How I was corrupted at a young age and became a junior film critic

I have discovered that generally speaking, people who write about the movies (film bloggers and/or professional critics) generally handle the real world one of three ways.

Some never discuss their writing with their circle of friends. Some talk about it a little and some tell everyone they meet. I don’t like to blast what I do because, frankly, peoples’ eyes tend to glaze over when the subject of early film history comes up. But when I do end up discussing my silent movie writing, the most common question is, “Why?”

Why silent films? Simply put, I felt there was a need for a bit of anarchy in silent film writing. In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond talks about the smashing of silent idols but I think we could do with a bit more demolition, especially if we combine it with archeology to unearth unjustly forgotten figures.

bare-knees-nose-grabBeyond being the enfant terrible of silent movies, I wanted to capture some of the unabashed enthusiasm displayed at a site called The Silents Majority. One of the biggest silent movie sites in its day, it went down over a decade ago and is still mourned. The site’s long list of reviews (archived here, check ’em out!) provided an invaluable to-watch list for me when I needed it most. That’s why I may have other projects but reviews will always be the backbone of this site. I want readers to enjoy a deep and wide selection of silent films and detailed reviews are the best way to sell a title.

But why write about movies at all? For the answer to that question, we need to go back in time. (Imagine the world getting all wavy and a harp playing a glissando, please.)

Yep, we were this glamorous.
Yep, we were this glamorous.

I come from a family of bookworms and so it was necessary to purchase at least four newspapers to satisfy us. Two Los Angeles papers, one Kern County and one local rag that didn’t have much news but did feature some spectacularly nutty letters to the editor.

When you’re in grade school, the most important section is the comics. Of course, everyone would grab those pages first and so I would bide my time in the editorials, world news and the arts and culture section. I soon became hooked on the film reviews. How would one paper’s critic review a new release and would the other papers agree? The film itself was secondary, I was intrigued by the different ways a motion picture could be dissected. (For the record, Kenneth Turan was my favorite as a wee tyke and I still enjoy his writing very much.)

mantrap-reading
But the minute anyone is finished with the comics section…

I discovered Siskel and Ebert as a tween and found them head and shoulders above other TV critics I had seen. They argued and debated but clearly respected one another and their knowledge of their subject made them a covert film theory class. Then my mother noticed my love of movies and gave me a subscription to Entertainment Weekly as a present. More critics to add to my internal review aggregator. I also bought a bunch of those thick movie guides and Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary, which collected film tropes.

And now I had a problem. This was pre-internet for most people and I had a head full of film theory and criticism. What is a tween supposed to do with all of it? Friends and family could only take so much and so the answer was to write, write, write.

cossacks-silly-writing

Journaling as such as never really interested me. I suppose my paranoia and introversion make me hesitant to open up on paper about my life. Film reviews create a lens, a buffer that allows me to express myself while still keeping my emotional distance. Bloggers talk about having personas and I feel it is definitely true in my case. There is an element of performance art that helps me maintain a semblance of sanity. Well, sometimes, anyway.

Movies are a rich subject because they are at once a constructed commodity and an art and no one can say exactly where the dividing line is. To make a good movie, one must follow a certain set of rules but also know when to break them. Sometimes the artist is right and sometimes the money men are right. A filmmaking team may do everything right and still create a turkey, while an unmitigated disaster will stumble into being a cult classic or even real art. It’s intriguingly organized chaos. How could I resist?

The most common reaction to my reviews.
The most common reaction to my reviews.

At first, I just kept my reviews in Word documents but as the internet became more of a thing, I would share them with friends (who I hope were not too bored) via email. The idea for launching a website came when it became clear that the Silents Majority was never coming back. I had a collection of reviews and an itch to send them out into the world. (My first five reviews are listed here.)

And that, my dears, illustrates the danger of keeping a small child from her comic section. It may seem to be a small thing but it may result in her annoying large numbers of D.W. Griffith fans on the internet.

bare-knees-wink-wink

14 Replies to “How I was corrupted at a young age and became a junior film critic”

  1. “Journaling as such as never really interested me. I suppose my paranoia and introversion make me hesitant to open up on paper about my life. Film reviews create a lens, a buffer that allows me to express myself while still keeping my emotional distance.”

    Huh. This paragraph made me realize that this is how I function.

  2. I’m a newer member here and greatly appreciate your input to this genre. Words come difficult to me, you have made navigating the actors, topics, etc more enjoyable.
    I mostly like the historical angles. You do that as well and with a sense of humor.
    Many many thanks for what you do.

  3. I love reading your thoughts each day. I’m lucky to live in an area where I have access to silent films on the screen with the different programs throughout the year courtesy of the Silent Film Festival in San Francisco and the Niles Silent Film Theater. I am also a collector and have several hundred films many courtesy of Grapevine. Thanx for the daily pleasure.

  4. I can so relate since I was always drawn to cinema and especially the older cinema and I don’t mean before 2000:) of course nobody was into it, except my dad who grew up during the silents and was in his 20’s during the 1930’s so he loved this whole time of the movies. He knew all the silents and I would ask him questions and was enthralled by the picture palaces.

  5. Nice story from how one of my favorite blogs was created!
    I come from a movie loving family. My great-grandpa was a movie theater manager, and my grandma used to go to the movies, for free, every Saturday and Sunday.
    When I first went to a movie theater to watch Ice Age, I thought it’s be cool to write about the movie in a World doc. It didn’t happen, but the following year I wrote about the film for a newspaper produced at junior school. When I told my mom that Ice Age was the movie that turned me into a critic, she said: “that movie created a monster”! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. i forget how i got hooked on pre-1945 movies but i was in fifth/sixth grade…since i was bullied by my classmates, i had a hard time expressing interest in the pop culture phenomena of the time (boy bands, titanic, etc) but these movies felt like something that belonged to me. there was a great video rental place near where my mom worked that had an excellent selection; it was from there that she rented “greed” for me in 1998. i do remember “silents majority” and it was great!! don’t worry about griffith fans…i don’t have a strong opinion on him myself to be honest…triggered in large part by a documentary called “cinema europe,” i am more interested in silent films from europe, especially germany. i think most of “cinema europe” is still on youtube.

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