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What Makes A Film Good?

Mar 30, 2008
I've been asking myself this question for as long as I can remember and I never get tired of it. While no fan of intellectual wanking I do think that it helps to think. So how does one account for innovative style? Is this style more important than the content? Most of us create a kind of sliding scale to apply when we consider these questions and the value of a given film. But I wonder how many film fans are actually conscious of this sliding scale? One of the great values of all good criticism, and certainly film criticism, is that it can create and employ a consistent aesthetic to critique and appreciate the films that are reviewed. Of course not all critics do this. Many are all over the map with barely a clue as to why they diss one film and embrace another. While this scattered approach is neither helpful to moviegoers or the creatives who made the film in question, the ultimate consequence can be found in the soupy fog of clutter and indifference that so much popular art finds itself in today.

As a distributor I have never minded a negative review for one of our releases as long as it was reasoned and accurate. I might not have been happy about it, but if the critic was fair, then what else could we ask for? Instead, it has always been the kneejerk, unreasonable reviews that drive me nuts. Sometimes they don't even get the plot right. Last week a review of one of our recent video releases had just about every logistical detail of the film wrong. We're talking wrong country, wrong profession for the protagonist, wrong language spoken and wrong plot! Such inaccuracies are clearly not a firm foundation for a fair review. Worse for me though, are the ones that abandon all pretense of aesthetic judgment and instead morph into a kind of social and political correctness.

Now clearly these qualities help create the impact and value of a film. But when does an over-emphasis on political correctness, or aesthetic correctness, (a bigger problem than you might think) swamp a review and render it irrelevant as valid criticism? We see this frequently when a regional U.S. indie film tries to carve out a niche in indie theatres and dvd. Regardless of the craft and impact of the film, it is somehow deemed second class, not hip enough, too kitchen sink. Thousands of potential fans are lost by this kind of knee jerk criticism. And without sounding too melodramatic, the entire independent scene suffers when good work is unfairly marginalized because it creates space for the familiar and the mundane to masquerade as quality work in its place, thereby increasing the clutter and muted expectations of the indie audience overall.

I am fascinated by this subject and will return to it periodically. For now, as I prepare to travel to SXSW, probably the home base for American regional and genre bending cinema, I am working on keeping a clear head and a fair eye for the great films that I hope to see.
About the Author
Marc Hughes is the Acquisition Manager for Lifesize Entertainment and a writer for IndieFilmChat.com-Professional Film Discussion
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