I was reminded today of my longtime resistance to the practice of assigning a star-rating to reviews of CDs, concerts and films. During my time as managing editor at a local weekly called X Press (don’t look for it; it’s not there anymore), I steadfastly refused to resort to summing up an artistic work with a series of symbols. I mean, if a film is given one star out of five, there is little need to read the accompanying review; you can pretty much figure out that the reviewer considers it to be unworthy or his, her or your time. Eschewing the star system in favour of informative and informed critiques, I’ve always figured, forces readers to (gasp!) read.
Of course, once the Montrealers moved in and took control of the paper, the star system was forced upon me, under my new title of editor-in-chief. “That’s how we do it in Montreal,” I was told. And so it was to be in Ottawa. I dutifully assigned ratings to each review (using, as instructed, edgy Xs, rather than old-hat stars), raging against the machine by limiting ratings for my own reviews exclusively to one or five out of five stars. Er, Xs. I resigned soon afterward, hoping never to have to count stars again.
Not that such a thing is possible. Reviews I have contributed to the local dailies have inevitably been accompanied by a star-based rating. (Often, I would receive an email to note that I had neglected to offer such a rating as part of my copy. In those cases, it was not so much a case of rebellion as it was force of habit.) Generally, I kept my star-ratings between two and four out of five, partly to encourage readers to peruse the review for pros and cons. But mostly because I believe that perfection in art is rare, as is the absence of any shred of artistic merit.
Much as I’ve long pondered whether concert reviews serve much of a purpose. After all, unless last night’s show was sold out, those curious to know all about it should have purchased a ticket. Those that were in attendance, meanwhile, do not need to be told details about the performance. Granted, details of last night’s Montreal show can be useful for those trying to decide whether it’s worth catching tonight’s Ottawa concert. So yes, concert reviews can serve a useful purpose — particularly for reviewers that wish to be forewarned about setlists and surprises.
But back to gazing at stars.
This morning, I smiled at the sight of a five-out-of-five star rating for Skyfall, the latest James Bond epic. Five out of five stars? Evidently, Skyfall is not merely good, or even great: it is perfection on film. Citizen Kane, Battleship Potempkin, say hello to Skyfall, one of the finest motion pictures ever made. And here I’d had no intention to see it, much as I have successfully avoided seeing every other Bond film in a cinema. Now that I know that, at least according to one reviewer, Skyfall makes To Kill a Mockingbird look like a pile of puke, I owe it to myself to take it in.
Thank you, again, star-rating system. In a world of short attention-spans, you continue to set the pace for all journalism. One hundred and forty characters? Try five. Fewer, if necessary.