Growing up, I didn’t read movie reviews, or really have any concept of what a “Star-Rating” was. I would just see a movie and express interest. Of course, this was also before Rotten Tomatoes and Meta-Critic, not to mention widespread internet and computer usage, so you’ll have to forgive my bumpkinesque way of viewing the cinematic world. Now, with all of that said, there was one rating system that I was familiar with, and in fact still consider to be the best system for rating a film that I have ever encountered.
My father, who is a real person with a real job and will therefore not be getting named the for the rest of this article, was never what you might consider a giant fan of the movie going experience. However, my step-mother and I were both film-junkies, so inevitably every Friday would end with us gathered in front of the television, freshly ordered pizza (because seriously who doesn’t eat pizza on Fridays?), and with a movie in the DVD player.
Here is where my father’s rating system would begin. He would finish his meal, lean back in his recliner, and watch the movie with my step-mother and me. But, as the plot wore on, sooner or later we would hear the tell-tale signs of snoring emanating from his chair as he slowly lost the tenuous connection with consciousness. Thus, the Slumber Scale of movies was born.
Now, by no means should you think this was an indiscriminate event of napping. Far from it. My father would only pass out once the movie lost his interest. It could be from one slow scene, a generally lagging plot, or not enough action to keep him engaged. Regardless, once Dad was out, that was it. There was no getting him back into the movie, because he had completely left the viewing experience. In a way it was an entirely cutthroat yet undeniably genuine method of evaluating a film.
The Slumber Scale was, in essence, how long my father managed to stay away during any particular viewing experience. He had no care for actors, directors, or prestige. His was truly the most neutral, honest expression of rating one could hope to encounter. Hype was irrelevant, he passed out before Jack and Rose ever met in Titanic and didn’t wake up again until Celine Dion was warbling her horrible alien mating call over the credits. Prestigious, Academy Award winning films fell under his ruthless assessment.
I’m sure you might be wondering this by now, but yes, there were occasions, so rare and glorious to see it was catching sight of a falling star, where my father did manage to stay awake through an entire film. By mutual agreement with my step-mother, when this happened we always bought those films to keep on hand, since it was quite literally the highest praise my father could give a work of visual art.
So then, what cinematic masterpieces achieved this nearly unreachable summit, and scored a perfect rating on the Slumber Scale? They are, as best I can recall:
Rush Hour (1 & 2)
The Blues Brothers
Blast from The Past
Those are the only ones I can remember, though it’s possible there were more throughout the years that have slipped my mind. Of course, since I’ve left home I’m certain there were more added to the list, though compared to the number of blockbusters churned out by Hollywood every year the percentage must be staggeringly small.
I tell you all of that, dear readers, to tell you this: while at a quick glance my father’s taste in films might seem unrefined, and yeah, it probably is, now that I’m older and I look back at old movies that I feel like re-watching, I invariably find that movies which scored high on the Slumber Scale are ones that hold up better. They may not always be good, certainly, but they remain consistently entertaining. Maybe my dad has a keen eye for pacing and little willingness to put up with someone’s mistakes. Perhaps he saw the enduring, ineffable quality in some pieces and that was what drew him in.
All I know is this: Dear amateur filmmakers who want to know if your work is engaging, come show it to my dad. If he stays awake for more than half of it, you probably have a solid piece on your hands. If he passes out in the first fifteen, you’ve likely done an artsy film that will do well with critics. If, however, you’ve managed to cobble together the right components to keep Dad awake through the entire viewing process, then you, my friend, have created something with the makings of a true classic, even if only in a cult-classic sense.
And also bring pizza. Because, duh.