Are you looking for trenchant opinion, historical analysis, personal prejudice and acerbic humour on films old and new from Observer film critic Mark Kermode? Look no further – you've found chapter one of Mark Kermode's book Hatchet Job.


‘Forrest Gump on a tractor.’
Those five words are probably my favourite film review ever. More importantly, they constitute the most damaging hatchet job I ever encountered, managing to do something I had often argued was impossible – to kill a movie stone dead. I didn’t read them in a newspaper or on a blog, I didn’t hear them on the radio or television; rather, they were whispered in my ear by a trusted friend and colleague, David Cox, as the house lights went down on a screening of David Lynch’s The Straight Story.

I’d been really looking forward to that movie. I’ve been a huge Lynch fan ever since being blindsided by a late-night screening of Eraserhead at the Phoenix East Finchley in the late seventies. I’d wept buckets at The Elephant Man, taken several runs at Dune (it still doesn’t work), been both outraged and strangely exhilarated by Blue Velvet, swooned at Wild at Heart and even argued that Mullholland Dr. ‘makes perfect sense’. Now, there was something illicitly thrilling about the fact that the high-priest of weird had pulled the most audacious trick of all – he’d made a ‘straight’ movie, a film praised for its simplicity, lack of outlandish visual and aural experimentation, and almost wilful adherence to strict narrative linearity. Like Johnny Rotten turning up in a suit and tie, this was the one thing Lynch aficionados didn’t expect, a movie with a beginning, a middle and an end – and in that order. And what about that title? Initially everyone assumed it to be ironic, but reports from those who had seen The Straight Story were that it was anything but. This was Lynch’s masterstroke, like that line in The Usual Suspects about the devil’s greatest trick being to convince people that he didn’t exist. Was this Lynch as the devil in disguise? Or had he finally followed Laura Palmer to take his place amongst the angels?

Click here to keep reading chapter one, 'Shark Sandwich'