10 Years in the Arts
Mars-Jones, Adam, The Independent (London, England)
Reviewing for The Independent was my first proper job. Before then, I had done bits and pieces of reviewing - novels for the TLS and the Financial Times, films for New Society and then the Statesman, and anything I was asked to do for the radio. That was how I met Thomas Sutcliffe, the paper's first arts editor, who had worked at the BBC. Tom was not a creature of print journner for the privilege of reviewing Ingmar Bergman's five-hour Swedish-language production of Hamlet. Then a large cake would be brought in, out of which would burst, with any luck, Ned Sherrin.
At the same time, I didn't believe in the paper's existence. It seemed so unlikely that a broadsheet could be launched into a crowded market. It seemed just as likely that a millionaire philanthropist wanted to bestow solvency on me personally, and, knowing (or overrating) my pride, was pretending to employ me, in a process that was like the opposite of money- laundering. Giving charity the reassuringly grubby whiff of labour.
The first time I saw someone reading the paper on the tube, and turning to a page on which one of my reviews appeared, I was startled and uncomfortable. I didn't know where to look. The idea of the team of critics with the "double 0" prefix never really took off, perhaps because we never had those magical lunches, and so the assignments had to be made by phone. It turned out, too, that readers preferred to associate a reviewer with a single subject area, and I gravitated towards film. Without the initial skirmishing, though, we would hardly have come up with the present arrangement, by which I write an extended weekly piece, usually on only one film. This luxurious format suits me well. I wouldn't have been interested in the standard film-critic gig, which involves rounding up every film that comes out. That's a routine thatwould make me stale in no time at all. I would soon be sinking into my seat on a Monday morning with the sign "What insulting trash must I sit through now?" - a style of sigh that can often be heard in the screening rooms of Soho. The space I am allotted allows me to broaden the argument - or compels me, in an unstimulating week, to make bricks without straw. I assume that people choose what films to go to on the basis of the stars, the publicity, or the director. There is also such a thing as loyalty to genre, and aversion to genre. It can only happen rarely that someone with a Western phobia buys a ticket for Unforgiven after reading a review, or a horror-film addict shuns The Fly 2 because of what the papers say. …