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Silent Movies
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.

The Book

Little, Brown and Company/ Hachette Book Group USA
November 2007
Nonfiction / Film
More at
Gallery Excerpt

The Reviewer

Leslie Halpern
Reviewed 2008
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.
© 2008