Over the last several months of doing live-accompanied live-streams of silent films, I’ve noticed the validity of something I’d read that Charley Chase once said. That he’d learned from his years in vaudeville that every seven years you get a new audience.
As much as Steve Massa and I have thought some of the shorts we programmed for the Silent Comedy Watch Party streams may have been war-horses that everyone knows, we were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic comments from viewers about getting to see Keaton and Chaplin shorts for the first time. Or seeing them again for the first time in many years.
There was a big boom of sorts in the 2000s of the home video releases of silent films in new editions with new scores. Many of these had been out on VHS and laserdisc and were either being re-issued on DVD, or were getting new make-overs with the technology of that time.
That was 15 years ago.
There are a lot of us who bought those DVDs and box sets of Keaton, Langdon, Chaplin, Fairbanks, Chaney, etc etc then, and may have re-bought some of these that have been updated in Blu-ray editions. We think of these films as already being ‘out there’ and ‘known quantities’. But in the time that has passed, lots of new fans of silent film have come along and discovered the medium.
A lot of the titles that were released in the ‘aughts of the current century have been reissued, but a lot of them haven’t. The great thing about a DVD release is that there’s a bit of a splash in the announcement and it gets the attention of fans.
I am very much aware that there is way way way less money in re-releasing or putting out new issues of these films than there was in the 2000s. I know that re-releasing everything is completely impractical.
But the response from people who’ve watched streams of Valentino in The Eagle (1925) or Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925) that I’ve done, and from people who’d never seen Keaton’s The Balloonatic (1922) or pretty much any of the Charley Chase shorts we’ve run on the Silent Comedy Watch Party, show there’s a wide swath of global fans who are ripe for discovering what’s already out there.
The question to solve is how to create a new-release-type splash that lets everyone know about the great silent films that are already available, and sitting on eBay and Amazon sellers’ shelves in new or very good condition waiting for you to snap them up.