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Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture Hardcover – November 1, 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For decades, silent films have been disintegrating in warehouses or lost to indifference. Director Martin Scorsese, who wrote the foreword to this book, has spearheaded the preservation movement, warning with every foot of film that is lost, we lose a link to our culture. Kobel, longtime writer about movies, demonstrates the power of silent movies in this spectacular compilation of stills, promo materials and breathtaking posters from the Library of Congress's memorabilia collection. The visual artistry is stunning. Kobel uses these evocative images as a foundation to examine the international film industry from 1893 to 1927. Instead of a chronological treatment, he examines genres such as horror, westerns and comedy, while paying homage to the superb work of art directors, cinematographers and directors. Understandably, a significant section is devoted to actors. As Norma Desmond neatly observes in Sunset Boulevard, We had faces then. Although early producers were loath to highlight specific actors, fearing their popularity would translate into higher salaries, fans were hungry for information about them. In this treasure trove for film buffs, Kobel details the press campaigns that created stars like Theda Bara and Rudolph Valentino, while fan magazines and newspapers deemed them American royalty. (Nov.)
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Review

"If you ever wondered why film buffs get weak in the knees about the movies made before talkies, this book can help you understand. . . . it is beautifully designed with a dazzling array of movie stills, posters and promo material drawn from the Library of Congress' memorabilia collection." San Francisco Chronicle

"The definitive visual history of silent film." New York Daily News

"A handsomely designed and illustrated pictorial history of the voiceless cinema."  Los Angeles Times

"A ravishing, oversize, million-pound study of the silent movie era, not just its films, but its promotion, its culture and the way these movies changed how we think about the world." Washington Post Express

"Kobel has lovingly detailed this world-from the zany publicity campaigns to the lavish scripts to the decadent star lifestyles. SILENT MOVIES is an essential addition to any film or design lover's library."  Encore magazine

Spectacular. The New York Times

This isn't a coffee table book, though any coffee table would be lucky to be graced by it. The excellent text manages the trick of being exhaustive without being exhausting, while the photos--and stills, and posters, and lobby cards--are enchanting. Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal Online
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316117919
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316117913
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1.1 x 12.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #388,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jane L. Taylor on October 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is an absolute treasure. We're first seduced, of course, by the incomparable illustrations, many never published before--arresting movie stills, posters, lobby cards, promotional photographs. The stars, the directors, the cinematographers, the technological processes, the advertising stunts are all represented by artfully chosen items from the Library of Congress's extensive archives, and it's great fun to browse; while searching for favorite actors and films, we discover surprising images we never knew existed. But this is no slick coffee-table book. Peter Kobel is a brilliant writer whose clear, lively, graceful prose illuminates every aspect of the silent-film world. The book is thought-provoking, thoroughly researched, and substantive without ever being stuffy. Kobel has a light touch and his enthusiasm for his subject is compelling. He understands the films' creators and their audiences, and puts both masterfully into context. Silent Movies is a loving tribute that makes a strong case for increasing our efforts to save this endangered artistic legacy. A definitive, solid, and intoxicating book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an absolute delight. During my initial paging through, I was at first struck by the quality, quantity, and depth of the incredible wealth of illustrations. Glorious eye candy for the film buff. But once I began reading Peter Kobel's eloquent text, I was captured by a prose that makes the silent film world come alive. Kobel provides us with a rich, well-researched picture of this era. I particularly liked his organization which avoids a straight chronology and approaches the subject from a variety of views - genre, individual personalities, the art of film, even promotion and the press. This allows me to read in depth or browse at leisure. Silent Movies is one of those fascinating books that will draw me back into it again and again.
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Format: Hardcover
I received this book as a Christmas gift and while not a definitive volume on the Silent Era, it is truly beautiful. They have various chapters from the stars, the directors, genres and etc. This book is loaded with photos of stars and posters and is a large coffee table book. I have read bits and pieces but not cover to cover, yet. Still, I can highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this forgotten time in cinema history.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a good survey of silent film history. Starting from the development of motion picture technology in the late 1880's, the author explains how the entertainment film industry that we are so familiar with today came to be. The book looks at different aspects of the industry in turn: technology, early nickelodeon entertainment, the development of features, studio system, directors, actors, country specific development, and technical aspects of film coloring and sound ( silent films had musical accompaniment as a rule). Mr. Kobel had extensive cooperation from the Library of Congress which provided him with much of the archival material for the book.

It is well-written and comprehensive, but not very detailed in the text. For example, the short bio's on the actors are somewhat trite, and only informative as a quick reference. But clearly, this volume was intended as an "illustrated history", and the prints and photos are not only beautiful, but an integral part of the book. Although the illustrations come through clear and crisp on an Ipad, I think the full-size hard-cover version would be a much better choice. A nice overview of the "Birth of Film".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I have watched some silent movies and many more talkies from the 30's, I was not familiar with the origins of the industry and associated technology. If you are looking for extensive bios on actors, this is not your book. This is a comprehensive look at how the motion picture industry started, actors, directors and other roles (and how they were different than for talkies), etc. I found it very insightful as I learned of Silent Film stars and industry pioneers that I was not familiar with. The photographs are awesome as well. It reads well as it is not overly technical or dry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The photographs alone in this book justify the purchase price. Heck, the cover photo of Clara Bow justifies the price! The text was interesting but not overly enlightening; however, every photo was one I'd not seen before. I found the author's choice of biographic subjects to be intriguing since it included actors I might have overlooked. If you love the silent movie era, this is a good addition to your library.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is crammed with lush photos and fantastic ad materials from the silent era. The text is thorough, informative, and presented in an organized and entertaining manner, but the book is worth the price for the illustration alone.
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This is a book that you'll keep coming back to for the wonderful illustrations but, happily, it's great read, too. Kobel covers a lot of territory; not only about the stars and directors, as you'd expect, but also about the technology and business side of early film. While there may be more comprehensive studies on a lot of important figures out there, this is the best general overview of silents that I've come across. Even if you've never seen a silent film in your life, this great book just might make you want to.
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