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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
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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