The ‘Great Film’ Phenomenon – By Kelvin Packham

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The ‘Great Film’ Phenomenon – By Kelvin Packham

‘Film’ is subjective.

This is a certainty, a fact if you will. I mean, even by its own definition, Film is an ‘art’ form (when done correctly I’d like to add!) so my burning question comes from the rather endless list of articles such as “50 greatest films of all time” books such as “101 films you must see before you die” and all the other numeric options some clever marketer has come up with. But who are these ‘great’ films being chosen by, and how are they denominating what is ‘great’. After all, film is subjective didn’t you know.

And these are not just written by Joe Bloggs from down the street either, these are some rather prestigious publishers creating these articles – and I first of all wonder “Are they simply quick publications, with someone blindfolded and a list off 100 films they like pointing at a page and counting down to one, which is then used as a quick buck to get a publication”…Maybe so! But delving deeper into this I find it hard to define (and challenge others to do so) as to what can be considered a universally accepted ‘great’ Film?

Now before I continue, I’d like to quickly note that although I am focusing on film, I do believe this theory to cross the medium boundaries of all forms of art, just because one doesn’t use a paintbrush, doesn’t mean they are not creating art.

So let’s get this started: A ‘great’ film. Now I personally cannot think of how to define this 100% because I truly don’t believe you can define anything on a mass scale as ‘great’ since everyone is unique and entitled to their own opinion. Instead I believe that the highest earned ‘rank’ in filmmaking can only be ‘good’. The leap into ‘great’ is a personal acceptation of whether you personally loved that film for whatever reason.

A film (as in any other form of art) has certain rules and professional techniques, whether they be a technical area such as the ‘rule of thirds’ within a camera shot, or the three-act rule in a linear narrative. Breaking these sometimes works, but overall you couldn’t make a solid film without a good 60% of technique being applied. This is in no way meant to be implied as some right-wing construct of how to make a film, but a film does need to be technically sound in order to be considered a ‘good’ film.

I do love the art of film just as much as the technical side, but in terms of measuring the level of how good a film is, we cannot go on artistic merit since again that is subjective, we can only go by something that is measurable, or ‘tangible’ to an extent. Thus I feel if a film can be considered technically well made and follows the rules of the great writers/directors/producers of our history then that can be classed as a ‘good’ film on a mass-scale so to speak.

So how does something like ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Citizen Kane’ go from being a well made film to pretty much everyone’s ‘Greatest Film of All Time’? And even though you don’t personally believe these films to be the greatest of all time, you know in the back of your mind that you should think so. I’ve even had discussions with friends and colleague who have actually APOLOGISED to me for not liking ‘The Godfather’ since they “know they should like it”!

There are two social psychological elements which I feel cause this phenomenon:

The first is the need to be accepted and to appear highly knowledgeable within such an industry as filmmaking, and is something I would associate very much to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperors New Clothes” which tells the story of a foolish monarch who is sold a nonexistent robe, who the makers claim cannot be seen by those who are “incorrigibly stupid.” So in order to not look “stupid” the king claims to be able to see the robe.

This is my first point in terms of a number of people simply knowing that they ‘should’ like the Godfather and almost forcing themselves to actually believe that this is their greatest film of all time. I had a friend that I spoke to years ago about their favourite film, knowing I was a film fanatic they automatically said “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Knowing full well it wasn’t I pestered them until they finally admitted their favourite film was in fact ‘Grease’. Now here’s the problem, there’s nothing wrong with this! Who cares if your favourite film ever is Grease? It doesn’t matter! But there is such a mass social stigmatism on the merit of character over ones favourite film that most people are inclined to say a film which they know is considered ‘great’ to not appear ‘stupid’.

My second point comes from “The Milgram Experiment” on obedience to authority figures. These were a series of social experiments run by Stanley Milgram back in the 60’s, which basically proved that if an authoritative figure tells you something (doctor etc), you believe it! And although it sounds absurd, I truly think this is one of the core reasons for the ‘Great Film Phernomenon’, in which Critics, acclaimed scholars even film institutions will point-blankly state that they believe a certain film to be great. Bang. There it starts, the greatness of a film has now been laid and ready to take a life of it’s own…With the help of an invisible robe of course!

And quite simply, when enough people state something is true. Who are we to argue.


Kelvin Packham
Aether Productions
Artistic Director

Feel free to check out my profile.

By | 2021-01-31T08:50:34+00:00 February 2nd, 2013|Uncategorized|3 Comments


  1. Patricia Hughes June 4, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Hi, nice article. I really like it!

  2. Kelvin Packham June 4, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks Patricia glad you like it! So what’s your thoughts? Do you think the idea of a ‘great’ film is something created by critics and people in high authority within the industry?

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