I have been regularly choosing my reviews to correspond with theme months since 2013 and I thought I would talk about how I select my themes and why I feel that theme months have helped me expand my knowledge.
One of the goals that has emerged for my site is a desire to cover films that fall outside the box. That is to say, silent films that aren’t great works of art or slapstick, which are the two most-viewed types of silent cinema (at least from what I can tell). I have become a huge advocate for the kind of everyday cinema that John and Jan Q. Public would have viewed on an average evening.
During the first four years of the site, I clocked in just 42 reviews, fewer than one a month. I switched to a daily post format in 2013 with weekly long reviews and for the first few weeks, my selections were fairly random. However, when I decided to review The Little American, The Oyster Princess and Barbed Wire back-to-back, I realized that the common theme of a German man romancing a non-German woman. So “I Loved a German” became my very first theme month and I enjoyed viewing a block of reviews as a unit so much that I decided to go for “Silent Swashbucklers” the very next month.
I like theme months because it’s pretty common for me to have two or three films that fit the theme immediately to hand but the rest of the films for the month take some digging and can lead me in unexpected directions. For me as a blogger, predictability is the greatest sin. I want to surprise my readers but I also want to surprise myself and forcing myself out of my comfort zone is important in keeping up my writing stamina.
To that end, I also try to avoid theme months that purely cater to my taste. It would be very easy to just feature stars I love or the cinema of particular countries. I do indulge myself at times (as I did with my recent Soviet Comedy theme month) but for the most part, I want themes that are based less on star power and national style and more on genres, plot devices and popular character types.
There are two theme months that I repeat annually: Reader Requests and 100 Years Ago… I feel that both of these themes are extremely valuable in expanding my viewing and I always have a good time with them.
As for choosing theme months, I have quite a few “partial” themes in my head with maybe two or three suitable films but without that final piece of the puzzle. Sometimes, though, a theme will come to me due to a new release or an interest in a particular star. Some theme months, like my months covering African-American film and the viewing of Franz Kafka, were inspired by a particularly interesting box set.
That being said, I don’t let theme months become dictatorial and if there is a film that doesn’t fit the theme but I am itching to cover, I go ahead and review it. “Organized but flexible” is my ultimate goal. An unexpected review is the best test for one’s reflexes.
I’d probably get more traffic if I featured more big stars, more slapstick and more art films but I think I would get bored in months if not weeks. The weirder and more obscure path for me!
My dream, really, is to review every single available silent film. I certainly am in no danger of running out so chasing down unusual threads and themes is an option that is not going to dry up anytime soon. I have barely scratched the surface of what’s on home video, let alone what is still held in archives. Theme months help me keep my curiosity primed and are constantly bringing fresh air into the site. Here’s to another six years of them!
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