On the day NO TIME TO DIE was scheduled to premiere before the COVID-19 virus led EON Productions to delay the release, it is perhaps fitting that we get the latest episode of MARK KERMODE’S SECRETS OF CINEMA: SPY MOVIES.
SECRETS OF CINEMA
This series, first shown on BBC4 in 2018 is a fantastic documentary series. The UK’s best-known film reviewer takes us through the history of film genres, supported by insightful writing and a wealth of movie clips.
The first series examined THE ROM-COM, THE HEIST MOVIE, COMING OF AGE, SCIENCE FICTION and HORROR. Three specials looked at CHRISTMAS MOVIES, OSCAR WINNERS and DISASTER MOVIES. The current series examines SUPERHEROES, BRITISH HISTORY and finally SPIES.
Bond features heavily in this episode, but then again so do many of the best spy thrillers we’ve watched over the years. And some of the biggest directors.
The episode follows the same structure as the rest of the series. Presenter Mark Kermode identifies the main conventions or genre indicators of the films. One of the pleasures of the series is how it delivers a film history lesson in such an entertaining way.
Hitchcock’s influence on the genre is undeniable. Kermode highlights how the protagonists in The 39 Steps and North by Northwest are innocent non-spies caught up in events beyond their experience. There’s a great side-by-side comparison of From Russia with Love and North by Northwest highlighting the similar visual style in action. Hitchcock’s work influencing the beginnings of the worlds most famous spy.
JAMES BOND TO ATOMIC BLONDE
The episode is structured around the main genre indicators: 1. The Superspy, 2. Spycraft, 3. Realistic Spies, 4. The Spy Chief, 5. Paranoia, 6. Villains, 7. The Great Escape, 8. Endgame.
The episode highlights the wide range of films that have dipped into the spy genre – from the Cold War The Ipcress File, to the 70s paranoia of The Conversation, the kinetic violence of Atomic Blonde. It even touches upon the marvellous German film The Lives of Others which takes a much more series approach to the surveillance state of East Berlin in the 1980s. Read my previous discussion of thrillers and the paranoid conspiracy movies here.
One of the best things about the series is that while it reveals the conventions of the genre (that are hiding in plain sight) the reveal doesn’t ruin anything. Instead, it makes you appreciate the films even more – which is surely what the producers were aiming for.
There are a couple of plot spoilers in the episode – so be on alert!
ALL EPISODES AVAILABLE SHORTLY
Sadly, the complicated rights issues around the clips used in the episodes mean that a DVD release of the series would be problematic, to say the least. The great news, for those that can access it, is that the current series is on BBC4 and BBC I-Player and the previous episodes will also be available to view from 9th April.
MARK KERMODE’S SECRETS OF CINEMA: chief writer Kim Newman, director/producer/co-writers John Das and Nick Freand Jones, archivist Jane Long, composer Neil Brand, and excellent graphics by Danny Carr.
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