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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I love your dream, Fritzi. I hope you get close to fulfilling it. I’m new here and hope not to make a nuisance of myself. Having perused your site at length (but still just skimming the surface), I’m very much taken with your selection of topics and open-mindedness. I notice that you try to be very fair even with a movie you don’t much care for. I do have a question or two. Perhaps you can refer me to one of your essays since you may well have covered the topic. I haven’t found too many cases where you review the quality of a release. I may have missed such evaluations. DVDBEAVER and SILENTERA–among others–do try to go into detail on the technical issues of a particular movie and very often make comments on the poor quality of certain companies’ releases. Your amusing and thorough review of THE LITTLE AMERICAN (DeMille + PIckford = ICK!) links to an Amazon page for a release of this film by Jef Films. Jef Films is a somewhat notorious outfit–see https://www.brentonfilm.com/articles/beware-of-pirates-how-to-avoid-bootleg-blu-rays-and-dvds-part-2. Have you dealt with this issue at your site? I do wonder about even linking to products from such companies. I know there are many who will buy and watch no matter what–even if the company is not legit and the quality of the release is terrible. I’m not one of those folks. I even avoid stuff from Grapevine. Alpha Video, and the like since the quality is usually very poor with no restoration (but not addressed on the DVD or Blu ray case notes) and the musical score is usually canned and inappropriate. I was so incensed by Alpha Video’s versions of THE ROMANCE OF HAPPY VALLEY and THE WHITE ROSE that I posted reviews on Amazon to warn potential buyers. So, Fritzi, please direct me if you’ve done relevant treatments of these issues. Sorry to be so long. Keep up your fine work.
I don’t go intensely into the quality of individual releases because Silentera.com does such a great job of it already and I see no reason to repeat their fine work. Regarding grey market or piracy, I just post the links from Amazon searches but do not heavily research the provenance of DVDs because, frankly, there have been too many really heated conversations on the topic and I don’t care to get that started. I link to what seems to be the best available version (which is highly relative) and pretty much leave it there. However, I do not track down claims of piracy because I am simply not in a position to say anything for a certainty and I don’t want to open myself to legal issues by accusing someone of a crime.
I love that you write about films that are new to me. In many cases your review is the ONLY info I’ve found on the plot or the quality of a given film.
By the way, my rough count of your reviews puts you quite near the 440 reviews of silents that I’ve roughly counted in Leonard Maltin’s book. But the two sets are rather different, as LM reviews all of the usual suspects but nothing that’s obscure (and no shorts). Of course his are only tiny capsule reviews, not comparable to what you provide.
Thank you! Yes, uncharted territory is my very favorite place to be. 😀
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