Yes, I know. No one asked. HOWEVER, as I write this it is late on a Sunday, April 24th 2022, I am too tired to write anything meaningful and I still need to get my word count done for today. So, here is a free ghost post that will only be directly advertised to WordPress followers, about my overly meticulous rating system for my art media catalogs.
Those of you who have followed me for a decently large amount of time know that I have a very odd obsession with cataloging my taste in music, movies, games, and books. For me it is a fun pastime, and I often get pretty deep into it (perhaps too into it, but that is a topic for another time). So, in this post, I want to describe how exactly I catalog said taste, perhaps only for my personal records but also on the off chance that you, the reader, are also into this strange thing. This post will also probably be more of a stream of consciousness because, like I said, it is late and I am tired.
So I guess the first question you’d be interested in is the why. Why does it matter, that you saw The Last Unicorn on July 25th, 2021, and thought it was OK? Well, part of it is personal commitment. I am in this game, I make fiction writing, I develop games, and I sometimes dabble in movies and music. For me, if I have a catalog of what I’ve seen, I get to think critically about what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, I know that Safe (1995) is one of my favorite movies, and there are a lot of ideas from that movie that I can later incorporate into writing. By cataloging it I remember the impact it had on me when I watched it, even if I write no specific notes on it – the memory is there, encased in a Letterboxd entry and a rating. On a similar level, I get to see what doesn’t work for me. I get to give Bicycle Thieves a 6 out of 10 and then defend myself against the sycophant arthouse enthusiasts on why I think that movie is not really good (even if said sycophant arthouse enthusiasts really only exist in my head). This further informs what I would like in writing.
A big chunk of what I do, inspiration-wise, with art media is that I sample a big chunk of the world’s greats, and I see what motifs I enjoy and which I don’t. Having a lot of control over what you know specifically you like and don’t like makes the writing process a lot easier. It makes it modular, in a way, but not such that the creativity is fully gone. Cataloging and rating are the long-term memory for that.
Anyway, with the why done, let’s talk about the how. I’ll start with DNFs, because they’re the most tricky. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like to DNF on books, for personal conviction. I also rarely DNF on movies and music, because they are so short. Really the only reason I DNF for these three is that I find the work so awful that leading myself to the finish would be unbearable torture. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. For games it’s a bit more complicated – a lot of games take 30+ hours of real work, and I have several hundred of them accumulated (mostly from free giveaways) over the years. For games, DNFs are less extreme. They’re simply measures of “this game didn’t really rope me in, and it seemed rather long, so I’m not playing it. For the first three, I tend to give DNFs a 1-star rating. For games, I don’t give any rating to DNFs at all – though if I had to say, a DNF on a videogame is probably 7/10 and below.
This transitions us nicely into the rating distributions themselves. Firstly, I try to regulate things on an out of 10 system – some services use the 5-star system, others use out of 10. I am used to 10, though sometimes I mention a review in the 5-star format. My “average anchor” is typically 6 to 7, across all 4 media. Yes, I know, I am one of those dirty modern critics who don’t even use 90% of the damn number scale. Well I like going up to 10, even though I really don’t use 3-5, and I live in America and we have something called freedom of speech. I’ve done it once, and I’ll do it again.
The middle point (we’ll say 7 for simplicity) represents a work I believe others would enjoy, but I personally do not like. I suppose for the majority of the population this would look more like a 4/10, but I like being nice. So for 7, I see it, but it’s not for me. It is very, very rare for me to get an idea inspired by a 6 or a 7. They are basically “in one ear, out the other” sort of deals for me. 8s I do enjoy, but it’s also rare to get inspiration from them (though it does happen, more than 7s). 9s and 10s are where the magic happens – this is where I say “Okay, this is really good, there’s something in here I really enjoy. Let’s dive deep into that.” The Holy Mountain, House (1977), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall were all 10s – all abstract, dealing in philosophical themes, dreamy landscapes, nothing really on concrete facts. I took note of that. The Peregrine got a 10 because, even though I do not give a shit about falcons at all, the flow to the writing was there. I want Peregrine flow in every book I write. I won’t get it, but I’d like it to be that way.
Then you start getting towards the opposite angle. Like I said I rarely use 3-5, but sometimes when I feel there are bits and pieces there but the thing mostly falls apart, I’ll use those to describe it. Yet once again, we see the 1s and 2s, and again get inspiration. These are sort of the anti-patterns. What do I hate? Wuthering Heights had writing that made reading that book the equivalent of watching paint dry. Alright, compare and contrast that book with The Peregrine. What’s different here? Well, it doesn’t have the flow. It doesn’t have the imagery. Write that down. Maybe you think the opposite – why? Write that down. I gave Buffalo Springfield’s self-titled album a 1 (much to the chagrin of a few soft rock-minded friends). Why? It was too slow-paced. The rhythm wasn’t there. I look over at the 10s – all fast-paced, energetic, noisy, keeps you guessing from song to song. What does that mean? How does that translate into the writing?
So hopefully you can see why both the real bads and the real goods are beneficial. The stuff in between, not so much. But even then, it can. Remember back at the beginning of this post, when I said I gave Bicycle Thieves a 6? Well that’s really relevant now, because Bicycle Thieves is one of the most acclaimed films ever made. The Safdie Brothers would kill me if they found out, EXCEPT, both Safdie films I gave an 8/10 to! How can I hate the film that influenced these directors the most, and yet like both of their movies? Well, that’s the magic of creative execution. They saw something in Bicycle Thieves I didn’t. They grabbed that piece and put it in their films. Turns out, it’s a good piece. I just didn’t see it. Sometimes you don’t see it. That’s fine! Read widely and you won’t have to see everything.
I gave Come and See a 3/10. Now that’s something to talk about. We’re talking one of the top 10 greatest films, on everything – IMDB, Letterboxd, The Film Institute, magazines, etc. And what’s even more shocking – I gave it a 9/10 when I first finished! What did I see then? Well, I saw a horror movie. I saw the beginnings of Eggers and Aster. And I still do see that, and I still believe in that origin point. But the more it marinated in my brain, I realized – no, no, this was never intended to be horror. Klimov didn’t see it that way. I saw it that way, because I was living in (2020 at the time) and I was amidst the modern horror renaissance, and I saw that renaissance in his film. But Klimov wasn’t around for that. He made Come and See because he was angry – he was making a statement. A political one, a philosophical one, a psychological one. I went back and reviewed the movie on that statement – it was reckless! Absolutely reckless. That film had so much merit as a horror movie, but then it became a war movie – perhaps not a war movie, a film about war (it’s different!) – and I hated it. Once again, we look back in the archives and see the counterpiece. For me, it’s The Battle of Algiers (9/10, only for a meandering ending). I look at both films, and I see it immediately. It’s morality. Yes, that dirty word on this website makes its way into my taste in film as well. Battle of Algiers was relative; it did not pick sides. It gave you someone to root for no matter what angle you looked at. Come and See chose sides. Or, in some ways, it did worse – it did not choose a side at all. You came out of Come and See and, if you took it seriously (which apparently I did not, haha), you gave yourself a negative viewpoint on life that was unproductive and didn’t really teach you anything besides the world is bad. That came out of Klimov’s view that the world was bad, that it was destiny for men to kill one another, and while that’s not the reality of the universe that’s what he transcribed his work to be. You see why I think it’s reckless now.
You can have these deep, introspective thoughts when you review a lot of art. Perhaps you have a different opinion, perhaps you’re one of the people who far outnumber me who do genuinely believe Come and See or Bicycle Thieves or Wuthering Heights to be one of the greatest works of all time. Good! But dive into that. Understand why you enjoy what you enjoy and dislike what you dislike. And perhaps a good place to start doing that is to catalog what you’ve already done, and set a rating system up on your own.