Oomska talks to: Xan Brooks
Xan Brooks is a film critic, and Associate Editor, at The Guardian newspaper.
Thanks for talking to Oomska, Xan. Can you start by telling our readers a little bit about your current job, as a film critic, and how that came about?
According to my press card, my current job is an ‘associate editor’ at the Guardian, which is a catch-all title that covers a multitude of sins. I write reviews and news and features and I also pitch in on podcasts and video. I’d say about 90% of that is film-related, and that’s obviously where my main interest and experience is, but I also dabble a bit in books and sports journalism and in general feature writing.
Yes, I’ve enjoyed your Wimbledon reports. What proportion of Guardian arts writers fit this ‘multitude of sins’ mode?
Is it the Chinese who conflate crisis and opportunity into one word? Journalism is going through its own mini ‘Reformation’, staff are being cut and those who remain are often required to double-up and multi-task. Obviously this means a greater workload, at times painfully so. But in terms of the tennis coverage, it’s been a blessing. I’ve loved tennis since I was a kid and it’s lovely to be able to write about it. Writing is writing, whatever the genre, so long as you have some knowledge and appreciation of what you’re writing about. But you’re right, not many others seem to stray far beyond their specialist area, even now. It was me who asked to cover the tennis and the sports-desk agreed. I’m grateful they felt able to take that gamble.
As for how I arrived at my current role, I blundered into it. I worked for five years at the Big Issue magazine in London, which was an exciting and eccentric place to work as well as being a wonderful environment in which to learn about journalism; to experiment and fail and sometimes get it right. From there I started to freelance for the nationals, and was then offered the chance to edit the Guardian film site, which I wound up doing for eight years.
How would you compare the Film Site now to how it was at the time when you started? Has the balance shifted, in terms of the perceived importance of the Film site, compared with the print version? With the explosion in online newspaper access, the readership must be much more digital now; certainly more people must access the site now than read the paper?
Oh yes, the film site was such the poor cousin to print when I started. Very hard to be taken seriously, very hard to originate decent stuff and turn it into something more than a weird elephant’s graveyard archive for old film content. But I think even then there was a sense that this was the future. The Guardian was always happy to fund and nurture the website, so the support was always there. In the broadest terms I think the audience and the perception really began to change after 9/11, during the so-called ‘War on Terror’ when the Guardian began picking up an American readership who perhaps felt they weren’t being well served by the main US news sources at the time. These days there’s a general acknowledgement that print (at least as we know it) is on the way out and that the audience is predominantly international and digital.
How did you first develop an enthusiasm for cinema? What were some key films?
My dad has always been a great film enthusiast. I remember him telling me about antique 1930s monster movies (‘Dracula’, ‘King Kong’, etc) when I was barely old enough to speak.
Even when I visit him now, there is usually something he has stored up to show me on DVD. So perhaps it all started from there.