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netribution > features > interview with derek malcolm > page two
What career path did your parents foresee for you?
My mother wanted me to be a diplomat.

I come from a very aristocratic family, my father was brought up in a castle in Scotland and my mother was an opera singer, they had a miserable life - they hated each other. However. They put me down for all these dreadful schools and I started at boarding school at the age of 4 and didn't come out until I went to university. So my mother wanted me to be a diplomat but my father thought that if I wasn't intelligent enough to be a diplomat, I could be a cavalry officer.

Did you have horses at home then?
Yes. They were very rich at one time, before I was born, they grew poorer and poorer as they grew older but before they became too poor my father and I had horses. My father loved to hunt which I hated so I rode point to point and so on, but when I came out of university I didn't know what the fuck to do.

Did you read English at Oxford?
No, I read History and Philosophy. I was incredibly idle at Oxford but I did get a full blue at squash, I played a lot of cricket and did a lot of acting but I did fuck all work I'm afraid. I'd made some useful connections at the various private and public schools I went to but I'd reacted against that whole thing - voted Labour my whole life.

What did your father think of that?
It was much to his annoyance, he was a high Tory. I finally did the jockeying and then the acting but only on stage because in those days there wasn't much television. Films I never thought about really, I was a good actor but I really wanted to be a producer. I always looked pretty young so I'd get the juvenile leads which I hated so I thought, 'fuck it, I can't stand this, crawling round the country all my life.' A couple of my contemporaries at Oxford became stars, not because they were better than me but because they stuck to it. I might have done that, I loved doing it but I just felt it wasn't for me, temperamentally you know? Its so nerve wracking, the money's awful unless you become a star and I'd always wanted to write so I got onto the newspapers.

Are there any contemporary critics that you particularly admire?
Not many. I think the general standard of contemporary criticism in international newspapers has never been worse, many of them don't know their stuff at all and are appointed by editors who want flashy writing rather than any real knowledge. There are only that I would say are any good, Philip French in the Observer knows his stuff and Geoff Andrew in Time Out, also Nigel Andrews in the FT actually.

Well he has some peculiar cinematic tastes.
Yes some very odd tastes but they all know the cinema, they know the whole history of cinema which you really have to know. I could go on and on in a lecture on this but you have to have some association. Otherwise you end up saying Julian Donkey Boy is an excellent piece of filmmaking when we know fucking well that its not new at all and its been done over and over again in the 60's by people like Dennis Hopper. Now if can say that we may love it but its not new, its been done before and I think rather better. That's just my opinion but that doesn't count as much as the fact that I can relate it to other movies.

Do you have to develop and maintain an ethos as a critic?
Well there are accurate critics and inaccurate ones. Some, like me, mix with the filmmakers so that one can realise the difficulties involved and write the review accordingly. Those can tell you how much money has been wasted on a vast Hollywood movie and then go on to tell you what's going on in the French and Chinese film industries. Nigel never mixes with anybody, he just looks at what's up on screen and writes.

Do you attempt to be as objective as possible?
Well you can't be objective, I either like them or I don't. The best thing one can say is if that the reader likes the way you write and agrees with you most of the time they'll follow your tastes and accept it when they don't.

What did you think of Dancer in the Dark?
I'm neither for it or against it. I thought some of the dreadful reviews of it were just stupid, on the other hand, I think it was nowhere near as good as Breaking the Waves which was a near masterpiece. I admire him for attempting to do something quite different but some people loathed it like poison and some loved it, I'm one of the few people in the middle for once.

Do critics have any definite responsibility?
I'll tell you what I usually say to that question. Firstly you have to be entertaining or they won't read you, you have to write fast and you have to give your opinion when they ask for it, so you've got to be a journalist as well as a critic. You've got to have a history of cinema and you must believe that there are just as great artists in cinema as there ever were in literature, fine art or in the theatre. If you don't believe that you shouldn't be a critic, you've got to open a few windows for people and say that cinema isn't just Hollywood. You've also got to know something about the other arts too but the final thing, this may sound ridiculous, you've got to be a decent human being because if you aren't sympathetic how can you judge all the stories written about them and their work.

How much time do you have for other art forms?
Well I know something about theatre from being the Guardian's theatre critic, I go to exhibitions and I love music but I'm not an expert on any of them despite having interests in them.

As a critic that interacts readily with the filmmakers, how do they receive you when you give their work a bad review?
They are very disappointed when I give them a nasty review but they'll speak to you again because they've got another film coming up. I've got a very good relationship with most of the filmmakers in this country because they know that fundamentally I'm on their side, I'm not going to say that it’s a good film if its not but they get irritated if I say that they've done better in the past.

Are these festivals the most important part of the job?
They are but they are bloody tiring, tiring when you get people coming up to you - wanting you to watch their video but its nice to feel that you have contact with these people so they don't think you are just an old fart.


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