What makes a great movie?

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Being a business student, I’ve learned that most people like to simplify. They also like to make figures and diagrams and list thing that start with the same letter, like the 4 Ps in marketing (Product, Place, Price, Promotions).

In a similar vein I thought long and hard about what it is that constitutes a great movie, and if it could be narrowed down to a few simple catch phrases. What I came up with is what I like to call the 4 Ms of Movie Magic.

Totally cheesy, I know. Here it goes:

Mise en scène
It already feels like cheating, because it’s not really one word and not all of the words start with an M, but bear with me.
Basically what I mean with mise en scène are all the technical aspects of filmmaking. Thinking in terms of Oscars these would be the so called “technical awards”. Even a ‘bad film can distinguish itself for a superb mise en scène. In other words everything from cinematography, to editing, sound design/mixing, costumes, art direction and direction in general certainly have something to do with it.

Mood
Mood? “What does that have to do with anything?” You might ask. Well, the mood of a film comprises everything from the performance to the score, the color palette and the camera angles. It’s usually what we are not able to put our fingers on, but made us fall in love with a picture. Great acting, writing and directing are of course highly influential in how a film will make you feel. This is also very closely connected to another of the 4 Ms namely meaning.

Message
What is the filmmaker trying to say? That’s irrelevant. How you perceive a film is ultimately what counts. It will also determine whether you like a movie or not. If the message seems to speak against personal convictions or beliefs you hold highly the film can be really good in all other departments, but that won’t help much. For example if a film is racist or too “self-righteous” it will never be able to win me over.

Meaning
A film can be incredibly well crafted and have the most important message, but if there is no personal connection to the film how can one relate? Here’s again where the script comes in: Are the characters real? And the acting: Is it believable? We assign meaning to a film depending where we are in life, what we’ve experienced or even how we feel on that particular day. A film can take on different ‘meanings’ depending on the context it is viewed in.

As you’ve seen this was a bit of an over-simplification, but that’s the definition of schematic thinking.
When all the four Ms work together perfectly you should have a personal favorite film. Critics might consider it best movie of all time, but if you get something out of it and find yourself re-visiting it every so often, that is certainly worth more than what others think of it.

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6 comments

  1. Pingback: Would We Care if They Weren’t So Pretty? | black is white

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