I think in the heat of the summer blockbusters, I find it easy to get caught up in the idea of rating films out of five stars, ten points, two thumbs, whatever the scale might be. Most of the superhero and action fare that comes out is formulaic and predictable enough to directly compare in a logical way: this one had an interesting lead, this one had confusing editing, etc.. But when the leaves start to turn brown and I’m back at university again, studying movies ranging from the banal to the bizarre, I start to have trouble applying a value judgment through such a simplistic system. How can you even try to rank Meshes of the Afternoon against Do The Right Thing, or Society against Daughters of the Dust? These are all films I love, and yet categorizing them through an identical amount of stars makes absolutely no sense.
An interesting clash in what I do starts to make itself known this time of year, as academic, interpretative essay writing begins to rub up against the authoritative voice I need to put on as a reviewer, not saying what interesting readings may come out of a film, only looking at their perceived quality and subsequently pointing readers towards a recommendation. For instance, I was struck watching Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song a few weeks ago when I thought about this dichotomy – as an artistic piece to be studied it was genuinely fascinating, but that isn’t the same as telling a general audience less interested in these readings whether or not to stick it on for a night of entertainment. Often, it seems as though the aspects of a film that draw the most scorn – discontinuous editing or surreal internal logic, for example – are the elements that make it the most unique, and not necessarily just a result of sloppy filmmaking.
I’ve even managed to confuse myself with my own system a number of times – should I add points for merit, or deduct them for faults? How would a combination of these methods work? Is it fair to penalize a brilliant, groundbreaking film for some superficial issues, and should a technically ‘perfect’ film with little innovation be rewarded such a high honour? I struggle to answer these many questions, a problem that becomes even more tricky for me when a more conflicted review of mine is put through Rotten Tomatoes as positive or negative; half the time, I don’t even know whether it was fresh or rotten myself.
I respect the people who are able to make these scales make sense to them, but I don’t fall under this category. Referring to a film as a 7/10 feels about as useful as calling someone a Libra, and I don’t want to have to apply an arbitrary rating to a piece of media if I’m not required to. Some of the sites I write for understandably appreciate this shorthand, and I’ll obviously be using ratings for these outlets, but on my own website, where I (for better or worse) hold the final verdict on how my reviews are published, final scores are being thrown out. Hopefully, my titles alone will be able to indicate the kind of direction the review is going in, and I’m actually quite excited for the literary exercise that will come out of having to create five or six-word summaries of my often scattered judgments. But as always, these reviews are my opinions and my interpretations – if you’re interested in knowing them, I doubt a number will help your understanding.