940s versions of Holmes-and-Watson from the Universal pictures? (I had a notion about the murder of a victorious Hitler and Holmes being hauled out of an internment camp to solve it – it’s still on the drawing board along with a few other things I’m unlikely actually to write). Me, Neil Gaiman and Eugene Byrne once wrote a story (an offcut from a humour piece which is around as ‘Culprits’) about Sergeant Bilko in Vietnam, which was sort of funny (I remember Ernie raffled off a seat on the last plane out of Saigon before the fall and won it himself, and Doberman freaked out on LSD and ran a motor pool in Cambodia beyond the reach of the Geneva Convention)."

That answer, readers, is the reason why Kim Newman is who he is and is where he is...you won't get anywhere in life unless you can imagine Bilko in 'Nam. Forget exam results, working hard and impressing your boss...you need to have the sort of demented imagination that comes up with that sort of concept if you want to be happy and make others happy.

I've decided to stop trying to be more interesting than Kim with my questions and just settle for enjoying his answers. Dial-a-cliche now then, what was the first film you saw in the cinema?

"When I was four or five (in 1964), my parents took my younger sister and me to see First Men in the Moon (here), the Nathan Juran-Ray Harryhausen-Nigel Kneale-HG Wells film, at the Classic, Brixton (now, I think, the Ritzy). Sasha, my sister, had a crying fit and we had to leave. I was annoyed and pestered my parents to take me back again to see the end of the film (as was common then, we’d come in after the main feature had started and expected to see the whole program until ‘where we came in’ – I think the first film image I saw was the Cavour ball tumbling through space). One or other of them took me (but not Sasha) to see the program from the beginning. So, the first film I saw at a cinema – probably the first film I saw, since we didn’t have a television set until later that year – was not First Men in the Moon, but the supporting feature. For years, I remembered a desert setting and a blonde heroine, and thought it was A Twist of Sand with Honor Blackman (here) but the dates didn’t fit (that came out in 1968). I just did an internet search, and it looks as though the film was East of Sudan (here), also directed by Juran and released by Columbia in the UK in the same month with Sylvia Sims (and Jenny Agutter). I suppose I should track it down and confirm that."

Thank you for taking the time to talk and for talking so fabulously!

Kim Newman ladies and gentlemen...a gent.

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