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Jazzaloha

What You Like vs. What You Think is "Good"

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When I write my opinions about film (and any type of Art), I usually try to distinguish my subjective reaction of the film versus my objective opinion of the film. There are some films that I like, but don't think are good films. While there are other films that I recognize are good, but don't particularly like. Of course, there isn't always a clear-cut line between the two, and that makes distinguishing the two difficult.

I wanted to explore this issue in this thread. Do others make the distinction? Does such a distinction exist? Why is it important to recognize the distinction?

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I wanted to explore this issue in this thread. Do others make the distinction? Does such a distinction exist? Why is it important to recognize the distinction?

Absolutley, and it's nothing to feel bad about. When I'm trying meeting a new person and ask them about favourite films and books etc., nothing makes me more suspicious than a list of critically well regarded films without a single blockbuster/mass market or guilty pleasure among them. Our perceptions of art are completley subjective, and embracing our guilty pleasures helps us to understand that impact and use it to inform our discussions of other media.

So, for example, when I watch a Christmas film I put it up against not only what I consider to be a well made film (let's say It's a Wonderful Life) but also against my guilty pleasure Christmas film, Santa Claus: The Movie. I've seen that film at least twenty times (once each year when it comes up on TV). I *know* it's bad. I know it's a stinker. I know I'll open my Radio Times each December and find Barry Norman (the UK's Ebert) will have labelled it one of the rottern eggs of the viewing schedules. But I couldn't care less. To me, that film taps into what I remember about Christmas as a child. It's a film which transends its hokey dialogue, bizzare casting and horrible, horrible Sheena Easton theme music. It's the memory of the film (or the shadow image of it if you want to go all Plato with me) which is a perfect Christmas movie for me, and everything else has to go against *that* standard. In other words: not only asking "Is Jingle all the Way any good?" but also "Will watching Jingle all the Way mean as much to a child now as Santa Claus did to me?" (the answer's no, by the way) because when I'm looking at Christmas movies *that*'s the barometer I need to be thinking of. My adult cynicism can't possibly help me.

Similar things apply to other films, sometimes the guilty pleasure films are much less important but as a general rule for kid and family cinema I don't trust any film critic who doesn't confess their guilty pleasures before passing judgement. And it does apply elsewhere. I think of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet as a bit of a guilty pleasure as, although I'm aware of its failings, it's a film which never ceases to excite me when I watch it or pop in the soundtrack. In a way which most literary/dramatic adaptations don't. So that often becomes my barometer when faced with yet another turgid costume drama which completley fails to engage with modern cinematic sensibilties.

Phil.

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I don't really see a distinction, since guilty pleasures generally fall under the cateogry of "entertainment" instead of "art." In my opinion, at any rate. Perhaps I define art too narrowly, and pure entertainment should be considered art as well -- in which case, guilty pleasures that succeed at entertaining, despite your best efforts not to be entertained, are still legitimately art.

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It's not that I feel bad about the distinction as I'm wondering if separating your subject reactions from your objective ones is important. Can you even do this? To some extent, I don't think you can, and maybe some would argue that it is impossible. Objective evaluation depend on subective evaluation. For example, if I say *Ordet* is objectively great because it is so moving and poignant, that's not really an objective assessment. Technique can be evaluated on an objective level, but sometimes an artist can objectively have "bad" technique, but make objectively great art.

Part of the reason this question has come up is that I've been writing film reviews and ranking the film on a 1 to 10 scale. I've been noticing that sometimes I give a score that indicates my own personal enjoyment of the film, more than the objective quality of the film. At other times, the score reflects an objective assessment of the film's quality. I don't know if this issue matters very much, but I just wanted to throw it out there.

I do think that when people talk about films, music, etc., confusing the subjective reaction with an objective one can lead to a lot of arguments and misunderstandings. When you really like something, you tend to say that it's great in an objective sense. The converse is also true. In these moments I think it would be helpful to be able to distinguish the two.

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When I write my opinions about film (and any type of Art), I usually try to distinguish my subjective reaction of the film versus my objective opinion of the film. There are some films that I like, but don't think are good films. While there are other films that I recognize are good, but don't particularly like.  Of course, there isn't always a clear-cut line between the two, and that makes distinguishing the two difficult.

In my experience, this sort of issue is pretty much a given if you're way into martial arts movies. Chinese Super Ninjas is a terrible movie nearly any way you look at it - bad dubbing, laughable special effects, really sloppy blood and gore - but that doesn't mean I love it any less. wink.gif

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Jazzaloha, I find that reviews that come from a reviewer's bias are actually easier for me to work with than ones that attempt to be objective.

Quick example: when I say to Mrs. Death Ray "I just saw this movie, and it's BEAUTIFUL," she gets nervous. That's because "beautiful" has a very specific conntext with me, and it's one that her experience has led her to believe "I think this film is going to be very annoying and quite possibly mildly disturbing."

When reviews base their reviews on their own personal likes and dislikes, as long as they are completely transparent about what those likes and dislikes are, I find their reviews useful. Even if the review is bad, if I have a feel for what they look for I can usually tell if *I* will like a film that they do not.

So I'm all for bias.

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FWIW, I prefer objective reviews that come from some sort of perspective. Which is to say, I take it as a given that reviews reflect subjective points of view, and I prefer reviews that point everyone's attention to the thing being reviewed. Which is to say, I prefer reviews that open up insights into the thing being reviewed, and I don't particularly care for reviews that tell you more about the critic than the thing being critiqued. If I happen to learn something about the critic too, that can be fine, but learning something about the critic is ultimately only useful and positive insofar as it helps us to understand THE THING as seen through their eyes.

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Part of the reason this question has come up is that I've been writing film reviews and ranking the film on a 1 to 10 scale. I've been noticing that sometimes I give a score that indicates my own personal enjoyment of the film, more than the objective quality of the film. At other times, the score reflects an objective assessment of the film's quality.

You mean your choice of scale is subjective? wink.gif

I try and avoid 1 to 10 ratings in my own "reviews" for precisely this reason. I'll try and pull out the merits and weaknesses of a film in a hopefully reasonably balanced way, and leave people to decide if the positives I've raised will outdo the

negatives. If I rate (subjectively) The Story of the Weeping Camel as 9 out of 10, I open myself up for anyone who reads the review to come back to me and say it was the most boring film they've ever seen.

Obviously, as you say, we can't ever really be objective, but I think its ok to try and mix the two. Personally I tend to try and minimise use of I or me in my reviews, whic I suppose might be in danger of making things seem too objective (perhaps something to work on), but hopefully I'll balance that by the way I talk about things and the things I choose to discuss

But to be honest its all early days for my reviewing of films.

Also people are often surprised when they see Cool Hand Luke that its one of my 3 favourite films, so I've learnt to carefully caveat it with an explanation between 'best' and 'favourite'.

Matt

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We can't fully escape from our own perspective on films; myself, I think it would be waste of time to try. Perhaps that's because I tend to consider myself an artist first and a critic second. Trying to create art from an "objective" perspective would result in terrible art, because the artist really has to love what he or she is creating. I would also consider that a primary goal of cinema, to provoke in the audience some visceral reaction, love, disgust, terror, etc., and thus provoke reflection on what it is internal to that person that provokes that reaction. Through that process the audince comes to know themself in a deeper way.

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Trying to create art from an "objective" perspective would result in terrible art, because the artist really has to love what he or she is creating.

I think there's also a sense in which the Christian critic (at least) should love what he or she is critiquing or analyzing. Not in a sloppy way that leads to an unending stream of "This is the Best Movie Evah!" reviews that are co-opted by studios and put on posters, but the same kind of love that God has for us--love that sees and embraces us as we are and also knows what we could be, what our best could be. This idea actually comes from Alan Jacobs in A Theology of Reading: A Hermeneutics of Love and from Augustine by way of J.Hillis Miller.

I'm always put off by critics who seem to take pleasure in nothing but pointing out how bad a movie is. I know there are bad movies, and I'm grateful for reviews that warn me about them, but you know what I mean--the critics who hate everything? They've never seen a movie they liked? Or nothing that can live up to the pinnacle of Art-with-a-capital-A achieved by [insert director/auteur here]?

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