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Why Letterboxd is not my home, or nobody liked my Boyhood review

I’ve complained about Letterboxd a couple times here on the blog and even more on Twitter. I’ve included some snark in my Letterboxd views, as well. I’ve even contemplated writing a longer post about why I don’t consider myself a cinephile, using my objections to Letterboxd as part of a supporting, argumentative framework.

But really, I’ve already said most of what I’ve wanted to say about the latter in a comment thread on the site which I’m going to delete after I post it below.

This discussion was prompted by my less-than-enthusiastic review of Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood.

Only one of the commenters is still following me (not Jonathan White, however, who made the first complimentary comment) and if there were more likes than just the one, I’ve forgotten.

I still don’t get many likes.


Originally published on ‎Letterboxd on August 14, 2014.


Jonathan White

Rick, why not just copy /paste your insightful thoughts here?

Rick Powell

Well, as you see above, when the full review was here, I got no likes. At least on WordPress I see that people read and even sometimes like the post.

Thanks for your comment.

Jonathan White

Rick, maybe post it here, and also provide a link to your wordpress site. You were an early dissenter of this one, so lack of likes isn’t a surprise. Likes aren’t important, and on controversial opinions, and the comments come in time, which I find the most enjoyable part of posting.

Rick Powell

Thanks for the suggestion, but I have to disagree about likes not being important. Likes are encouragement to continue contributing, particularly on community-based sites. I think Letterboxd has told me decisively that it doesn’t care whether I contribute or not.

So, I float a review here and then if I like it, or if it fits the theme of the blog, I move it to the WordPress blog. I don’t want duplicate content out there regardless. Letterboxd is a good diary tool for my personal use, and that’s all.

Jonathan White

Rick, I see you have a bunch of followers, some of whom are friends of mine. Do you read and like their stuff (assuming you actually like their stuff)? I’m not talking about mass, automatic, liking here, but real interaction with your friends where you comment on their reviews. I’m a terrible reviewer but get great comments from friends because they’re just that, friends that I’ve interacted with.

Why don’t you want duplicate content?

Rick Powell

I try really hard to like only what I like. 🙂 And that’s not very much. I’m probably not as engaged as I could be because I’m disappointed in general in what I’m able to learn or discover from peoples’ reviews.

But I think the social aspect of this site is a kind of corruption, because the automatic liking is endemic and has little to do with what one feels about the quality of the writing or the perspective of the review. And I don’t get that at all. (I feel the same way about Facebook though.) But I take films and opinions too seriously to do anything automatically. I’ve given up on finding good writing on here but I do appreciate honesty, which means admitting ignorance sometimes and refusing to bullshit or be cowed by consensus at other times and also not be afraid to be human and have and explain human reactions.

And those things are what I liked about your review.

Rick Powell

I don’t duplicate content because of Google search penalties. Perhaps that’s pretentious…

Jonathan White

Rick, there are tonnes of great and insightful reviewers on here. (certainly not me). Look a little harder and I’m sure you’ll be gratified. Just engage, you don’t have to be a like-whore. Just write a little comment on someone’s review. It doesn’t have to be a ‘popular person’ review, just someone’s review who you’ve found and you want to interact with.

If you think everyone here are just morons, then I think you’re wrong.

Rick Powell

Perhaps you can point out some great reviews?

If I commented as much as much I’m inclined to, I wouldn’t make many friends, and when I do comment positively, people respond about half the time…maybe?

Reviewers don’t have to be morons, and most aren’t, for me to find what they write uninteresting. I can’t help that. I wish most would stop trying to be academics or professional film critics and just write an honest response. But most don’t do that.

Thanks for the engagement.

Jonathan White

Rick, it’s just about making friends. If you write some interesting stuff (which you do, so I’ve read on your wordpress site) and then find some interesting people here (and there are zillions of those) and you chat with each other, that’s the ticket.


I’m one of those “like-whores” that Jonathan referred to, and I “like” just about all the reviews of films I’ve seen by those I follow … not because I necessarily agree with the comments or revel in their prose, but because I “like” seeing what they have to say and I want to encourage them.

Sometimes I “like” a review expressing a view I don’t share (such as your review of Gone Girl), but not always (such as your review of Her). After I see “Boyhood” next week, I’ll probably like this review you’ve posted, even though you are asking me to check out your link and not providing a star-rating as a marker. No problem. Just don’t take the “likes” too personally. The comments mean more, and I’m finding you need to give to receive. 🙂

Rick Powell

Thanks, TajLV, for the comment. But it’s far easier to say “don’t take the likes too personally” when you already have a lot. No one wants to talk into the dark. If anyone argued with me, which absolutely no one has ever done, that would be a different thing, and welcome.

But, see, I already know a lot more now than I did — why people like stuff. ‘Cause it’s opaque to me. But the fact that you can cite my reviews is somewhat encouraging.

And few like my review of Her, but I still think the movie is so horrible I can’t even contemplate how to think of it as good. It embodies everything I hate about the current zeitgeist.

I don’t have a star-rating of Boyhood because I don’t know what I think of it. But I guess the fact that I don’t relish having to sit through it again says a lot.

Jonathan White

Taj, you’re not a Like-Whore, just like I’m not. Believe me I scrutinized you before following you 😉

Rick, this whole liking thing is way overblown. I only read reviews of films I’ve watched. After I’ve watched a film, I try to read all the reviews from people I follow. I’ll like it just to let them know that I’ve read it, and that I appreciate their effort. If I really think they had something interesting to say, I’ll make a comment, even if it’s just a throw away ‘nice take’. If I find what they’ve written really interesting, then I’ll write more. I’d like to do it more often, but even at my modest level of people I follow it takes hours per day, and that’s not even including writing a review.

So, Rick, just take it easy and join the community. Do something like I do, and I’m sure you’ll get plenty of likes. Not enough to become a ‘popular person’ but enough that you get feedback from friends that they like what you write.


@Jonathan – Scrutinized, eh? I’ve given 23,316 likes in less than a year here. I insist being recognized as a “like whore.”

@Rick – I still feel like I’m finding my way here, too, but the longer I participate, the more I enjoy it. It’s a pretty welcoming community, and very international. Just keep plugging away and sharing. Once you get up to about 400 followers, you’ll be getting likes consistently on everything you write.

Ken Rudolph

I like to be “liked,” that’s only human. But I’m afraid I’m not doing my part to “like” most reviews…simply because I take the word seriously. I’m hardly ever going to like a review I disagree with, although if it is well written and convincing, I might make an exception. I actually never considered that the act of “liking” should be used to encourage review writers to participate. I’ve found this meta discussion especially interesting (and one like this is very rare on Letterboxd.) And even though I sometimes diametrically disagree with Mr. Powell’s opinion (on this film and Her, for instance), and can’t honestly say that I “like” it, I do wish there was an option to say “agree” or “disagree,” which seems a lot more useful than “like.”

Rick Powell

Hi Ken. Letterboxd didn’t tell me you commented… but I’d be happy to argue with you about Her and Boyhood.

For sure, the thing I’m most disappointed about with Letterboxd is the lack of discussion. There’s a lot of glad-handing, which verges on hand-jobs, and a lot of sycophantic posturing, and even though lots of people pretend to be scholars or pros, the comments are empty of insight, in general. If I had known it was so social, in the vapid way that Facebook is, I probably wouldn’t have joined, and stayed on Criticker, which is a much better recommendation engine anyway, and is only incidentally social.

Comments, especially ones that challenge me, would be fantastic, but there never are any. I like to argue, but something about the way I write discourages people from comments.

And to TaJLV and Jonathan: I think you’ve misunderstood me. I really don’t care about likes. I do care about knowing that people have read what I wrote. I don’t know that here, but on WordPress I do.

At least on WordPress, I see hits and engagement through stats. Few people comment there either, although the ones who have, including some filmmakers, have been rewarding. More common to see is that one or two people every couple weeks have read and read and read and stayed on the site, sometimes for hours. They’re silent but they’re reading. That seems to the best that I can hope for, and that is satisfying.

Steven Sheehan

Rick, what I’ve found over the past couple of years I’ve been on here is that to establish more ‘likes’ or comments you need a healthy section of followers. Some people decide to build that number up using rather cynical methods but I just kept doing what I love, which is watching films and writing about them and I am lucky enough to have quite a few people following me now. Mass liking on here is a problem however and the sooner the owners address that issue the better for everyone so we can all work on an even keel.

Although I get what you’re saying about some of the comments I would say this is a world away from Facebook in regards to empty comments. There are some people who do post worthless, empty comments only in the hope of getting something back instead of meaning what they say. Then again, one of the great things about this place is the respect shown to everyone else. That’s a rarity on the internet. I don’t think this middle ground exists you are after exists, where people argue, disagree and respect that. Either it is played safe, as it is on here, or it goes OTT like Twitter or something similar. You may not be challenged enough by people but I’d wager you have become aware of a hell of a lot of films that never used to be on your radar. I think everyone would say the same.

On the other side of things, similar to what J said about interacting, have you poised much of a challenge to reviews you don’t agree with? That’s one way to challenge and spark discussion. You know yourself it has to be a two way thing. [Rick’s note: Of course, I know now what happens when I do disagree.]

Rick Powell

I’ll admit to having been naive as to what is possible on Letterboxd and I suppose I’ve discovered a few films I might not have otherwise heard of, although I’ve found more on Criticker through their rec engine, and a billion times more on a certain cinephile file-sharing site, plus I follow a handful of bloggers in particularly genres like martial arts and also Jonathan Rosenbaum. So, a hell of a lot more discoveries on Letterboxd? Hell, no.

I have commented. In every case, it’s met with silence or defensive snark. That might have a lot to do with my own style or tone, of course.

I want to be read certainly, but I want my writing and my understanding and appreciation of film to get better and richer, and that just hasn’t happened here.

But I keep bringing up a point that was ignored, and I’ll bring it up again, I don’t think one has to be a film scholar or to be hardcore cinephile to have something valuable to write about your response to a film. Because of the culture here, that possibility is seriously corrupted not just by pursuit of likes and the vapid sycophancy, but by folks pretending to be something that they’re not — published writers, critics, scholars, academics, even run-of-the-mill hacks. What’s wrong with being honest about one’s reactions, wherever they come from?

So, we get a lot of pretentious and repetitive writing, full of words that mean nothing, like transcendent for instance, but that’s only one example among hundreds, or words that folks do not know the meaning of, like direction and mise-en-scène, just to name two, instead of straight-forward responses and opinions. I don’t read reviews anymore, to be honest, because I can tell in the excerpts what sort of thing I’m going to read before I read it, and how full of shit the person is who’s writing it.

Thank you, seriously, for responding to all this. Y’all are a lot more tolerant than I am.

Steven Sheehan

That’s how you see it, then fair enough. I guess I would be one of those ‘academic’ style writers but I’ve never felt comfortable doing it any other way. Maybe that’s down to insecurities or lack of confidence or just falling into a particular template when I started writing about films 5 years ago, I don’t know. But I certainly mean every word. At the same time I think there are some great personal, honest reviewers on here (Lise, Sally Jane Black, Rembrandt Q Pumpernickel to name a few). Maybe as you say, the silence does come down to your tone, I’ve no idea. I reply to everyone because the fact someone has commented, good or bad, on something I’ve written means something to me. But I do get where you are coming from. Maybe this just isn’t the right setting for what you need? It sounds like you’re way ahead of me with that conclusion anyway.

Rick Powell

I didn’t say I didn’t like academic writing, and I don’t think yours is anyway, I just said I don’t enjoy people writing like they’re academics when they’re not.

I think individual responses are often just as valuable, maybe even more valuable, than academics’. It’s just that most seem to think they have to sound “smart,” whatever that might mean to them and for whoever is reading, and as result, obscure their more genuine responses. Word-choice in these reviews is big clue as to how much bullshit I’m going to have…. oh fuck it, I’m repeating myself.

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