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Silent Lives Paperback – Feb 1 2008
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Although essential for any novice of silent films, "Silent Lives" is also an exciting revelation for more advanced aficionados, thanks to the carefully chosen list of biographies ranging from the essential, most famous names to the obscure and unexpected silent film features such as Felix the Cat, the Model T Ford automobile and my favourite; Rin Tin Tin, the famous canine actor, whose biography reveals that he lived nearly 14 years, and unlike some of his contemporaries, made the transition into sound films effortlessly. Important behind-the-scenes people such as directors, writers, inventors and cameramen are also given worthy tributes in these biographies, which altogether gives a well-balanced overview of who contributed to the development of early Hollywood, how, and which films best represent these facets. Obviously, a medium-sized book cannot encompass the entire gamut of early cinema, but the mere fact that the one hundred short biographies in this book already provide a firm foundation is evidence of the skilful research, planning and writing required for such a book, which in itself deserves of a full 5-star rating.
This book will serve as a document, for generations to come, of an art form that served to frame what followed in cinema. Film scholars will reference this book for years to come. The illustrations in this book add to the wonderful stories about these iconic stars and creators.
Kudos to Mr. Davis for writing one of the best cinema books I have ever read. As a former publisher of a scholarly film magazine, I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful portraits that Mr. Davis paints. It is so refreshing to find a film scholar, such as Mr. Davis, who has not forgotten the roots of our cinema and has brillantly captured those artists.
Think how much has changed! Where, in 1959, did one go to see Betty Bronson in PETER PAN, filmed only 35 years earlier? Today, 84 years after the movie's release, we can watch it at our convenience on DVD (or, if we're blessed, on a big screen), restored to its original tinted magnificence from an endangered nitrate print. We are mindful now that only 20% of all silent films survive, yet more effort is being expended today to preserve that 20% than was ever put forth to save the lost 80%. We live in an age of new hope for silent film.
To confirm this, open SILENT LIVES at the back, page 402. The appendix in Joe Franklin's book was limited to an FAQ section and cast lists for fifty films. In contrast, Davis provides a short bibliography, important works by Everson, Kevin Brownlow, Walter Kerr, Jeanine Basinger, Anthony Slide, and earlier enthusiasts like Kalton C. Lahue; inventories two multi-episode television documentaries by Photoplay Productions; lists a dozen specialized outlets (by mailing address and URL) for the purchase of silent era DVDs, and furnishes the web addresses of 56 web sites dedicated to the study and enjoyment of silent films.
The body of the book offers one hundred brief, unpretentious, cross-referenced biographies of film people--actors, primarily, but also writers, directors, moguls, even Felix the Cat and Rin-Tin-Tin. It is far from exhaustive, but it provides the silent-film novice with multiple springboards to further reading and watching.
The book's photos are surprisingly diverse. I didn't imagine I would ever see a Mary Pickford still that I hadn't seen before, but Davis came up with one (Mary literally draped with puppies). She graces the cover of the book, too--a shot from COQUETTE (1929), her first talkie. In the photo she is holding her finger to her lips. It's a cautionary gesture, frozen in time, from the very end of the silent era.
Annette D'Agostino Lloyd