Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Snap judgments

I haven't yet reached the next increment of 10,000 duels on Flickchart, but it's time to pimp the site again anyway.

See, has just had a major site upgrade that makes some really interesting improvements/ modifications. In addition to some appearance-related upgrades, like a redesign of the movie homepages (which also do have some functionality upgrades that I won't get into here), and some upgrades that I would consider mostly just for fun (like a filter to rank films by franchise), there are some real changes in the way you perform duels, in the interest of getting ever-greater accuracy within your rankings.

The most notable is the filter to rank movies by title. This allows you to take any movie you have in your database and re-rank it until it gets to its exact right spot in the rankings. In other words, the site repeatedly conducts duels between that movie and a series of challengers, until the movie in question beats the movie directly below it in the standings, but does not beat the movie directly above it. This is also the new process for adding films for the first time. When you select that you want to add a film to Flickchart, it immediately opens the By Title filter, and you're off to the races, dueling the movie as many as 10 to 15 times before it lands in the exact right spot.

By contrast, the old method was to duel a film three times, which gets it into the general neighborhood of where it should be. This leaves the fine-tuning of its position until later on, when the movie comes up randomly in duels and beats other films to move up. (Or gets steadily pushed down by the films that beat it.)

Because my ultimate goal is to get my rankings exactly right, and because I always notice films in my rankings that are ranked either way too high or way too low, I was geeked for this change. Indisputably, it's a great feature, and I don't want any of the philosophical ruminating I am about to do to cast any aspersions on it.

Jonathan Parker's (Untitled) (yes, that's its title) was one of the first movies I subjected to this process, having just watched it on Saturday. I thought that was an appropriate film, thematically, because it's a satire that wrestles with the idea of what constitutes art. It features, among other things, a musical trio whose pieces are comprised of dissonant sounds/noise (such as a chain in a bucket), an artist whose work consists of taxidermy and household appliances, and an artist who places a pushpin in a wall and is heralded as a genius.

It's implicit in this kind of deconstruction of what art is, that sometimes you need to truly ruminate on a piece of art before you decide whether it has aesthetic value, and if so, how much. So back to the discussion regarding Flickchart. If you're like me and like to add your newly watched movies to the site as soon as possible, the By Title filtering method doesn't allow much time/head space for rumination.

I knew (Untitled) had aesthetic value -- plenty of it, in fact. Unlike Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential, which I loathed but which has similar artistic goals to this film, I thought the tone was perfect, and the satire was spot-on. In short, it really made me think. I'm glad, because the guy who reviewed it for my site couldn't stand it, and I happen to have already read his review, months ago. I watched the film anyway and was certainly glad I did.

But because I was still thinking about it afterwards -- still am, actually -- it means that I'm still processing exactly how much I like it. And knowing the exact line of demarcation between the films it beats, and those it doesn't, isn't really possible at this stage. Is it one of the top 700 movies I've ever seen, or one of the top 500? Or even higher? The By Title filer will assign it an exact spot in the rankings, the result of precise code and algorithms, and I think it may be too soon for that. When (Untitled) beat a certain film and landed at #372, it told me two things: 1) The previous #372 may have been ranked too high, but also, 2) the tool may not be working exactly as I hoped it would -- for me -- because this was not a level of praise I was prepared to bestow on this movie. Not yet, anyway.

Like I said, this has nothing to do with whether this is a good feature or not. It's a great feature, because like most of the features on Flickchart, you can use it as you see fit. The way the feature works, you can actually exit the dueling process before it gets to its exact correct spot, if that's what you want. The By Title filter has a helpful progress bar at the top that shows you how close the film is to arriving in its exact correct spot. The closer you get to the end, the more accurately it will be ranked, according to the judgments you are able to make about it at that particular time. However, if you start to get into the position of making judgments you're uncomfortable making, all you have to do is click out of the dueling process and to another spot on the site. Then just reconsider it only when it comes up randomly in duels later on.

This may just be how I use the By Title feature going forward. I may not want to make these snap judgments about the art I consume. I felt a similar hesitation about ranking My Bloody Valentine 3D, which I've already gone on record hating. But as it dropped downward into my bottom 50 films, I was wondering if it was too soon to be so critical of something I'd only just seen for the first time. Did I really hate it more than movies that I've known I've hated for years? Is hate instantaneous, or does it increase in intensity over time?

Then again, I could just be copping out. If you think about it logically, all this really means is that you're having an escalated number of the duels this film would eventually have, scheduled for right now rather than randomly over time. I might have to make a judgment like this on the film's first random duel, and still not know how I would choose. However, the difference is, in random duels, you are not working one particular film in a systematic way. You aren't required to keep dueling the same film against stiffer and stiffer competition, and deciding the exact point at which that competition becomes too stiff.

Well, as usual, I'm just glad Flickchart provides me the tools to make these decisions for myself. Flickchart makes the tools available, and I decide how exactly I will use them for the purposes of my own agenda.

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