Here are Keyframe’s most popular articles of 2011, its first full year of operation, and what the success of these articles taught me in my capacity as editor.
12. Don’t be afraid to challenge the audience. “What American Indie Film Can Learn from China, And Six Ways to Start” by Karin Chien
Winner of the 2010 Independent Spirit Producers Award, Karin Chien is as respected a figure in American indie film as they come, but that didn’t stop her from offering a provocative redefinition of “independent film” by sharing her experiences with Chinese counterparts. Originally commissioned for Ted Hope’s IndieWire blog, the article posed a challenge to the indie filmmaking community: “If there was absolutely no chance your film would receive commercial distribution in the US, would you still make your film?” This was the stark picture she painted to describe indie filmmaking in China. For many readers it was the first time to hear that an indie scene even existed in China; a companion list of essential Chinese indie films – many available on Fandor – pointed the way for them to see these works for themselves.
11. Sex sells, even when it’s silent: “Reliving the Glories of a Silent Sex Goddess” by Dan Callahan),
For much of the year, Dan Callahan filled the role of Keyframe’s Classic Hollywood expert with aplomb, offering highly informed and engaging takes on the legacy of Josephine Baker, East-West S&M, a history of British movie royalty, and the allure of Joan Bennett’s legs. But his most popular piece was this tribute to the immortal Gloria Swanson, perhaps due in part to having “sex goddess” in the title for the easy discovery of pervy Googlers. If that is the case, one hopes Callahan’s eloquent tribute made Swanson fans of them all.
10. Don’t lose your voice: “Editor’s Choice: The Best Films of 2011” by Kevin B. Lee
One of the occupational hazards of editing daily content from a pool of 50 writers is that in focusing on strengthening the voices of others, you may end up losing your own. I’ve long admired editors who’ve been able to preserve the distinctive qualities of their own writing (The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, Cinema Scope’s Mark Peranson, Slant’s Ed Gonzalez and The Moving Image Source’s Dennis Lim, to name just a few). Due to my editorial duties I’ve done precious little writing this year, so it was a surprise to see that my 2011 top ten list posted just last week (for which I sheepishly tweeted “My own list, for what it’s worth”) made the top ten (Scout’s honor, I didn’t fudge the numbers). My 2012 resolution is not to take my own writing for granted. As one highly regarded critic wrote to me when discussing this topic: “Your voice is all you have.”
9. Hooray for SEO: “Spontaneous Revelations in “William Eggleston: Photographer” by Steven C. Boone
The prodigiously gifted Steven Boone’s pictorial essay on this short documentary about America’s iconic photographer was actually published late last year, but leaped back to life thanks to mid-year implementation of search engine optimization on the site. The article is now one of the top search results for “William Eggleston.”
8. Turkey’s #1 Film Critic + Michael Fassbender’s Mighty Schlong = An unbeatable combo: “Get ‘Em While They’re Hot: The Breakthrough Stars (and Body Part) of 2011″ by Ali Arikan)
Freshly minted just from last week, this piece by Turkish film critic and TV personality Ali Arikan offered a unique angle on the year-end top ten lists that clog movie sites around the holidays. I credit a healthy accompaniment of video clips to vividly illustrate the talents of each breakthrough star (but just imagine the traffic this would have gotten if we’d actually shown the breakthrough body part).
7. Find a leading authority, someone with a big social following, or better yet, both: “Having Fun with the Lights Out: Pauline Kael Bio “A Life in the Dark” Reviewed” by Michał Oleszczyk
One of the great pleasures of this editorship was discovering new voices; perhaps none was more gratifying than Michał Oleszczyk, one of Poland’s top film writers. It was his first opportunity to write for an English language website, but he was no newbie; thanks to his own extensive social media network, his articles got remarkable traction, none more so than his three-part appreciation of Pauline Kael. It helped that he wrote it while wrapping up his PhD dissertation on Kael, so the topic was front-of-mind; it also helped that Roger Ebert shared the piece on his Twitter and Facebook feeds, as he has done for Keyframe over much of the year.
6. Revive the old by connecting to the new: “Essential Viewing: Diary for David Holzman” by Kevin B. Lee
Although David Holzman’s Diary was given landmark distinction by the Library of Congress, few have seen or heard of it. So it was a personal highlight to see the two video essays I produced about the film, tying it to the YouTube generation, get as much coverage as they did and help to bring the film to a more mainstream consciousness. It was part of a two week onslaught of David Holzman coverage with tributes by filmmakers Brian De Palma, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg and Michael Tully, and critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and David Ehrenstein, all in the effort to cement the film’s proper place in history.
5. Match voice, passion and timing: “Career Character: In Praise of Melissa Leo” by Sheila O’Malley
Sheila O’Malley has been a key Keyframe contributor this year, and never more so than during Oscar season, when she delivered the definitive appreciation of this year’s Best Supporting Actress winner. Published the day after Leo received her Oscar nomination, this piece was picked up by IMDb’s Top Links and other outlets, and it showcases O’Malley’s distinctive voice and deeply personal appreciation of her subject. It also doesn’t hurt that it plugs a Fandor film starring Leo, Racing Daylight.
4. Uncover the secrets of big new films: “The Secret Experiments Inside ‘The Tree of Life’“ by Kevin B. Lee and “Secret Experiments In ‘The Tree of Life’ Part 2: Influences and Antecedents” by Doug Cummings, Michael Sicinski and Kevin B. Lee
A rare foray for Keyframe into investigative journalism, this piece was sparked by, of all things, a comment found on the Facebook page of one of the author’s friends, left by a filmmaker claiming to have contributed to some of the eye-popping imagery in the “evolutionary” sequence of the year’s most acclaimed film. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Further investigation uncovered an interesting tale that offered a glimpse into how Malick may have outsourced his imagery from the experimental filmmaking community. This led to a second, equally popular article that identified possible avant-garde influencers on Malick’s magnum opus, in an effort to bring more appreciation to these oft-neglected artists. Nyerges put it best: “In the media coverage on this film no one’s really mentioned that they used the work of experimental filmmakers in these sequences… This kind of filmmaking has influenced everything from commercials to music videos to movies. And now you can buy iMovie, punch a button and get an effect that took avant garde filmmakers years to develop.”
3. Harvest the Oscar season: “Oscar Report Card: Best Actress” by Sheila O’Malley
It’s a well-known fact among movie site mavens that traffic hits fever pitch around Oscar season, something Keyframe is capitalizing on early with Nathaniel Rogers‘ column The Oscar Experience. Keyframe got into the game last February with a series of Academy Award articles, none more popular than this evaluation of the contending lead starlets. It didn’t hurt that it was written by O’Malley, a professional actress and playwright, whose evaluations were both insightful and collegial – one could imagine her behind the judges’ panel of a thespian spin-off of American Idol or The X Factor.
2. Hail the almighty Listicle: “High-Class Shock Cinema: Top 10 Artsploitation Films” by Steven Erickson
It’s another well-known fact among movie site proprietors that nothing is a more reliable traffic driver than list articles, aka “listicles.” We’ve copped our fair share throughout the year: Top 10 Films About Filmmaking; Favorite Silent Films; Best Halloween Movies; Best Chinese Indie Films; 100 Masters of Silent Animation; Best LGBT Films; Pauline Kael’s Best and Worst Reviews; and the obligatory Top Ten Films of 2011. But no listicle was more popular than one that explored a rather off-the-wall subgenre, the “artsploitation” film, which in Steven Erickson’s words has “one foot in the arthouse and another in the grind house.” Where other writers would have indulged in the luridness of the topic, dwelling on the kinky sex, mutilations and other perversities found in these movies, Erickson’s approach is illuminating and thoughtful. It goes to show that coming up with a good list is often a creative art in itself.
1. Go from “Face” to Facebook. “Essential Viewing: The Spielberg Face” by Kevin B. Lee
Saving the best for last, we exploited the holiday season’s double dose of Steven Spielberg (War Horse, Tintin) with our own unique video essay take on why his films make such an impact on viewers around the world. Since debuting just two weeks ago, the video has been viewed over 320,000 times and was featured in the New York Times, MSNBC, VH1’s Best Week Ever, The Atlantic, Slate, Buzzfeed and other outlets. Spielberg’s longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminiski was interviewed about it. Film studies professors have written saying that they will use it in their lesson plans, while others have thanked us for inspiring a new drinking game (“Spielberg Face! Drink!”)
Though these accolades are heartening, the success of a piece like this is also measured by how many people who view it connect to Fandor via Facebook or subscribe to the service. So if you are a fan of Keyframe and all the interesting unique content we have produced over the year, please take a moment to connect to Fandor via Facebook. You’ll be supporting one of the internet’s most exciting new movie blogs, and one of the most unique online film services around.
Kevin B. Lee is the editor of Keyframe. Follow him on Twitter.