Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Guiltless Format

Ok I have a confession to make, I like to read movie reviews on the internet . . . lots of them. While there are a handful of reviewers I feel are informative and genuinely helpful in deciding what movies to watch (my favorite being MaryAnn Johanson at, I have to say the majority are crap. The problem with most reviewers is they place themselves and their opinions above the movie going experience, as if they are an official arbiter of what a 'good' movie is. They feel a need to be 'objective' and 'journalistic' in their approach, meanwhile suppressing their actual reaction to a movie in favor of their estimation of what the general public will like. The resulting reviews are dull, scared, and trite. Sorry but I don't need a complete stranger to tell me what he or she thinks I will like. Just tell me if what you like and why, and I'll decide if I trust you.

Well as you've probably surmised by now, we here at Guiltless Pleasures © are all about honest responses to a piece of entertainment. I don't pretend to be anything other than a flawed human being with honest reactions to pretty lights and sounds. I have my own biases which will not coincide with everyone else's. However, do not fear that this will become the home of meandering word salads gushing about my favorite things, the scientist in me won't let that happen. Instead, my meandering will be tightly structured into the Guiltless Format.

So what's the guiltless format? Glad you asked. Another failing of mainstream movie critics is they spend most of their time talking about the filmakers: actors and directors mostly, but also cinematographers, composers, producers, writers, and so on. There's nothing wrong with giving great performers their due, but I've always looked at the people involved in the process as a means to an end. In the end, the purpose of a piece of entertainment is to elicit a reaction from those that see or hear it. When experiencing a movie and attempting to express my response to it, my first thought is always about how it made me feel rather than "so & so was great in it." Granted different types of movies aim to elicit different reactions from the audience, and likewise, I'll enjoy different movies for different reasons. While it's probably impossible to quantify how much I liked something, I'm gonna try anyway by rating things I see in each of 9 categories, nine reasons I may like or dislike something. Without further ado, the Guiltless Format:

1.) Laughs: This is the easiest to explain, but one of the hardest to elicit. Laughs make life good. If something I see makes me laugh, its worth something, period. Sense of humor is a very peculiar, personal thing, which is why its one of the hardest things for film reviewers to write about (and to predict from your own reaction to something) but I'm gonna try anyway.

2.) Tears & Lumps: In the throat, that is. Another one easy to explain. Movies that make you sad are worth something too. Granted, I'm less often in the mood to cry at something than to laugh, but it's still an honest reaction and something to consider when evaluating a work.

3.) Awe: Most often manifested as chills down your spine. A feeling of awe from movies is rare but the effect is devastating. If something makes me feel awe, I can almost never dislike it.

4.) Thrills: The adrenaline rush of the guiltless format. Thrills usually come from action scenes. Rarely are they good enough to elicit genuine thrills.

5.) Dread: It's a very worthy goal for a movie to elicit dread in my opinion. Like thrills, genuine dread is elusive and noteworthy.

6.) Investment: One of the harder categories to define; investment occurs when a movie successfully makes you feel for the characters and and universe that are presented. You can tell if your invested if you look forward to seeing what happens next. Usually to generate most of the other responses I've described, some investment is neccessary.

7.) Twists: Unexpected plot twists are hard to come by. When they happen they're typically welcome.

8.) Bizareness: Being weird usually doesn't hurt. The bizarre factor can make entertainment worthwhile even when other responses are lacking.

9.) Spectacle: Despite being overly relied on in the age of the blockbuster, sheer spectacle can still enhance a work when used properly (i.e. when it's not the only point).

For the most part these will be rated on a scale of 1-10, however, there will always be exceptions, some things just break the mold.

Looking forward to actually using this format.


Lauren said...

What about just plain escapism? (see my post re: The Jane Austen Mysteries.)

Lauren said...

Well, I guess they kind of fall under investment. Nevermind.

Linda Sheridan said...

Yikes! I'm scared now, since I've started doing film reviews this past year for my brother in law's site, and God knows I'm a novice...I'm going to a screening next week in fact, perhaps I can should take these points into consideration.

Seems to me most critics today write PURELY subjectively, and don't hold back any of their personal feelings in their reviews. Clearly, the Post's critic who reviewed "Jarhead" last week ripped the film, because he himself had served in the Gulf, and listed the film's every inconsistency with his reality. Does that necessarily make the film bad? It shouldn't, it's not promoting itself to be a documentary.

If a film's inconsistent with the book, does that make it bad? I guess that depends who you ask.

I don't know whether to say if a film has ALL these points with high marks would make it a great film in my book or not or not...I seem to have a penchant for films filled with lots of dread and investment, short on thrills, laughs or spectacle. Some people love James Bond flicks, and while I can (and will) respect fantastic cinematography to make an action scene deliver the goods, that genre in general leaves me cold (Ronin or The Professional are my exceptions.)

You cannot disregard the work of the film's crew.' George Lucas' vision is realized very differently in the second trilogy than the first, simply for the fact that he did not direct them. The 'awe' factor of film such as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" would not be possible without its director's unique story, or the cinematographer's efforts to seamlessly make it look so real.

Then there are films where the actors' investment trumps the story, even its director's vision. While I was moved by certain scenes or dialogue, the film's resolution left me feeling nothing...then what?

Chris said...

Wow, glad you my post stimulated so much thought for you Lin.

Well a big part of my point is that true objectivity is an illusion, it doesn't exist. Scientists accept that there is a certain amount of bias in even the most reliable data, yet somehow the evaluation of a piece of entertainment is supposed to have a definitive value?

But like you say, there are many different ways that entertainment can be effective. You mentioned a director's vision, the actor's performances as a pair. My point is that those things are a means to get a response rather than an end in themselves.

Linda Sheridan said...

Oh God, I love media analysis, I could talk about it forever, I fear you won't be able to shut me up. It's ever present, always changing, and always up for debate.

I agree that there is no such thing as complete objectivity in media. If there was a singular vision for every bit of media, alot of people would be out of work! There are so many factors that shape a person's response to something, but sometimes, one factor can overshadow the others, sometimes creating a response that might not even be intended (like when people laugh at a scene that wasn't intended to be funny in a film-was it written badly? Bad delivery, cheesy music?) Release time can be a factor-there might be a scene in an old episode of say, Sex and the City with the Manhattan skyline, that could provoke a sentimental response to thoughts of our city pre 9/11...the episode might have cracked you up years ago, but you might have a different feeling now. Has the message changed, or just your perception?

Oh boy, help! It's getting late, and I'm rambling,I'm sorry.

Linda Sheridan said...

ok Chris, this entry is getting a bit dusty, ahem...:)

Linda Sheridan said...

My guilty pleasure movie-Velvet Goldmine-a triple treat of Ewan MacGregor, Christian Bale, and Johnathan Rhys Myers-hot men, and some hot music.