Movie Reviews and the "it's Good" / "it's Crap" Binary

Submitted by nigel on Sunday 24th January 2010

We've all done it. You file out of the movie theatre and your partner turns to you and asks, "Well, what did you think of that?". There's a 99% confidence interval that the response will be either "It was good" or "It was crap". It seems that all moviegoers flip-flop between giving a one-word good or crap verdict before a more considered reply is proffered walking back to the car.

But why is this? Back in the early noughties I decided I needed more mental stimulation so enrolled on a A2/AS Film Studies evening course in Richmond, Surrey. For non-UK readers, A2/AS is university entry-level standard, and under normal circumstances a student wishing to attend university would require 2 or 3 passes of this type of exam to qualify for degree level education. Any rate, the night school course was arduous (surprisingly) and academic (unsurprisingly) and the notion of value judgement was drilled out of students from lecture 1.

Systematic deconstruction of movies followed textbook lines, and subjective opinion not backed up with hard evidence was not accepted and would incur a severe marking down. So despite this schooling, for which I surprised myself and received a double-A, I could still hear myself falling into the good/bad chasm once graduated. Worse, my tutor, in her less guarded moments, could be caught out doing likewise.

Undeterred, and seeking fresh challenges, I embarked upon a Masters Degree in Film Studies at the University of Westminster. Now, the University of Westminster is famed for inventing the study of cinema as an academic pursuit in the 1960s, and furthermore during my time there the esteemed Professor Vincent Porter was still lecturing, and he was instrumental in its inception.

The credentials of the staff could not be faulted. On a personal level, I consider the course one of the most stimulating and rewarding projects I have ever undertaken. After lessons with the clock past 9pm, we would troop into the local hostelries for a slaking beverage or two. We would be accompanied by the lecturers and we would shoot the breeze and discuss our latest viewings. So with the weight of all that academic experience, including many published authors, you would never expect a good/crap binary anywhere. You would be wrong, and the more beer imbibed, the more it would be trotted out.

So what is the answer? For us in the cognoscenti, us educated in the ways of cinema, we use the good/crap binary as an academic shorthand. We are saying - we have read all the books, studied and deconstructed all the films, tossed it all around in our heads and formulated the opinion of all that experience that it is good. Or it is crap. You, on the other hand, without the A2/AS level certificate, and the Masters Degree after your name, will have to do better and be more imaginative.

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