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A collection of news and information pertaining to silent era films.
Copyright © 1999-2018 by Carl Bennett and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.

The 10th Anniversary of
the Silent Era Website

On 1 November 2009, the Silent Era website celebrated the 10th anniversary of its official launch. Previously, the home video reviews section was soft-launched as an Earthlink personal site on 15 September 1999. The website domain was registered and the Silent Era website launched less than seven weeks later. Many iterations of the website can be viewed, frozen in time from 2000-2007, at the Wayback Machine in the Internet Archive.

In 1999, both GLen (sic) Pringle’s Silent Movies website (which may have been the first Internet site on silent films, dating to 1993) and the Silents Majority website garnered the highest number of hits in any Yahoo! keyword search on the topic of silent films. The Silent Movies website fell dormant in 2000, and the Silents Majority website, edited by Diane MacIntyre and Spike Lewis, mysteriously disappeared early in 2003 (don't bother chasing the site online today; a squatter acquired the domain address in 2003, and posted a selling price of $4,500 and a page of worthless links).

When I decided to launch Silent Era, in a suspect atmosphere of optimism and naïve attempts at rationality, I had already spent many years acquiring information on silent movies. The genesis of the Progressive Silent Film List was an attempt to sort through and keep track of the confusing, disconnected myriad of data I encountered in my readings and research on the topic; a project that began on index cards and migrated to a massive HyperCard stack on my Macintosh Plus computer in 1987. The conversion of that data to the website began late in 1999. In the course of the past decade I have written more than a million words, here and elsewhere, on the topic of silent films. The website itself, with its lists, news, reviews and articles, was (and still is) intended as an informational entré to the silent era of world cinema, accessible to the novice yet (hopefully) robust enough to be of use to knowledgeable enthusiasts, archivists, academics and film historians.

Over the years, many readers have expressed their appreciation of our collective efforts in the Silent Era website — those of myself and a handful of contributors — and we have tried as often as possible to provide information and answer questions for readers who might be looking for a home video copy of an obscure film or information on a family relative who worked on silent era films. I appreciate every word of encouragement and am happy when we can provide some helpful information.

Many of the personal frustrations I noted in a 1 May 2000 editorial stand today — a distressing reality after a decade of work. I spend far more time in ongoing efforts to bring the more than 26,000 static pages contained in the website into a state of consistent user interface and automation (to ultimately make my work easier) than to adding new information. A conscious decision has been made to stay with a static (but automated) site, rather than convert to a dynamic site, to facilitate faster page loads and keyword searches. An automated site will allow me to make global changes to its interface in a minute fraction of the time, but requires the time-consuming effort of manually altering the HTML coding of each page. This recoding has taken years (I do not exaggerate) and still hasn’t been completed. Nearly every day some dusty corner of the site is updated and expanded but right now, regretably and of necessity, more time is being spent on the infrastructure of the site than on expanding its content.

That being said, I must extend apologies to my wife who has endured years worth of my single-minded dedication to this website — sometimes to the point of highly stressing our relationship. No one wants to think that work comes first in a relationship. It has been her pain that has filled me with regret, and it has been her encouraging support that has filled me with renewed resolve to succeed.

With the paradigm shifts that have occurred in information exchange, shifts that cost me my day job on a now defunct, traditionally-printed magazine, I am faced with the necessity of commercializing the Silent Era website in order to make a living from it. For a while now, advertising space has been added to the majority of the pages in the site. I have been gearing up advertising sales efforts to a number of businesses and individuals. Immediate plans are to launch an infrequent, opt-in email newsletter that may deliver advertising with breaking information alerts. And while nearly everyone perceives advertising as a sometimes necessary evil, it must also be seen as a source of information from our business partners who are directly (and indirectly) keeping the silent era of cinema alive for us all. Those efforts may be in the form of offering new home video products, books on silent film, a film event, information services, education, or even something other that is seemingly not related to silent movies. All those advertisements will pass along information that you may find useful and hopefully will be a welcome part of your day, and they will keep the website a worthwhile and sustaining enterprise.

In the future we may directly sell copies of silent films on home video, books, digital and paper reprint publications, photographic reproductions, tee-shirts and other fun kitsch in an attempt to cobble together a sustainable income. All of this will be done with the intent to create a win-win-win situation between Silent Era, its readers, and its business partners.

Today, the Silent Era website is one of the top sources of information about silent film on the Internet, even with its conspicuous informational gaps and woefully incomplete website sections. Concurrent with my desire to provide the most complete and accurate information possible, I must accept that it is still impossible for one person to do it all in such a broad scope. I ask that you forgive my shortcomings and a few forgotten commitments; my hope is that its many flaws are favorably counterbalanced by the high quality of its value to everyone who visits the Silent Era website.

My goal over the course of the next ten years is that, when I look back in retrospection, Silent Era will have provided greater access to information, made available copies of silent era films both popular and obscure, published traditional books and digital publications, and promoted silent film events — all with humility and integrity. One doesn’t take on this level of work without soul-searching introspection, gargantuan resolve, a little stupidity, and an insane compulsion to share information with all who are interested.

Carl Bennett, editor and publisher, the Silent Era website

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