FAQ about silent film: Books and documentaries


This document is the third of four FAQs for the Usenet newsgroup alt.movies.silent, and contains information on books and documentaries about silent film. There is some overlap in the content of the FAQs. If you don't find what you're looking for here, try one of the related FAQs (see the last question for a complete list).
  1. What are some good books about silent film?
  2. What are the best documentaries about silent film?
  3. Where are the other silent film FAQs?

What are some good books about silent film?

One recent series, the multivolume History of American Cinema, contains the most comprehensive history of American silent film ever published.
  1. The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (History of the American Cinema, Vol. 1), by Charles Musser. Paperback edition. University of California Press, March 1994. ISBN: 0520085337.

  2. The Transformation of Cinema, 1907-1915 (History of the American Cinema, Vol. 2), by Eileen Bowser. Paperback edition. University of California Press, March 1994. ISBN: 0520085345.

  3. An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928 (History of the American Cinema, Vol. 3), by Richard Koszarski. Paperback edition. University of California Press, March 1994. ISBN: 0520085353.

  4. Talkies: American Cinema's Transition to Sound, 1926-1931 (History of the American Cinema, Vol. 4), by Donald Crafton. Paperback edition. University of California Press, November 1999. ISBN: 0520221281.
There are many excellent autobiographies and biographies of silent stars and filmmakers, general histories and genre-oriented histories, academic studies and coffee table pictorials, and so forth.

Here are a few more recommended books:

Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars
Concise biographies, filmographies, and commentary on a number of silent film actors, including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Pola Negri, Gloria Swanson, Colleen Moore, the Talmadge sisters, Tom Mix, William S. Hart, Lon Chaney, Clara Bow, and more. Lots of illustrations.
Daniel Blum, A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen
Blum's book was written in the late '50s and is filled to overflowing with wonderful photos of the silent era. Unfortunately it's out of print; try looking for it in second-hand bookshops.

Kevin Brownlow, The Parade's Gone By...
Originally published in 1968; reprinted in 1983 and 1990. Writings based on interviews with participants of the silent era; a classic. Brownlow, one of the greatest of all silent film historians and restoration artists, also has released Hollywood: The Pioneers, a companion to the television series discussed below. Hollywood is a gorgeous coffee table book.

Any book authored by Kevin Brownlow is worth the purchase.

James Card, Seductive Cinema: The Art of Silent Film.
Hardcover. Knopf: New York, 1994. ISBN #0-394-57218-1. Card, the founder of the George Eastman film archive at Eastman House, Rochester, New York, has written an idiosyncratic collector and archivist's view of silent film. Full of great anecdotes.

William M. Drew, Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen.
Released in paperback by Vestal Press, 1989. ISBN 0911572813. Interviews with silent film actresses; great photos.

William K. Everson, American Silent Film.
Originally published 1978; paperback version reissued by Da Capo Press, 1998. ISBN 0306808765. The late William K. Everson was one of the foremost scholars of silent film; this may be the best of his many books.

Walter Kerr, The Silent Clowns.
Da Capo Press paperback edition, 1990. ISBN 0306803879. This is one of the most beautifully written and photo-illustrated of all the books on silent film; another classic. Highly recommended.

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, ed. The Oxford History of World Cinema.
Originally released 1996; paperback version available. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198112572. Provides a good, succinct overview of European, Russian, and Asian silent film.

Pratt, George C. Spellbound in Darkness: A History of the Silent Film.
A large coffee-table book, lavishly illustrated, that collects articles from the popular media such as The New Republic, etc.) and film industry publications, all from the silent era--reviews, critiques, profiles, reports on productions in progress.
For a partially annotated list of other books on film, silent and otherwise, check out Emily Way's REEL WORLD site.

http://www.vex.net/~emily/film/books.html

You can buy film books online at Amazon.com.

http://www.amazon.com/

Unfortunately many excellent books on silent film are rare or out of print. Amazon will search for you, but you may have better luck at one of these three sites:

Bookfinder.com
http://www.bookfinder.com/

Bibliocom
http://www.bibliofind.com/

Inprint
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~inprint/html/booksearch.html
Have a particular book or books in mind before you use Bookfinder, Bibliocom, or Inprint.

Larry Edmunds Bookshop, Inc., has no email address or website, unfortunately; but it claims to have the world's largest collection of books and memorabilia on cinema and theater. It's located at:

Larry Edmunds Bookshop
6644 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
ph#: +1 (213) 463-3273
fax: +1 (213) 463-4245

The Hollywood Canteen, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, sells a wide variety of of books, posters, film stills, magazines, videos, and lots more. They bill themselves as having "the largest selection of out-of-print film books in North America."

Hollywood Canteen
1516 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4J 1N4
CANADA
ph#: +1 (416) 461-1704
fax: +1 (416) 461-7089
email: hcanteen@interlog.com
http://www.hcanteen.com/

There are also a number of primary source materials from the silent era on the Internet; see the alt.movies.silent FAQ number 2, "Online resources."

What are the best documentaries about silent film?

In case you were wondering whether there exists a home entertainment series that gives the best general overview of silent film, the answer to your question is:

Oh, yes.

It's called Hollywood: The Pioneers (1979), by the great Kevin Brownlow and the late David Gill. Hollywood: The Pioneers is a 13-part series. Each episode runs about an hour and focuses on different aspects of the silent film era in Hollywood. The pioneers, the great directors, the great cinematographers, the great comedians, the great stunt artists, the westerns; the war films; the great sex symbols, the coming of sound -- it's all here, in gloriously pristine prints and exclusive interviews.

Hollywood: The Pioneers is available, but you have to hunt for it. A laserdisc version of the series is now out-of-print and almost impossible to find. Try contacting, by email or in person, the special orders department of your favourite video store and requesting the series. If you're lucky, the series may be available for rental. You can also buy it from Amazon.com: search on "Hollywood Complete Set" in the video directory. Be prepared to spend a hefty amount -- between $100 and $150 US -- to buy the entire series on video.

If you can afford to buy it, trust us: it's worth it.

Look as well for Brownlow and Gill's companion series, The Other Hollywood: Cinema Europe. This six-part, three-volume celebration of European silent film can be purchased on VHS video or DVD at:

DLT Entertainment, Ltd.
31 West 56th Street
New York, NY 10019
ph#: +1 (212) 245-4680
fax: +1 (212) 315-1132

If DLT Entertainment Ltd. no longer carries this series, check with the special orders department of your favourite video store, or try Amazon.

There's also D. W. Griffith: Father of Film (1993), a three-part Brownlow and Gill documentary about one of the most influential and controversial filmmakers of the silent era. It's available at Amazon as well.

Brownlow and Gill also collaborated on three documentaries about the great silent comedians:

The Unknown Chaplin, a three-parter, features footage of multiple out-takes from Chaplin's films. It is one of the best documentaries ever made about the artistic process.

Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, another three-parter, documents the rise and fall and rise of one of America's greatest comedians and filmmakers.

Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius, a two-parter, covers the life and films of the man great enough to rival Chaplin and Keaton during their prime.

Amazon.com has both the Chaplin and the Keaton series on VHS. They are also available on laserdisc, but copies are hard to come by, as is the VHS version of the Lloyd series. If you are lucky enough to find them, for God's sake buy them.

Where are the other silent film FAQs?

There are three other FAQs for the alt.movies.silent newsgroup: The complete set of alt.movies.silent FAQs lives on Emily Way's REEL WORLD Web site:

http://www.vex.net/~emily/film/amsfaq/

The FAQs are also posted to alt.movies.silent, news.answers, and alt.answers once a month. They are also archived automatically at the following sites:


Rick Levinson (Rick.Levinson@sympatico.ca) and Emily Way (emily@vex.net)
Last updated February 15, 2002