Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

The Review part of the project has three parts:

  1. an overview paragraph
  2. a list of reviews, some annotated, some not
  3. a collection of sound bites from the reviews

There is a difference between the film reviews that appear in newspapers and magazines, on television, and on the web around the appearance of a film and the more scholarly articles and books that appear other times. We will search for the so-called scholarly material later when we do the historical context and the filmic context. For now, our assignment is reviews.

Reviews are important, for they provide snapshots of contemporary public reception, and, in fact, they often help shape that reception. That's what you are looking for in reading and selecting the reviews -- how was the film received when it opened?

More specifically, your job is actually four-fold:

  1. to provide a list of the most important or representative reviews with short annotations (say 50-150 words).
  2. to provide an unannotated list of other reviews worthy of attention that will go into a "see also" category on the site.
  3. to introduce your list with a paragraph or so providing an overview of the reception of the film as evidenced by the reviews. Was the film favorably received or not? Why? What issues, especially relating to the historical subject, receive attention? What stood out to contemporary reviewers? And so forth. Make this introductory paragraph relate to our topic about films and history as much as possible, that is, call attention to treatments of the historical subject, or, conversely, to lack of treatment that you would expect.
  4. to compile a file of interesting, provocative, insightful quotes from the reviews for the Sound Bite section of your project.

How to find reviews? Some good resources are:

The above resources are not selective.  You can not read everything.  What you need to do is try to cultivate a sense of the most influential publications and reviewers and begin there: New York Times, Time, Roger Ebert, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, and so forth.

IMDb will tell you the exact date a film opens. As a rule of thumb, search for reviews, say, two weeks before the opening (a time when there might be interviews with the director) and, say, a month after the film

There is no set number of reviews. The number will vary from film to film.  Include as many as you can in the time you can give. But a collection of ten annotated reviews and five “see also’s” feels like a minimum.

Reviews of silent-era films may be very hard to locate and/or to get; be prepared to be happy if you find one.

The ideal collection of reviews has a range: some positive, some negative; some that focus on the content of the film, some on the style.

Look for and include reviews that are or that include interviews with the director or writer and, in some cases, the actors if they interview is about the substance of the film.

Consider incorporating direct quotes in your annotations where they will add contemporary flavor and immediacy (if you quote put the page number -- just the number, no "p." etc. -- in parentheses after the quote if the review is longer than one page).

In fact, sometimes you can copy a full quote or piece together sections of the review for the entire annotation itself (using ellipses). Put the annotation in quote marks to indicate this if you do so.

Citing reviews, use MLA format:

Collect all important and striking quotes for your sound bites section right away. It's easier to do this now than to come back at the end. Reviews are often written by journalists with a knack for a striking turn of phrase. Select bites that contain substantive content and/or that gain attention with provocative style. Databases with online links facilitate copying and pasting, making the selection of sound bites easy. Think of including at least one sound bite from each of your annotated reviews. But the more the merrier.  Include as many bites as the sources yield and your time allows. There is no such thing as too many.

Be on the alert for and note other films mentioned in the reviews that could serve the "comparison films" part of the project and perhaps plan to get access to the films for use later.