Movies

On Letterboxd, anyone can be a film critic

On the social-media network Letterboxd, which describes
itself as “like Goodreads for movies,” one can learn a lot
about a film. For instance,
Bohemian
Rhapsody
, the new Freddie Mercury biopic, has
been reviewed by users 31,615 times, and has an average user
rating of 3.7 out of 5. This compares favourably to

Venom, which has been logged 40,483
times and has an average rating of 2.8, and

Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas,
which has been rated just over a thousand times and has the
lowest average star rating on the website, at a mere
0.9.

A user named Aaron Jacobson filed his rating
of 
Saving Christmas on
August 7 and supplemented his half-star with a one-sentence
review: “Why does this exist.” An 1100-word two-star review
posted in June is more generous. “Making fun of this movie is
like shooting fish in a barrel,” writes user bandsaboutmovies.
“Jesus was a fisherman.”

Letterboxd was founded in 2010 by Matthew Buchanan, a web
designer from Auckland, New Zealand. He dreamed of a
social-media platform that would combine the encyclopedic scope
of a repository like the Internet Movie Database with three
distinct features: “A film diary/journal, the ability to share
reviews using a follower model and the creation and sharing of
lists.” The result felt both familiar and new — it harmonized
many customs and proclivities of cinephiles online, and for
movie lovers an account quickly became essential. Nearly a
decade later, it remains so. The site satisfies the pedant’s
compulsion to catalogue and chronicle; indulges the
opinionated’s desire for patronage; and, because reviews are
open to comments, slakes the truculent’s thirst for debate. It
offers just the kind of habit-forming, sometimes tiresome
maelstrom of discourse that the internet does best.

Letterboxd.
Letterboxd

Like most social networks, Letterboxd is a self-curated
experience, which is to say it’s only as good as the people one
elects to follow. Some people use their Letterboxd page as a
platform for serious film criticism, publishing painstaking
treatises on, say, the use of colour in
The Red
Shoes
or the marxist dimensions of
Clueless. There are no limitations on
length on Letterboxd; there are no editors either, and one
often encounters sprawling disquisitions that are the work of
either the very smart or very bored. Other people treat
Letterboxd more like Twitter, and review films with pithy
jokes. Others still use it to air niche bete noires or tackle
obscure grievances. One popular user issues “vegan alerts,” in
which she reports alarming content: “In the first scene, a boy
wears a leather watch.”

Using Letterboxd can occasionally feel like
self-punishment. It affords one many opportunities to be
irritated by the obtuse opinions of people one dislikes, as
well as countless chances to be regaled by the insults of
strangers descending into the comments section to disagree with
a review you wrote eight months ago. In this, it shares much in
common with Twitter, Facebook and all of our other favourite
daily reminders of the broad spectrum of human personalities.
Of greater interest is how it affects one’s moviegoing
tendencies. Because it records what you watch, Letterboxd makes
you keenly aware of your routines and inclinations; because it
shares what you watch with your friends, it makes you
self-conscious about them. No one wants to be seen to be
logging junk every day. Feeling exposed, perhaps a little
guilty, you throw in something a little heavier to demonstrate
your serious taste to followers.

Letterboxd memberships are free of charge, with an option
to upgrade to a “Pro” account with added features for a nominal
fee. They don’t compensate users for their reviews — as they
are obliged to clarify on their FAQ page — but Letterboxd can
be a place for aspiring critics to build an audience and hone
their craft. Some amateur Letterboxd scribes have parlayed
their popularity on the site into actual careers as critics;
others, happily enough, ply the trade as a hobby.

It’s heartening to see people with unique or otherwise
underrepresented voices in criticism find enthusiastic
followings on the site over time: Letterboxd is a great place
to read work by transgender writers and young writers of
colour, or just to read the loose impressions of someone who
may have interesting thoughts to share sometimes but no
interest in working as a proper critic. And it’s a great place
to read the silly barbs and one-liners no real publication
would ever print.

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