British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Film Review Shows

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

In the autumn of 1998, following the end of Moviewatch’s final series, a new cinema review series was developed by Channel 4.  Once again, the responsibility for this area of programming shifted, this time coming under the purview of Commissioning Editor for the Arts, Janey Walker.  It can be suggested that the repeated shift in responsibility for film review series revealed the protean nature of this type of programming.  The decision to give Channel 4’s department for the arts responsibility for the new series suggested that the broadcaster was ready to experiment with a new approach to film coverage.  Indeed, the categorisation of film as one of the arts was significant in itself, as it placed moving image content in the same sphere as opera, dance and the fine arts.  These have historically been deemed niche subjects areas on television, commonly being scheduled outside of peak viewing hours.  The new series, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was accordingly placed in a late-night slot, being broadcast between 11pm and 12am on Tuesday nights across an eight week period commencing in October 1998.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was written and presented by actor Charlie Higson, who had become a household name as a regular performer in the BBC comedy series The Fast Show (1994-1997).  The series’ primary function was that of contemporary review show, which provided a context for discussing recent releases and up-to-the-minute industry developments.  As with Moviewatch, American cinema was the series’ primary object of criticism.  However, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang painted a more diverse portrait of film culture, devoting an equal amount of attention to both mainstream and art cinema.

From the outset Higson revealed a reverence for contemporary American independent film and for the countercultural cinema of 1970s New Hollywood, citing directors such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola as being responsible for making some of his favourite films.  During the opening sequence of the series’ first episode, Higson also discussed the contemporary filmmaking landscape, praising a selection of British and American features that were released during 1998, including Mojo (1997), Boogie Nights (1997), Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Saving Private Ryan (1998).   These films were indicative of the type of features that would be reviewed by Higson throughout the rest of the series.  With the exception of Saving Private Ryan, these were all countercultural, youth-oriented, independent and/or relatively low-budget films that were characteristic of a cinematic trend in ‘90s youth entertainment.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a tonally playful and aesthetically innovative series, complementing Higson’s strengths as a comic performer.  Each episode included short animations, which were used to link the magazine’s assorted film features.  These shorts consisted of simple black and white cels, which recreated iconic scenes from films such as Reservoir Dogs, The Exorcist, Brief Encounter, Blue Velvet, King Kong, The Godfather, Titanic and Kes.  Higson frequently appeared onscreen during these interludes, interacting with the animated content and parodying characters from the films that had been recreated.  While providing a nod to the intertitles used in silent film productions, these short interludes also served a similar function to programme idents, investing the series with a sense of cohesion and distinct aesthetic.

In spite of this playfulness of tone, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang remained reverent to the artistry of film production and the personnel involved in it, foregrounding the work of film producers and directors to a greater extent than star performers.  As the press pack’s additional information (Tuesday 13th October 1998) promised, the series would include a regular item called Passion featuring ‘high profile moviemakers, actors or craft specialists talking about a film that inspired them’. In this respect it stood in stark opposition to Moviewatch, which frequently undermined directors, while favouring celebrity gossip over serious industry news.  The presentation of film production as the work of skilled personnel employed in an industrial context was reinforced by an ongoing feature that took the viewer behind-the-scenes on the set of British film Fanny and Elvis (1999).  This weekly diary allowed audience members to gain a detailed understanding of the filming process, while being privy to the financial and political issues affecting film production in the UK.

Film reviews were included in each episode of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, appearing regularly at the start and end of the programme’s advertisement break.  Each week Higson attended a film screening and then delivered an unscripted review directly to the camera, giving the impression that this was a direct, unmediated response.  During this segment Higson was occasionally joined by other film journalists and celebrities who contributed to the review process.  These assessments were playful and fairly brief, providing further opportunities for Higson to engage in comic interactions with his guests.  Unlike the Moviewatch reviews, these were not representative of a measured group consensus.  Indeed, much like Barry Norman’s Film programme, the focus was on the series’ celebrity host, who acted as final arbiter for the features that were reviewed each week.

It can be suggested that Channel 4’s shifting relationship with film review programming during the 1980s and 1990s reflected wider trends in broadcasting and film culture.  The 1990 Broadcasting Act made Channel 4 responsible for selling its own advertising, while also bringing it into direct commercial competition with the ITV companies.  Although it would be reductive to suggest that the broadcaster immediately became more commercial following this change in legislation, it should be noted that this period saw the development of Channel 4’s marketing activities and the targeting of specific audience groups, such as 16-24 year olds, with designated programming zones.  As the information presented in the press packs confirms, film review series would undergo an analogous stylistic and conceptual shift, moving away from the notion of the perceived cineaste viewer that was central to Large Door’s VisionsKiss Kiss Bang Bang would cultivate a new audience, targeting the implicitly youthful figure of the ‘geek’ film fan, whose taste is likely to encompass both the popular and cult ends of the cinematic spectrum.  Although European film still featured occasionally in both Moviewatch and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the tone and style of presentation in these programmes would shift, as film programming became more accessible and audience-friendly during Channel 4’s second decade of existence.

[1] Su Holmes,  British TV and Film Culture in the 1950s: Coming to a TV Near You, (Bristol: Intellect, 2005); p. 10.

[2] Gavin Millar, ‘Cinema: Gavin Millar is Producer of the New BBC-2 Series Arena Cinema’, Sight and Sound, 45(4), 1976; p. 223.

[3] John Ellis, ‘Visions: a Channel 4 experiment 1982-5’, in Laura Mulvey and Jamie Sexton (eds.), Experimental British Television, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), pp. 136-145; p. 136.

2007, p.136)

[4] Apart from two 1983 episodes which were broadcast on Thursday evenings, appearing on Thursday 3rd March and Thursday 31st March.

[5] Episode broadcast on 25th November 1997.

[6] Steve Purcell, ‘McLeod’s Silver Lining: TV Babe Gets her Big Break in Movies’, The Daily Star, 21 February 1997, pp. 22-23; p. 22.

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