Silent movie review process

I have had a few fellow bloggers ask some technical questions of me so I thought it would be fun to do a post all about my movie review method, such as it is.

Film selection

Are the films that I review new to me or not? About 25% of the time they are. The rest of the time, they are films that I have seen before and filed away as to-be-reviewed. There are a few films that I have seen but do not plan to review for various reasons. However, generally speaking, if I watch it, I will eventually review it.

I always re-watch a film before I write a review. Memories are slippery things and there are always nuances and details that I had forgotten.

I am most likely to review American films of the silent feature period (1915-1929) but I like to step out of my comfort zone for variety. I try to balance my reviews between the famous and the lesser-known.

Note-taking

I usually take notes as I watch (or re-watch) the movie I am reviewing. Silent films take a lot of concentration, though, so most of my notes are 3-5 word reminders to bring out a particular element or to research a topic. For example, while I was reviewing The Bells, my notes were something like this:

Exact shot in Caligari

Research mesmerist role in play

Blood on snow, understated

And so forth.

Research

If the film is based on a novel or play, I like to read the original source material, if it is available. One huge advantage is that most of the books that inspired silent films are in the public domain and are easy to access. Reading the original material gives me insight on what the scenario author was thinking and why they made the decisions that they did. I find that what they leave out is just as interesting as what they keep in. Plus, I have an excuse to read!

I also try to track down information on the making of the film. My best sources for this are autobiographies and interviews. I also look through my collection of scholarly works to see if film historians have insight on how the film was made. I try not to read other reviews of the film until after I have written mine because I don’t want to color my views.

Screen captures

I use WinDVD to capture sample images from films. I consider screen captures to be essential when reviewing silent movies. Silent cinema was such a visual medium and the pictures help the reader enjoy some of the beauties that these films have to offer. Naturally, these images are for the purpose of criticism and commentary.

I also use WinDVD to capture my GIFs and then I edit them in Photoshop. I try to find little moments that really capture the flavor of the film I am reviewing.

Read it out loud

This trick is often overlooked but incredibly valuable. I like to read whatever I write out loud. It helps me to get rid of awkward sentences and typos. It also helps me catch repeated words. Do I still make mistakes? Of course! But reading out loud helps me catch the major ones before I hit the “Publish” button.

Let it rest

I like to let my reviews rest for at least a week before I publish them. I am one of those people who does best with time to sort out thoughts and opinions. The extra rest time allows me to consider my review and to look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes what seemed like a clever quip was actually a little mean. Sometimes a theme from the film that was not obvious at first becomes clear. Whatever the reason, I think that my reviews benefit from the resting period.

I generally have one month of posts written ahead of time. However, if a sudden whim overtakes me, I revise my schedule to accommodate it.