Today I’m joined by Daniel M. Kimmel, an American film critic, playwright, and Hugo-nominated author. He recieved the Cable Center Award for best book of the year for his history of Fox, The Fourth Network: How FOX Broke the Rules and Reinvented Television. His collection of essays titled Jar Jar Binks Must Die was nominated for a Hugo Award in the category “Best Related Work”. His novel Shh! It’s a Secret was on the shortlist for the Compton Crook Award given to best first novel by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society and he is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association.
AYS: As a film critic, what are some of the most important qualities you look for in a movie? Have those qualities changed over the course of your career?
DMK: I make a distinction between film reviewing and film criticism. As a reviewer I’m helping people decide if they want to see a movie. So my first question would be if I was bored watching it. If not, then it has some entertainment value. As a critic I’m looking at a variety of elements: the quality of the writing/acting/directing, how it fits into the genre, and in what ways it engages the viewer. As I’ve broadened my knowledge I’ve become much more interested in how a film reflects the time in which it was made.
AYS: You’ve written books, essays, and even a play. How does your approach to writing differ depending on the medium you’re working in?
DMK: I have been told that I write in a distinctive voice that is recognizable in whatever format I’m writing in. That’s neither good nor bad, but it’s what I’m stuck with. Generally my focus is on the reader/consumer: how can I best communicate what I want to say so that it will get across in whatever format I’m working in. I contrast that with some writers whose focus is their own self- expression and the hope audiences will seek them out.
AYS: Your book “The Fourth Network” tells the history of Fox. What drew you to that subject, and what was your research process like for the book?
DMK: I had been trying to pitch a book about science fiction movies to no avail. One editor passed but said he liked my writing. What else did I have? At the time I was also doing a television column as well as movie reviews and included a FOX Broadcasting history on a list of ideas, and that was what sold. Not everyone I wanted to interview would speak to me, but because I had contacts in local (i.e., Boston) television, I was able to get through to a surprising number of people. One executive flat out refused to talk to me until a local station manager called him on my behalf. The next call I got was the executive’s secretary setting up the interview.
AYS: Your collection of essays Jar Jar Binks Must Die was nominated for a Hugo Award. What inspired you to write about the much-maligned Star Wars character, and how did you feel about the reception the book received?
DMK: As I relate in the essay, I was on a panel on “The Phantom Menace” a few months after the “Star Wars” prequel was released and I was the only one who thought it was a terrible disappointment. One of the other panelists asks how many times I had seen it. When I said “Only once” they looked at me as if it was no wonder I didn’t appreciate it. My essay was about my second look ten years after its initial release. As for reaction to the book, my favorites were from people who said they enjoyed my takes on various movies even if they didn’t agree with all of them. My goal in criticism is to foster discussion, not issue my opinions as the final word on the subject.
AYS: From 2019, your book Father of the Bride of Frankenstein has a fascinating premise. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind it, and what readers can expect from the story?
DMK: I don’t recall what gave me the idea to mash up the titles of two very different movies – “Father of the Bride” and “Bride of Frankenstein” – but once I did, I knew I would have to write it. I originally wrote it as a short story which gained some traction but never sold, so eventually I decided there was much more to tell and turned it into a novel. There’s actually three intertwined storylines.
One is the reanimated monster, Frank, wanting to be accepted as fully human, turning the townspeople with pitchforks into modern adversaries abusing the legal system. The second was satirizing wedding planning. I actually printed out a wedding checklist as a guide to some of the things that they’d go through, from wording the invitations to throwing a bachelor party. And third, just because I had never explored that part of life in my fiction, I made the family Frank was marrying into Jewish, which brough a whole new level of complications. As I tell people about my fiction, “If it made you laugh then I did my job.”
AYS: Thank you so much for joining me here on the blog, Daniel. I look forward to seeing you in the studio soon!