My Movie Review Process: Selection and Acquisition

This is a peek behind the curtain. I’m going to talk about how I  go about reviewing films. I hope you find it interesting!

Choosing Films

Generally speaking, I choose films based on the current theme month. There are some theme months that I like to hold annually (100 Years Ago… and Reader Requests are yearly events) and the rest are chosen based on the films I have available and what tickles my fancy at the moment. For example, the current theme month was chosen because I knew the weather was warming up and I wanted to write about pictures with lots of snow and water.

Fun Fact: My First-Ever Theme Month was “I Loved a German”

Other theme months were chosen to fill specific holes in my knowledge. For example, I realized I knew nothing about silent cinema in Latin America but an entire month of enjoying these films educated me (I still have a lot to learn!) and introduced me to exciting talents of whom I had previously been unaware.

Once the theme month is chosen, I check to make sure I have enough films to fill a month with weekly reviews, so four or five titles are required. This is why I love theme months: they force me off the beaten path. If I have three titles that fit my theme but need a fourth, I am forced to dig and I find all sorts of hidden gems by venturing out of my comfort zone. I generally know which titles I will review 2-3 months in advance, more in the case of a special event review.

I like requests.

When selecting, I also keep in mind reader requests. As I said earlier, I hold a yearly Reader Request month (requests are open for it now!) but I am happy to hear requests year-round. Even if I don’t cover your film, be sure to ask again! I really do pay attention and find this sort of feedback to be highly valuable. Please keep it coming!

I try to strike a balance between famous and obscure, Hollywood and the rest of world cinema. I know there are quite a few famous silents that I have not yet reviewed but I am rationing myself. There simply aren’t that many big titles and if I reviewed just the famous films, I would be out of business in a year or less. In any case, I also enjoy giving less-famous cinema its moment in the sun, holding obscure films up to the light so we can all ooo and aaah and them again.

Switches

There are times when I sometimes have to switch out films at the last minute. Sometimes a reviewed requires more research than I can give it and I need to push it back so I can be thorough. Sometimes I am unable to obtain a copy in time. And sometimes I run into something unreviewable. That has only happened to me once. It was a Fox Kiddies production of Aladdin and the way small children were portrayed in the film creeped me the heck out. Brrr!

Nope, nope, nope, nope.

But most often, accessibility issues are to blame for the last minute switches. I don’t like doing it because it means less time for research but it cannot be avoided sometimes.

Acquisition

“The riskier the road, the greater the profit”
-Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #62

Generally speaking, unless the topic is really, really obscure, I already own about 75% of the films I review. That last 25% can be a real bear to obtain, believe me, but those titles are usually the most valuable.

Me during a DVD sale.

I have been assisted by generous collectors, academics and overseas readers who help me obtain titles that are not generally available. I also scour eBay, the UK and German Amazon stores and other online shopping options to find what I need.

Some silent films are hidden, tucked away as extras on DVDs and Blurays of other films. (I find silentera.com to be an invaluable resource in tracking these titles down. It covers region 1/A DVDs and Blurays.) Others are out of print and scalpers are charging an arm and a leg and a firstborn son.

“Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to.”
-Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #3

Scalpers are the bane of any film nerd’s existence. They charge double, triple, quadruple the film’s original asking price. Fortunately, Movies on Demand (MOD) have cut down somewhat on this problem. Out-of-print DVDs manufactured on request have saved my bacon more than once.

I prefer physical media because streaming service content comes and goes. I like having an actual disc in my hot little hands.

So, that’s the first part of the review process. Next, we’re going to tackle research.

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8 Replies to “My Movie Review Process: Selection and Acquisition”

  1. Reader’s interests in reviews:

    a) Information of obscure films I don’t want to see. Reading reviews saves my time and provides interesting information of history / film culture etc. This part you do particularly well.

    b) New item’s to my must see list. I don’t want to read thorough review before seeing a film, but particularly valuable is information of films that one should see but are not generally well-known – for example Strogoff.

    c) In-depth analysis of films. It’s interesting to read of films one has already seen. This is something I’d like to see more on this site (then you should review a bit more famous films), but the obvious problem is that people have seen different films. For example, I don’t want to read your thorough review on Student Prince of Old Heidelberg, because that is on my must see list anyway and I don’t want to know too much before seeing it.

    In general, this site has been some sort of cultural shock. I’m probably too used to the European auteur myth, where directors are stars, not actors. In my bubble silent Hollywood meant comedy, Griffith, von Stroheim, Sjöström, Lubitsch, Murnau, and Vidor. On the other hand, I had thought that Fairbanks, Pickford, and Valentino – also DeMille – were just names that must be mentioned in history books, but that nobody is anymore interested in their films.

    1. I think there’s a definite bias against mainstream Hollywood dramas and non-slapstick comedies in silent film scholarship. It’s getting better but slapstick and European art films (and, to some extent, Japanese) definitely dominate the conversation to the exclusion of all else.

      1. To my experience, mainstream audience is hardly ever interested in anything old. Therefore I would expect that nobody is interested in mainstream silents. So you defy my stereotypic expectations.

        Knowing the low quality of films produced in my home country, it would be stupid to overlook Hollywood. However, an amazingly large fraction of my all time favourites have been made in Hollywood by originally European directors.

      2. My main area of interest is understanding the thinking and taste of an average silent era moviegoer, so the mainstream movies definitely fit in with that.

        Yes, the lure of big budgets and exposure would have been tempting for any director, not to mention the relative peace. When it works, it works super well but some directors couldn’t take the Hollywood culture.

  2. Ah, yes, that unwelcome bonus to 1915 ‘Alice in Wonderland’ DVD, ‘Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.’ Wrong in so many ways: It’s not an authentic part of the ‘Thousand and One Nights,’ it’s super Orientalist, and it’s very seedy in its use of kids.

    However, I’m very grateful for your tracking down availabilities, and the ‘Alice’ flick is one to have on the shelf.

    Re scalping: the new Amazon Australia listed one of Tommy Staithes’ cartoon collections for AU$ 93 vs Amazon US AU$25. It’s nasty because it eventually hits Tommy’s deserved rewards for his hard work.

    Many thanks for all your hard work, too.

    1. Yeah, my stomach just turned with that one. I have never been super comfortable with, say, Shirley Temple being put in flirtatious situations either but this was just cranked to 11 and I had vague worries about the film skirting legality.

      Should you have any problems getting Tommy’s work, you can order from him directly. He’s very prompt and he has a lot of stuff unavailable elsewhere.

      http://cartoonsonfilm.com/dvd.html

  3. Perhaps you will touch on this in the next or future installments, but does the quality of a copy of the movie being reviewed cause you to step back from it? I recall one film you did in which the copy available was presented obviously at the wrong speed, causing you to have to use playback technologies to do the review. It is my contention that if a film is being presented haphazardly or carelessly, the whole story may not be there to review (or to put it another way, what we are seeing is not what the director did). I have two copies of My Lady of Whims, one a 60 minute version, and the other a 48 minute one. The latter version has significant plot holes in it simply because it is not all there. If all you had for reviewing was a poorly done copy, it might be better to do as Silentera often suggests, and wait for a better more complete production to be made available.

    1. I find that there are very few cases where the quality of the print makes such a gigantic difference that it changes my view altogether. Battleship Potemkin is one case. I mean, if it’s an 8mm print that’s so smeary that you can’t make anyone out, that’s one thing, but there are generally fixes I can implement to render a film viewable. I also check contemporary reviews to make sure that all the pieces seen in the original are in place in the current release and do not call out plot holes unless I am certain they are actually there.

      Ditto for films on the big screen: they enhance the experience but I have yet to find a film that I hated on the small screen but loved or even liked on the big screen.

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