I wanted a hard copy of the Billson Film Database, in case the internet went down, or amazon suddenly went bust, or there was a continent-wide power cut that lasted forever, or something. So while I was about it, I thought I might as well make it available to everyone else, in the hope of earning some pocket money.
So here it is, and it’s a whopper: 8½ x 11 inches and 484 pages. Please be advised: in order to squeeze in all 4000+ reviews I have had to make the font size smaller than I would have liked. Myopics like myself should be able to read it in a good light without problems, though long-sighted people will probably need reading glasses.
Here are the Preamble, Author’s Preface to the 2018 Edition, and a Guide to My Ratings System:
This is my personal film database consisting of more than 4100 short film reviews. Most of these were written for the TV pages of the Sunday Telegraph between 2002 and 2013, though a few reviews from other publications have crept in too.
Style, content and length of each review have been dictated by editorial requirements, space restrictions, print deadlines, changing layouts, and the vagaries of television scheduling, hence apparent eccentricities such as Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid getting twice as much space as Citizen Kane.
Since these reviews were written to tie in with broadcasts on British television, you will not find reviews of every film ever made. For the same reason, you won’t find reviews of the most recent releases.
The reviews are not written for film buffs, but for the literate albeit non-specialist readership of a national newspaper – read by all ages, hence the occasional gentle caution about language, sex or gore.
They have been lightly edited to remove topical references, to correct obvious mistakes, and to reflect personal changes of opinion. However, because they were published not all at once, but in weekly increments over the course of a decade, sharp-eyed readers will spot a great many self-plagiarisms, repetitions and other evidence of limited vocabulary.
For example, I seem to have been particularly fond of the cliché “no cliché left unturned”. Every great performance is a tour de force, people’s lives are continually being turned “upside down”, and poor Yuen Woo-ping, a man with decades of directing under his belt, will forever be referred to as the bloke who choreographed the fight scenes in The Matrix.
In other words, anyone reading more than a couple of reviews at a single sitting should therefore be prepared to experience feelings of déjà vu – another term I trot out so often you will almost certainly keep getting the feeling you’ve seen it before.
AUTHOR’S PREFACE TO THE 2018 EDITION
I took advantage of this new print edition of the Billson Film Database to correct typos that slipped unnoticed through previous proof readings, add or subtract stars to reflect changes of opinion, delete topical comments that are now outdated or irrelevant, and generally regularise spelling and punctuation, particularly with regard to numerals and the anglicisation of Korean proper names.
I have also tried to moderate what can only be described as an addiction to hyphens. Give me a space between two vaguely associated words and I’ll stick a hyphen in there, whether or not it’s required. At one point I googled the term “anal-retentive” to see if it really needed that hyphen, and found that Number Three in “Top 5 Signs You Are Anal-Retentive” was “You look up anal-retentive to see whether it needs a hyphen.”
It has now been five years since I first published the Billson Film Database as an ebook, and another thing that caught my attention was how drastically social attitudes have changed in that period, mostly (in my opinion) for the better.
For example, the “MeToo” movement that gained momentum in 2017 has made me re-examine throwaway comments which I clearly once thought were amusing, but which now strike me as crass. I have accordingly cut several references to actresses “getting naked” in films, as though this were a choice they made themselves and not, in most cases, an obligation imposed on them by male film-makers. Kate Hardie quite rightly called me out on this after reading several such mentions of her on my blog, and I owe her thanks, as well as an apology.
Finally, apologies for the small typeface, which will undoubtedly require the use of reading glasses for some readers (though myopics, like me, can probably manage without them, provided the light isn’t too dim). Due to POD requirements and restrictions, a larger typeface would have made this book impossible to issue in print form.
A WORD ABOUT RATINGS
Like most film writers, I find star ratings systems absurdly reductive. I have nevertheless provided one here, in a possibly misguided attempt to make the database more accessible and, I hope, to forestall such questions as, “But did you actually like the film?”
Please bear in mind, however, that like all such ratings, these are subjective. I have made no attempt to reflect a film’s historical worth, popularity or critical standing. All the star rating does is reflect my own preferences, which are unlikely to correspond with yours, or indeed anyone else’s, except perhaps by accident.
In other words, my ratings reflect the illogical prejudices, arbitrary whims and frequently wrong-headed opinions I have accumulated during a lifetime of watching films.
If you strongly disagree with any of the ratings, or indeed with anything I have written here (as you most certainly will), please be advised that it really would be a waste of time telling me so. Just bask in the knowledge that you are right, and I am wrong – just as I am basking in the knowledge that I am right, and you are wrong.
On the other hand, should you happen across any typos, factual errors or spelling mistakes, please don’t hesitate to point them out, so I can implement corrections at a later date. I can be contacted via Twitter and Facebook, or via my blog (multiglom.com).
All reviews are ©Anne Billson. You are welcome to quote from them provided you give me a credit. If you end up quoting them at vast length and make a huge amount of money from doing so, I expect to share in that income.
I reserve the right to rewrite a review, or change my opinion whenever I feel like it.
A GUIDE TO MY RATINGS SYSTEM
* Intolerable. I would rather stick needles in my eyes, pull my own intestines out, and knit them into a hat than watch this film again.
** Tolerable, just – if there’s nothing better on another channel, if the pub is closed, if you’ve read all the books and magazines in your house, and have nothing better to do.
*** Watchable. Most films fall into this category. It is an honourable category, and not to be sneezed at. It is also a bit of a dumping-ground for when I can’t make up my mind, or for films I don’t particularly like but that I recognise have some sort of merit.
**** Good. Definitely worth my time, if not yours. There is something about these films that, for me, raises them above the merely watchable.
***** Brilliant. These are my favourite films. My life would be the poorer for not having seen them. For better or worse, they have made me the person I am today.
I have also introduced five supplementary symbols, to denote the following:
A personal favourite. Not all these will be five nor even four-star films, but each has a special place in my heart, whether for sentimental, nostalgic, aesthetic or intellectual reasons.
Preposterous tosh I couldn’t possibly recommend in an orthodox fashion, but that I nevertheless found diverting in some crazy, wacked-out way, possibly not entirely unconnected to consumption of beer. Warning: these films may induce eyeball-rolling, Italian footballer-style gesticulating, derisive snorting, and shouting at the screen in disbelief.
A film that made me cry.
A soundtrack to which I am partial, or that I consider distinctive, unusual or memorable in some way, even if the film itself is below par.
A Major Cat Movie – a film in which a cat plays a leading role, or a film featuring at least one memorable cat-related moment. This category is dedicated to my cat Tiger (1988-2003), who once watched a Krzysztof Kieslowski film because it had pigeons in it. For more information, see my book Cats on Film.
Billson Film Database is available to order POD from all the amazons, at a very reasonable price considering the years of work that went into it. Or you could ask your local bookshop to order it. I have also revised the ebook version, which is even cheaper than the paperback.
If you buy it and enjoy it, please think about leaving a review on one of the amazons – every review helps! Here are some sample comments from readers, none of whom is related to me:
“Essential reading. Has very quickly become my go-to film guide, supplanting Time-Out, Halliwell, Maltin. Also, this collection contains the best description ever of Hannibal Lecter.”
“An indispensable companion for fans of film, and witty, trenchant writing. I was genuinely peeved to have finished it.”
“A sharp, insightful, funny & wise collection of short pieces by one of the most interesting & idiosyncratic film writers around.”
“Simply put, Billson gets films and writes wonderfully well on what she sees at the cinema. She’s elegant, insightful, unfussy and open to all kinds of film. She’s brilliant but neither high brow or laden with theory and jargon. She’s on your side.”
“A genuine film expert and a genuine wit, a pleasure just to browse.”
“My most frequently consulted work of film reference. Everyone should have one!”
Fantastic – just ordered it from Amazon! This is a godsend to those of us who get migraines if we stare at computer screens too long. Environmentally friendly, too (unless you’re a tree, I suppose).
Excellent! thank you! (I hope you don’t find the print too small) Enjoy!