The Bureau: Film Critic and Broadcaster, Robbie Collin

The Bureau: Film Critic and Broadcaster, Robbie Collin

 

A friend and customer of Drake’s, Robbie Collin is best known as chief film critic at the Daily Telegraph, and one of the most prominent voices in British film criticism right now. Robbie recently made use of our made-to-order tailoring service, commissioning a classic two-piece in a beautiful herringbone tweed. 

To photograph Robbie in his commission, we took him to the cinema (where else?) - specifically the lovingly restored auditorium at the Regent Street Cinema. We also spoke with him about Michael Bay, foreign cinema, and how to choose the right tie. 

Photography by Isaac Marley-Morgan.

 

Tell us about how you first became interested in cinema.

Like almost everyone my age, my first trip to the cinema was to see a Disney animation – in my case, the mid-1980s reissue of The Jungle Book, which apparently made enough of an impact for me to make my grandparents march home afterwards, elephant-style. But I’d say it wasn’t until I was a student that I became a serious enthusiast. 

Back in the early 2000s, the philosophy department at St. Andrews University offered a standalone module in philosophy of film: it sounded like easy credits, and was. But the first screening – Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 Soviet-era masterpiece October; no messing around! – was one of those sunbeam-from-the-heavens moments.

I think the fire probably caught during the raising of the drawbridge sequence. The dead white horse hanging high above, then plunging into the river, and the young woman’s hair sliding slowly over the ground were two of the eeriest, most indelible images I’d ever seen. Two decades on, they still are.

As someone who’s interested in clothes, do you find yourself paying particular attention to wardrobe in films? Can you think of a recent film which had a great wardrobe?

Film is an insanely under-appreciated resource for men who want to dress well. So many legendary costume designers past and present – Walter Plunkett, Orry-Kelly, Sandy Powell, Milena Canonero – have dedicated their careers to expressing character through clothing, and their work is all there for you to draw from and be inspired by, like an enormous, ever-evolving lookbook. It’s very distinct from fancy dress: however much you loved Drive, you’re probably not going to be able to pull off a scorpion jacket in everyday life. 

Rather, it’s about reading the cues in a given outfit and borrowing and adapting the ones you like. In recent months, I was blown away by Sandy Powell’s costuming in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman – the way the tailoring evolved as time moved on, but also the subtle measures of power and status coded into every suit and tie (or in the case of one particularly great scene, a character’s decision not to wear one). Arianne Phillips’ costumes in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood were also a complete joy – so playful and eccentric, but also so revealing of their wearers’ inner lives.

What’s a film that you loved but everyone else seemed to hate?

When you cover films at festivals and after premieres – i.e., when you’re part of the very first wave of reaction – you typically don’t know how anyone else is going to feel about them, beyond the general mood in the room during the screening. So there are often surprises when everyone hits publish. 

Four years on, I remain astonished that James Gray’s The Lost City of Z wasn’t received as the masterpiece it so obviously is – though I should add it was by no means hated. David Robert Mitchell's Under the Silver Lake was widely hated, though it was one of my favourite films of last year: a modern-day Los Angeles noir that was exactly as stylish and bamboozling as LA noir should be, and also skewered a certain contemporary masculine neurosis – a kind of refusal to accept the world was not built for the benefit of young men with time on their hands – that no other film has yet managed to put its finger on.

The director I usually end up out on a limb for is Michael Bay, of Transformers and Bad Boys renown, whose trashy maximalist aesthetic captures something essential about our times in a way no other filmmaker’s work does. 

If you want to understand contemporary America, watch Pain & Gain. Also, I once heard from someone who worked on Transformers 5 that when they were shooting on location at Stonehenge, Bay told his crew “We’re going to put this place on the map.” You have to respect that.

Have you ever walked out of a film?

Occasionally, you have to – though never for reasons of taste or enjoyment. At festivals, when two or more potentially interesting titles overlap, you sometimes have to bail on the first if it doesn’t turn out to be particularly worth covering, then sprint to the queue for the other and hope you made the right choice. But of course I’d never review something I hadn’t seen all the way through. 

What should our readers make time to watch right now, that they might not have seen?

My big hope at the moment is that the success of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, after its Best Picture Oscar win, will coax more cinema-goers into subtitled films. Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is essential – and a great clothes film, though perhaps not so much for men, as we barely figure in it. 

Uncut Gems, from New York's Safdie brothers, landed on Netflix a few weeks ago and for me is one of the great films of the last ten years: it also contains the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career, even surpassing Punch-Drunk Love

The elusive French director Leos Carax has a new film out this year, which makes it the perfect time to catch up with his Holy Motors from 2012, one of my go-to recommendations for something off the beaten path (and again, one of the best films of the 2010s.) And if you’re a Drake’s fan, you obviously can’t go wrong with Phantom Thread.

You’ve interviewed a lot of legendary actors and directors. Do you ever get starstruck? Has an interview ever gone seriously off the rails? 

I mean, I’m sure I’d be fumbly and tongue-tied if I ever met them socially. But in an interview scenario, it’s weirdly never like that – probably because both parties know they’re talking for a reason, and have lots to talk about. 

As for walk-outs, I’m no Paxman, and can count the number of disasters I’ve had on one hand, but it’s excruciating when it happens. The most recent was Joaquin Phoenix, who was badly thrown by a question about Joker he hadn’t expected: I’d thought it was so obvious, I honestly assumed he’d have an answer prepared. But in the end he just needed time to regroup and after a while we were able to plough on. 

I felt wretched about it, and writing the piece was almost as miserable, but you have to push past the cringe and force yourself to look at it like any other answer: what did this say about the subject and their approach to the work? And I think for Phoenix it said a lot.

What’s your typical cinema-going outfit? Do you tend to favour comfort? Does a tie ever make an appearance, despite the fact no one else can see you?

Usually I’d go for a shirt, trousers and knitwear for daytime screenings, but when I’m hosting a Q&A in the evening I jump at the chance to wear something smarter. As for ties, they make as many appearances as I can justify! 

Firstly because I just love wearing them – putting together a shirt and tie combination in the morning means you get to do a small fun, creative thing before you’ve even left the house. But also because I hope it shows my two boys, who are currently six and five, that what you do for a living is worth dressing up for. When I was a kid, I remember running my hand through my own dad’s tie rack and thinking this single item seemed to somehow encapsulate all the promise and possibility of adulthood. 

The thing that always puzzled me was how he knew which one to choose for each specific day and occasion. And now I’m an adult myself, I’ve realised how it works: you just make it up as you go along.

 

You can see more of Robbie (and his suit) on the current BBC4 show Life Cinematic, available now on iPlayer. 

 

A big thank you to the Regent Street Cinema’s director, Shira MacLeod, for the use of the auditorium.