Assigning a numerical value to a subjective work of art can sometimes feel wrong, yet for me it’s become an obsession.
I can pull up the exact date I’ve watched any given episode of a show or movie, along with my assigned star rating. I can easily access my entire music listening history down to the time and date going back to 2014.
This isn’t a time-consuming or tedious task either. There’s a plethora of websites allowing users to rate anything from films, video games to music, while also tracking users’ activity.
Among the most well-known of these sites is Letterboxd, a social media platform designed for film lovers.
After the creation of my Letterboxd account, I watched films on a much more consistent basis, evolving from an occasional watch to an almost daily activity.
Not only did Letterboxd affect my viewing habits, but it also changed my viewing experience.
Before I had Letterboxd, I was already familiar with Rate Your Music and Last.fm, sites that allow you to review music releases and track your listening history respectively. Letterboxd combines these two functions for the film medium. After watching a film, users can rate, review and log the film into a diary, keeping track of the films the user has watched over time.
Watching a film became more rewarding with the added ability to log my activity into a diary, which calculates all kinds of movie watching analytics viewable from a premium stats page. Plus my friends and followers are actually interested in seeing my ratings or reading my reviews.
I started viewing notable directors’ entire filmographies, I actively kept up with most newly released movies, good or bad, and got excited when awards season approached. I even felt obligated to watch a film if my viewing habits began to slip.
But, this increase in passion eventually made me conflicted given its origin.
Was I someone who discovered an untapped love for the art of film making, or was I just someone who got off on assigning ratings and watching my stats increase?
Watching films began to feel similar to a collecting hobby. As a kid I’d collect Pokémon cards and football cards, and part of my enjoyment came from organizing my collection in whatever detailed ways I could think of. I’d flip through my massive card books countless times just to feel satisfied at my neatly assembled collection.
Oftentimes I find myself scrolling through every movie I’ve rated, receiving a similar therapeutic feeling when viewing and sorting my “collection” of films I’ve seen.
The “collection” aspect of watching films added a sense of progress and motivation to view more. Seeing all the popular and highly rated films on Letterboxd I haven’t seen opened up a world of endless films yet to be experienced.
I also noticed after years of being active on the site, it became second nature to weigh the rating of a film as I’m watching it. It may not be throughout the entire experience, or it may not even be until the film begins to reach its end, but I catch myself thinking of the movie as a certain rating at some point.
Noticing this pattern, I started to think this was inherently wrong when experiencing art. When a numerical value is what’s on my mind during the experience, I feel anti-art.
Why am I worried about where this film stands on a rating scale and not just sitting back and trying to enjoy it? I actively tried to ignore any thoughts of a rating during a movie, but found it impossible to resist. This is when I began to pick up on what was happening inside my brain.
I assign ratings based on pure personal enjoyment or impact, a perfect five star rating meaning the film gave the maximum possible enjoyment a film can give me or the experience contains an all-time important impact on me personally.
However, when a rating increases or decreases in my head as I watch a film, it’s because I saw something I liked or didn’t like, whether it be something I consciously noticed or how the film is affecting me subconsciously.
This is how my love for films blossomed when I started rating them.
Assigning ratings to films made me think more critically about what I like and dislike. I started to notice what techniques, themes and styles worked for me, leading me to discover more films suiting my taste. I was thinking about films more critically than ever before when knowing I would have to rate the film after its completion.
The same process of growing to enjoy the “collection” aspect and becoming more critical happened with music when I made a Rate Your Music account to rate albums.
I now understand weighing my rating of art during the experience as more of a process or guideline for my opinion as it develops as opposed to making a definitive statement.
When ratings are viewed as definitive statements is where conflict begins.
While viewing aggregate scores on sites like Rate Your Music and Letterboxd, one’s opinion may be skewed when they feel like they’re experiencing something that’s “supposed to be good” or “supposed to be bad.” It also may lead one to disregard anything with a lower rating when they may potentially enjoy it themselves.
A viewer’s personal rating of art is unique to the rater themselves, no matter how objective they may view their own scale to be. One’s rating system may involve a list of criteria the work of art must meet to achieve a certain rating, among countless other values and systems one could think up. Plus a seven out of 10 to one person and an eight out of 10 to another could potentially mean the same thing, depending on how the rater views the value of each rating, making aggregate scores somewhat flawed.
Any given film, album, video game or show is held in both high and low regard by separate portions of audiences, albeit oftentimes disproportionately. This leads to the deeming of some works of art as “critically acclaimed,” or “loved by critics and audiences alike” or “universally panned.”
Someone assigning a rating to a work of art may or may not accept that others’ ratings could be wildly different, using aggregate scores to validate their own opinion and viewing their rating as “correct” when it agrees with an aggregate score. It’s important to catch yourself when your opinions come from anywhere other than a genuine place.
The community and discovery aspect of sites like Letterboxd mitigate these potential effects when there’s a strong social aspect involved.
As a user of many rating and logging sites I can say Letterboxd is easily the most effective and user-friendly, being just as engaging as a social media platform.
Users can easily see what their friends are watching from the homepage as well as what films are popular on the website as a whole, highly rated or not. When you have friends with trustworthy or distinct tastes, their ratings could impact your interest in a particular film and lead you to discovering something you otherwise wouldn’t.
Seeing what quality films are out there is easy and also intricate, given the site’s many sorting features for its database. It’s a very convenient tool for when you’re wondering, “what should I watch?” as what films your friends and the masses are watching is always at your fingertips.
I’ve watched many films and discovered countless artists I feel like I never would have without using sites like these. I'm honestly not sure how I'd be able to keep up with new releases or discover something new without them.
While traditional methods of discovering new art were often by the opinions of trusted critics or from simple word of mouth, sites like Letterboxd expedite word of mouth while also making it possible for your friends and an entire community to become your trusted critics, as these sites pushes users to think more critically about the art they experience.
The most valuable function of these sites isn’t calculating average ratings to determine what works of art are considered best, but it's the atmosphere of discovery and discussion which they create.