What *is* a movie?

19 Apr
2010

Boy, if I’m asking myself that question, I should definitely not be a film blogger.

But it’s a question Flickchart has actually made me grapple with lately, because not everything that appears in Flickchart is actually a movie – the way I define it.

When you are presented with unranked “films” on Flickchart, there are two ways to approach it. There’s the straightforward way – which is to rank everything you’ve seen, unconditionally. Then there’s the other way – which is to leave certain things “unseen” for a variety of reasons, including the fact that you don’t remember it well enough and want to see it again before you rank it.

Or the fact that it may not actually be – a movie.

Let’s take a pretty extreme example: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. This is a 22-minute primetime TV special that first aired on November 20, 1973. I didn’t see it upon first airing, as I was exactly a month old at the time, but I definitely saw it during one of its subsequent airings. When it came up on Flickchart, I chose not to rank it. Quite simply, to me, this is not a movie. I can probably even remove the words “to me” – it’s just not a movie, period.

So why is it on Flickchart, then?

Well, perhaps because Flickchart is a democratic entity, and receives many films into its database because a given user submitted that film for consideration. But obviously, Nathan and Jeremy have veto power – it’s up to their discretion when to use it.

It raises an essential question about the function of Flickchart – one where anyone’s position on the topic is as valid as anyone else’s. Is Flickchart designed to rank only movies? Or should it also have the ability to rank specials and other one-off viewing experiences?

Let’s take another example from the 1970s: The Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired in 1978. You know, the one where they visit Chewbacca’s home world of Kashyyyk (you gotta love those three Ys in a row). This was at least feature length, as it occurred over the course of a two-hour time block on TV. But a movie? Not really. I seem to remember it being more like a variety program. But since it involves the Star Wars universe, it’s clear why some Flickchart users would want to rank it.

What’s the cutoff between movie and non-movie, then? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. I’m a bit hardcore in my reasoning. I think that for something to qualify as a movie, it needs to have debuted either in the theater or on video. That’s right. In my own personal way of seeing things, a movie that debuts on HBO is not really a movie. Except, of course, when it is. For some reason, I am ranking two HBO movies (Sometimes in April and The Laramie Project) but not a third (Recount). Admittedly, I’ve got to get my own system straight before I can go write about it (oops, too late).

Then there are the movies that seem like they should be movies just because of their place in cinematic history, even though they are nowhere near feature length. How about Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou? It’s a surrealist masterpiece, but the thing is only 16 minutes long. Then again, when audiences saw it back in 1929, they went to the theater to see it. It kills me, but I’m not ranking it on Flickchart.

I guess ultimately, like most of our idiosyncratic ranking decisions, it’s up to us. Rank what you want to rank. Don’t rank what you don’t want to rank. Flickchart’s role is merely to make all the choices available, and to accommodate any individual ranker’s interpretation of what constitutes a movie.

This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Derek as derekarm on Flickchart, and at his blog: The Audient. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.

  • johnmason

    Nice blog.

    Here’s my take on it: If you don’t want to rank it, you don’t have to. (Which is, of course, exactly what you’re doing.)

    Personally, I prefer to rank everything that’s on Flickchart that I have, in fact, seen. This includes movies that I really don’t remember well (beyond an impression of whether I liked it or not), and all those Christmas specials, like Rudolph and the Grinch. I’ve actually often debated removing those Christmas specials from my list, but I hate the idea of not ranking something I have seen.

    Some of those movies I can’t remember well have been left off, because I think I may see them again. (The first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies are good examples; I actually have them in my DVD collection, but haven’t seen them in over a decade.) Yet, I’m ranking E.T., even though it’s been almost as long since I’ve seen it. And I’ve also finally decided to start ranking Pulp Fiction, since after Inglourious Basterds, I’ve decided I just don’t get Tarantino, and my odds of going back to PF are negligible.

    I’ve often thought I might like to rank short films, too. Particularly the fantastic shorts that Pixar puts out. They all debut in the theaters, even though they only average 6-7 minutes in length. But, I also understand why the guys at Flickchart don’t put those up for ranking.

    Captain EO (that 16-minute Michael Jackson 3-D music video directed by Francis Ford Coppola) was up for debate on Flickchart’s Tweetboard a while ago. Come to think of it, I think I submitted it myself. Shoot, it was on IMDb….

    Nathan explained to me once in an e-mail that they’ve decided that, in general, if you can obtain something in its own DVD release, it should probably be fair game. I think that’s a pretty fair criteria.

    It’s a fine line, but what’s great about it is that a user’s own Flickchart is entirely up to them; you don’t want to rank it, don’t, and your Flickchart will be exactly the way you want it.

  • johnmason

    Oh, and here’s one more thought:

    Perhaps the definition of a “flick” is somewhat broader than that of a “movie”…

  • http://www.flickchart.com Nathan Chase

    For those curious, our unofficial criteria (as of this moment) for inclusions has been:

    1) to include titles that premiered in theaters, on video, or was a made-for-tv movie

    2) is available (or has been offered) autonomously (meaning not part of a “season” or “collection”, but stands alone)

    and 3) There’s readily available poster art, box art, or some other unique visual promotional representation to that title

    Captain EO was definitely an odd one in that it’s never been in theaters or on video (only shown inside Disney theme parks), is very short, yet was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It’s certainly an unusual “film” to judge.