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alt.movies.silent Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), 3/4

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Archive-name: movies/silent/books-documentaries
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 2002/02/15
Version: 2.2
Copyright: (c) 1999-2002 Rick Levinson and Emily Way
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Rick Levinson <>

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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?


1. What are some good books about silent film?

One recent series, the three-volume History of American Cinema, is the 
most comprehensive history of American silent film ever published.

   * 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.

   * 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.

   * 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.

   * Talkies: American Cinema's Transition to Sound, 1926-1931 (History 
     of the American Cinema</CITE>, Vol. 4), by Donald Crafton.  Paperback 
     edition. University of California Press, November 1999.  ISBN: 

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.

You can buy film books online at

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:



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
   ph#: +1 (416) 461-1704
   fax: +1 (416) 461-7089

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

2. 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 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.

Keep an eye out for these on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which shows
them now and then, as does the Canadian Bravo. 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.

3. Where are the other silent film FAQs?

There are three other FAQs for the alt.movies.silent newsgroup:

   * alt.movies.silent
   * Online resources for silent film
   * Where to see silent films

The complete set of alt.movies.silent FAQs lives on Emily Way's REEL
WORLD Web site:

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 ( and Emily Way (
Last updated February 15, 2002
Emily Way * emily at 
"No one knows what's on his mind except him and his monkey"

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