The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture
by Peter Kobel and The Library of Congress
This beautiful coffee table book includes a wealth of colorful movie lobby cards, photographs, and rare
black-and-white production stills from the early days of cinema. With a foreword by Martin Scorsese and an
introduction by Kevin Brownlow, Silent Movies contains quite a bit of historical information in addition
to the wonderful photographs (from The Library of Congress’s memorabilia collection) which take the reader back
in time. Peter Kobel traces the cinema from its beginnings in the early 1890s in France, Germany, and America
and follows the evolving technology through three decades of silent film until the talkies arrived on the scene
in the late 1920s.
What began as "silent" and "black and white" soon became film without dialogue, but with musical soundtracks
for accompaniment. By the early 1920s, 80 percent of the black-and-white films actually depicted shades of gray
frequently tinted or toned with color. Throughout this development, the technology advanced, the business
matured, the stars were born, the directors emerged, and the industry supported a huge staff of support people
equipped to powder, primp, print, publish, and promote these new celebrities (even if it meant fabricating their
glamorous backgrounds). Much like today, famous names including Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford,
Clara Bow, Norma Desmond, John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Rudolph Valentino, and Louise Brooks
appeared frequently in gossip columns in mass-circulation tabloid newspapers.
There’s so much to cover in describing silent movies to today’s film buffs who were raised on blockbuster
special effects "movie events." Despite the challenge of explaining genres, stars, crew, business, equipment,
and techniques, Kobel does an excellent job presenting the material in an organized, interesting manner, while
simultaneously blending the artistic and technological aspects of the silent movie industry. Even so, the
luscious photographs are clearly the stars of this show.
NOTE: Reviewer Leslie
Halpern is the author of Reel Romance. The Lovers' Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies
and Dreams on Film. Coming Soon: A Writer's Guide to Fearless Interviews.