The Film Pitt

Byron Pitt lives and breathes cinema, displaying a rare and sometimes explosive passion for the silver screen - often with unpredictable results. GeekPlanetOnline is proud to present a movies column from the self-confessed “film drunk”; a man who once yelled at an entire cinema for laughing at Johnny English

For those who have read my blog you can clearly see that I’m not a writer. Not at all, not in the slightest. I’m not a writer, I’m a rambler, a god damn shameless amateur if you will. But for those of you stoned enough to enjoy my flights of fancy, you will realise that when I spew out my reviews and film thoughts all over the interweb space (be it prose or podcast), I’m quite reluctant to rate or recommend films. No star ratings, no thumbs up or down. It seems at times that my long suffering co-host has to prise some kind of “Do I, don’t I” last line to solidify my thoughts. I’m sure it must have frustrated more than one person who has come across my blather. I received a tweet a while back from fellow film lover (and proper critic) Wael Khairy, asking me: why don’t I star rate? I’m sure a certain Mr Iain Boulton believes I do it just to be extra pretentious; to help give off an arty farty pomposity that is already bad enough when I go off about older films that nobody cares about.

It's not. It really is not. I have my reasons, and here they are. They may give you some insight into why I do what I do. Hell, it might even turn you back on to the Cinematic Dramatic podcast.

Star ratings help contribute to laziness

“What did Empire/Total Film give it?”

“Three Stars”

“I’ll wait till it comes out on video then”

A star rating is often utilised to bypass the actual review altogether. When I first tried writing film reviews I used to use star ratings. Someone close to me liked what I was doing with the site, but had a suggestion. Instead of having the ratings at the bottom of the page (with a little conclusion like certain popular film magazines), I should have them at the top for people to read straight off the bat. Then people would know what they were getting into. Like watching a film straight after its trailer, you already had knowledge of what I, the writer, felt about the movie. This frustrated me, knowing that in this information age star ratings help people skim the review, safe in the knowledge that Joe Film Critic liked/disliked the film. The actual meat and potatoes get missed because someone decided to fill up on bread. This can provide problems when you place your peepers on Roger Ebert’s The Human Centipede review. The star rating? Zero Stars. So he hates it right? Well let’s read the last paragraph:

“I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine.”

I find this way more interesting than the rating or lack of one because the writing, to me, makes his view of the film far more subjective than a stock rating. The same goes for a few of those A Serbian Film reviews. Many films (particularly the more transgressive) wish to spark true debate and reaction. Something a star rating sometimes tries to avoid.

They can sometimes confuse people.

Sometimes, explaining your star rating is like explaining a joke. Having to explain why that sci-fi B movie gets five stars over the two star rated art-house drama and vice versa is as tedious as trying to explain the semantics of why the Englishman was in the pub with the Irishman and Scotsman. Like a good joke a good piece of film writing flows well. I feel a star rating can dictate the reader more than it should, particularly if said reader is complaining that a reviewer rated such and such by this much but rated a completely different type of film a lot higher/lower. While a lot of my reviews may not sound as good as they do in my head (there’s a good chance the ones I don’t remember were written in a drunken haze) I still think people appreciate that I write about the film in terms of the film itself, and not in relation to a few stars. Plus, we’ve all read reviews that have given a certain star rating but sound like they should have been higher/lower. Wouldn’t it be easier to just leave the stars in the sky?

Hell is the three star rating.

A good review can be tricky to write, while trashing a movie is like stealing candy from a no-armed baby. However, when it comes to writing a three star review? God how I loathed it. Others may be fine with it but I remember writing for my first failed attempt at a website (Reel Geeks, geddit?!?) and having to contend with a middling review. Like eating dry crackers on a ship in the 18th century, it gets you there, but it ain’t great. It is ball-bangingly frustrating trying to write enthusiastically about a film which was “alright”. The lack of a star rating has given me a bizarre freedom, helping me pick out aspects I liked/disliked/didn’t mind without tying it down to a fixed star rating. Also...

...It enables me to change my mind.

As an avid reader of a certain large UK film magazine, I have many back issues which have reviews of films at the time of both theatrical and home video release. Now I know I’m alone on this, but as these mags are written by many people I find it frustrating to read one review granting a particular star rating one month, then a few months afterwards the film loses or gains a star for some oddball reason. I find it increasingly grating as home video releases get closer to cinematic releases. It just ruins that feeling of unity that the magazine wants to bring across. When writing reviews, it feels easier to go back and re-examine aspects of a film without a rating to adhere to. Star ratings can seem so rigid with some writers; our opinions as viewers and writers change due to so many elements, such as our age, the films we watch and the amount, life experiences, etc. Going back to re-assess something sounds great. Going back to re-assess and re-label a star rating just sounds a little silly to me.

It gets Iain's goat!

There’s nothing more fun than doing the podcast and hearing Iain try and claw a solid last overall thought to go out on. I get the feeling he needs the safety net of us having one last positive recommendation to go out on. We don’t, as our faithful listeners should know how we feel by how we dissect the film. They listen to our thoughts about the themes, the tones of our voices and the moments we describe so vividly (clearly talking about another podcast there). I never get the feeling that I need to end a review with a straight thumbs up or down. But it’s great going off on one before leaving dead air that a frustrated Iain has to fill by asking if I would recommend it or not.

With all this said, there are some fantastic reviewers and critics that use their ratings well. There are sites like LOVEFiLM where I have to use their ratings in order to get more personalised film recommendations to add to my film list, which is nothing but a good thing. However, I can't say I’ll be truly happy with star ratings. A quick glance at the IMDb reminds me that when these star ratings are put into the hands of everyone, the only ratings they seemingly care about are one or ten, slowly leading us to a increasingly dubious top 250 list. Better examples are of course the oddball user ratings given to the likes of New Moon (4.5) and Sex in the City (5.4), which despite kicking ass on box office, as well as home DVD sales appear to state more about the type of users on the site than a true overall rating. Such trivial matters like this will be debated for aeons and I’m sure many don’t give as much of a damn as I do. However I write this as an small insight into me and my approach to writing about film in general, and if you appreciate that, then you should rate this article using the stars at the top.