A lot of people have asked me where I watch my silent movies. Quite a few are from my personal DVD collection but I am a huge fan of streaming movies as well. In the world of subscription-based on-demand movie rentals, the three biggest players are probably Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix. However, any fan of a niche genre knows that the big boys are not necessarily the best place to look for more obscure treats.
Silent film fans, in particular, have to be wary of on-demand services. Between battered prints and so-so musical accompaniment, there is just so much that can go wrong with a silent viewing experience.
Fortunately, there are quite a few choices on the market and today I am going to review one of them. Here it is, a silent movie fan’s opinion of the on-demand movie service Fandor.
A quick note before I begin: I have a paid personal subscription to Fandor and all opinions are based on my experiences with that subscription. The long and the short is that I do not make any money from folks joining Fandor or Netflix or any other online rental service.
What is it?: Fandor specializes in films outside the mainstream. They have art house, foreign, classic B movies and, best of all, an enormous selection of silent films. Fandor licenses from silent powerhouses like Flicker Alley and Kino-Lorber, which means that the silent films they offer are the best available versions, not battered public domain prints.
Availability: Fandor is currently only available to users in the United States. The films may be viewed from a computer, Roku, iPad or iPhone. There is currently no Android app.
Price: Fandor currently costs $10 a month or $90 a year. There is a free two-week trial period available. You may also purchase a 3 day pass for $3.
What I like about it: Well, it has an unparalleled selection of silent films, first and foremost. It also features what is possibly the best browse function currently available (they call it Discover). Let me give you an example:
Let’s say you are in the mood for a crime film. You click the Crime genre. Then you get to choose the film by specific crime. Caper, murder, smuggling, courtroom, etc. You also get the choose the country of origin for the film and there are sliders that let you specify the year range of your search.
So here is what I got when I said I wanted a movie about murder made in Italy between 1950 and 1965.
Is that cool or what?
(You can also add film duration to the mix, if you like. Very useful when browsing for silent films as they can range from a few seconds to a few hours.)
The browse function is not quite as elaborate on the Roku but it still works quite well. I have not used the iPhone/iPad app, being firmly entrenched in the Android ecosystem.
What I don’t like about it: Even though I am overall pretty happy with Fandor, there are a few issues. First, the player seems to have trouble with the Chrome browser, causing an audio sync problem. As of this writing, Fandor is working on a test player to resolve the un-synced audio. Another issue is that when watching in a browser, the player will sometimes just lose your place in the film and start back at the beginning.
Another issue I have is that the player can enter full-screen mode but it does not shrink down. I like players that can shrink down to an itty bitty size so that I can watch in the corner while I am working on something else. This is a pretty specific use for the player so I am not complaining too much.
The verdict: I have had my subscription for a while now and am overall pleased as punch. There are minor issues but these are more than offset by the service’s advantages. If you are a silent movie fan and can only afford one online streaming service, Fandor is the one to get. The quality and selection are top notch and the wonderful Discover function is the icing on the cake.