Defining Quality in Film
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This paper offers a critical overview of some of the underlying bases on which certain kinds of quality status are characteristically ascribed to films. An inclusive notion of quality is employed here across a considerable spectrum of types of film that are marked as distinctive, to varying degrees, from that which is associated with the work of the most commercial mainstream. This ranges from what can be identified as the ‘quality’ end of Hollywood production to various examples that fall into categories such as ‘art’ or ‘independent’ film. A number of textual and extra-textual characteristics of such films are identified, in broad terms, with an emphasis on the essentially relative nature of the concept of quality. Textual features include the claims made by many such films to certain varieties of thematic significance or importance, including formal qualities such as claims of objective realism or more expressive or reflexive approaches. A key aim of the paper is to identify the long-standing hierarchical schema and implicit assumptions within which such notions of quality are discursively established, and a number of related assumptions according to which particular value is usually ascribed to films that fall within a broad notion of quality such as that which is employed here. Quality is identified here as an unavoidably elitist concept, within a variety of particular manifestations, one that typically implies a denigration of other kinds of film and that raises a number of questions particularly relating to its use as a basis for decisions about state or international funding support. The paper concludes with a call, not for the abandonment of the employment of such a notion but for the importance of acknowledging the very particular and partial nature of the bases on which it rests.
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