What Determines a Film’s Worth?

By | Begun 07/15/2004 | Updated Apr 5 2013
Posted in Cross Cuts |


Back in the day, as they say, this English Major (Trinity didn’t yet offer film studies) was utterly appalled by a certain form of literary criticism. Ironically, it now drives my Repertoire.

In Literary Criticism – a collection of methods for evaluating a novel, poem, or other literary work – there exists a form called Reader-response Criticism, which posits that a work has no value outside that assigned by the individual reader.

The concept struck me as being outrageous – and to some extent still does – since it asserts that objective standards are an illusion, rendering the creator’s vision and talent irrelevant. In the case of film, it argues that Schindler’s List contributes no more to humanity – and may indeed contribute less – than Showgirls. Horrifying. Simply horrifying.

But, everything has its place, and here it is. Roger Ebert is was >sob< [arguably] the best person to tell you objectively why one should like or dislike a film. There are many other worthy approaches: sheer technical excellence, adherence to the standards of a certain genre, or how deeply it stirs the emotions. Take a moment to think about it now… what criteria do you use?

Today (to my utter initial shock) I go with Reader-, or perhaps better said Audience-response. Films are invited into the Repertoire for a particular reason (customarily an interest in an individual involved) and receive my affection based solely upon how well they satisfy that reason – or surprise me with a new one. (It’s also why, as you may notice, I tend to receive favorably practically every film I see; it wasn’t always this way, but I’ve honed my approach keenly enough that I now filter very effectively. As you continue developing your own Repertoire, you’ll find the same thing happens for you.)

…Now that said, if a film is deliciously executed, that still goes a long way toward earning favor (much like food, speaking of delicious).

I’ll share with you why I personally like or dislike a film, and only rarely will it be driven by execution per se. Along the way I’ll also provide observations I think may help you in deciding whether or not to devote your time to it. Not value judgments ~ choice points. Value is, of course, your call.

While I still maintain that any piece skillfully executed according to accepted standards holds intrinsic value even if buried unseen in some forgotten archive (or abandoned to the cutting room floor), that debate is ultimately academic; what brings a work truly alive in the world is the dance between the filmmaker and the viewer, however that dance shows up between the two.

movie reviews 1 star movie reviews 2 stars movie reviews low 3 stars movie reviews 3 stars movie reviews high 3 stars movie reviews 4 stars movie reviews 5 stars Desert Island
Click a picture to view titles of that rating.
Here you’ll find pure “Audience-response” criticism.
Respectful? Absolutely. Reasoned? Always.
Humble? Perhaps. Objective? Never.
Click here for the explanation of ratings »

What are your criteria? If you don’t think you have any, I’ll bet you do »

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