Film Culture


Who doesn’t like movies? I have only met 2 people my whole life who claimed they didn’t like movies and even enjoyed some films.

As with any kind of art, to experience it, you must first understand its specific language. For example, there is a particular grammar to making sense of visual images that is commonly used in films to make sense of it all. The grammar might be obvious, but it is actually very subtle, and we only become aware of it when a rule is broken; in the same manner, we become aware of a mistake in somebody’s verbal expression when breaking a grammar rule.

A film culture implies:

  • watching and profoundly understanding a specific large part of what is commonly accepted as movies that made it into film history, have been awarded, acclaimed, and stood the test of time;

  • the ability to discern the quality of a work without having any context or reference for its understanding.

They are interdependent but can also be independent. Thus, with a good guide and list, someone can easily go through a list of n “best movies of all times” and learn by reading and assimilating what was already interpreted and expressed about those movies. At the same time, someone can learn to discern the value of a film by watching movies about which (s)he does not read or know anything and trying to discover the meaning, the symbols, and the signification by sheer intellectual effort based on the skills of the spectator.

The best way is to do both of them, with precaution. So which are some of the precautions that must be considered when creating an authentic film culture?

  1. Watching must be combined with reading about the respective films, at a certain point, either before or after the viewing. Each viewer should use his or her capacity to make sense of the spectacle, then compare it to what the analyzers, critics, reviewers, and historians have written. Thus, a critical argumentation may start to develop that would allow the film fan to support his or her views.

  2. The importance of criticism must not be underestimated and must not be overestimated. Critics usually have a film culture and make solid arguments by knowing and arguing for what they believe, so they deserve to be read. At the same time, some films don’t get the attention of enough well-prepared critics and can have many negative reviews, which aren’t well (or at all) arguments. Moreover, critics can be influenced by political context, currents of opinion, and own prejudice, not get into the details that they might change their mind in time.

  3. The fact that one hasn’t understood anything from a movie does not automatically qualify the movie as “bad” or of “low quality”. However, without sufficient culture, such a verdict can, in exchange, qualify the viewer as a snob ignorant. Therefore, some people, afraid of not being able to argue their own opinions or being judged, never dare to express their negative opinions of films, especially in public.

  4. To understand specific authors or certain film cultures, or film currents, one must have seen other representative similar work within that vicinity, especially when considering very cryptic authors or film literates (such as Andrei Tarkovsky, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino). Not being able to understand the work of such authors is expected even for a film literate who starts to “cut his teeth” with such work. Therefore, multiple viewings and readings may be required. 

  5. There are currently two large production and distribution systems for national cinematographic industries: Hollywood (USA) and Bollywood (India). Still, films produced and distributed by the European Union make their emphasis, as do Asian movies. Therefore, to have a film culture, one must have a universal, international culture from all spaces and at all times. There can’t be “too independent” or “too foreign” or “too old” films.

  6. No matter how hard one tries, one cannot see in a lifetime all the movies which are well worth from history, especially considering each year more films are being produced than the year before. It’s impossible to keep pace with what’s new and interesting, not to mention the classics that can even be viewed for free on the internet. Therefore, it makes sense to reduce the number of “bad”/low quality films and increase the possibility of watching better films. If someone only watches commercial films and gets used to them as normality, that person will not be able to appreciate the value of a good quality film. Watching better films (such as masterpieces and classics) makes the bad quality movies obvious like the darkness disappears with the light.

  7. The quality of a film must be judged, considering the genre or genres it can be framed into. Understanding genres and their differences are vital in judging them as a value. By watching the classics of the genre (for example, “The Godfather” for crime, “Gone With the Wind” for a love story, and “The Maltese Falcon” for film noir), you can have a frame of reference in judging an individual work. Sensible comparison of films is allowed based on genres, authors, currents, storyline, and format. A foolish comparison between films happens when someone considers “a drama is better than a music hall” or “a thriller is better than a horror”.

  8. The quality of a film must not be confounded by the emotions it depicts or instills. For example, some women might dislike horrors because they get scared, but that doesn’t mean the movie is low-quality. Likewise, a historical drama may instill sadness, as a war movie may instill rage, but calling the film “ugly” doesn’t make it bad. For example, some people (especially Italians) have the idea of judging the quality of a movie as being “beautiful” vs. “ugly” in terms of the content, not of the quality of the representation. Considering this, it is important to remember that art doesn’t necessarily have to cover beauty. Art can be used to represent truth, which isn’t always beautiful or pleasant to look at.

  9. There is a difference between film tastes and film opinions. For example, some people might have a taste for particular film culture, genre, or author and will likely consider some work more interesting and valuable on that criteria. On the other hand, a film opinion must always be an educated opinion of a person owning a film culture. “De gustibus et coloribus non disputandum” can’t be sensibly used as a pretext to avoid contradiction when talking about a specific film.

  10. The informative value of a film must not be mistaken for its artistic value. For example, a docudrama may be an absorbing factual reconstruction of a historical era and a very boring movie. In the same way, a very exciting history film may be an utterly wrongful mystification of actual truth. One must remember that film served and continues to serve as a means of propaganda and brainwashing, and one must consider the value of the representation, not the value of the content. Often (and even more in the last years in film festivals), films are judged exclusively by their daring content and not by the inner artistic value of the depiction.

Which are the advantages of gaining a film culture?

Films offer the possibility of voyaging to places and times you haven’t been to. They explain to you how some systems work for you to better understand reality. Films offer you the spectacle experience, with emotions you wouldn’t otherwise feel. Films offer you the possibility to learn from the lives of others, real or imaginary people, to find models that are inaccessible directly. Movies also convey powerful, beautiful, abstract messages using audiovisual means of expression that may inspire, move, and change you. Understanding some films can also prevent you from being manipulated by propaganda and commercial work. This experience can run as a bridge between you and people who work in art and extend your perception of the conceptual, immaterial world: what lies beyond words, facts, and objective reality. In the movie world, one can find the inspiration and the models (s)he could not get in the real world and use them as a stepping stone to success.

What are the consequences of choosing films whimsically and remaining ignorant of this art form? Here are some common effects of not genuinely developing a film culture. These are not life-threatening, but they make for a lesser thrive.

Ignorance in appreciating movies can be manifested:

  • by overly enthusiastically enjoying what most rightfully considered rubbish;
  • by over-criticism of work that isn’t understood;
  • by the inability to give an honest impression based on arguments after viewing a film;
  • by the lack of ability or will to follow the narrative story of a movie, forgetting anything in a short time after watching it;
  • by watching movies as mere entertainment, thus discarding their artistic potential without thinking of considering it;
  • by watching only films from a particular culture, period, genre, and author and discounting other possibilities;
  • by adopting the ideas of the majority without thinking for oneself;
  • by saying a general or vague thing about a movie when asked for an honest, in-depth opinion;
  • by overly criticizing the author for not doing the film the way you wanted it him to (it’s his movie, not yours);
  • through judging the quality of the film by its content, its genre, or the way one may feel when watching the film;
  • by avoiding seeing new movies, being scared of not being as good as those you already know;
  • by criticizing the authors of a film for not making a good enough adaptation (original literature will, in most cases, be better than movie depictions);
  • by being overly attached to or opposed to the value of a movie being “old”. Time creates strange effects for different people: some exaggerate the “timeless perspective”, creating a positive aura around a film that didn’t exist when it was released or by unjustifiably comparing it to modern means.

Psychologists concluded that some films are well worth watching because of the discussions they generate for people around day-to-day topics: what are the views, perspectives, and considerations of a particular person on the subject of how a specific character behaved? This way, movies can be used as a factor for connection, encouraging debate and knowledge.

How do you relate to movies? Do you have a film culture? How much time do you spend reading about films before or after seeing them? How much do you talk about your conclusions about those movies with other people?

Marcus Victor Grant

Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2017-present, all rights reserved.

The materials on this blog are subject to this disclaimer.


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