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Silent Screens: The Decline and Transformation of the American Movie Theater (Creating the North American Landscape (Hardcover)) Hardcover – July 3, 2000
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"The boarded-up movie theaters in Michael Putnam's Silent Screens wear their faded glamour like battered hats. Putnam's photographs, taken with an 8 by 10 view camera, are starkly formalistic: the boxy, Art Deco theaters are largely shot head-on and centrally placed in the frame, making the viewer conscious of minute variations in detail and texture. The stylized neon marquees that read 'Ritz,' 'Lux,' or 'Judy' contrast with the blank peeling facades, as if we can see the dream palace that once was and the shell it has become."(Eric P. Nash New York Times Book Review)
"Several years after The Last Picture Show, Larry McMurtry hoped for 'some present-day Walker Evans' to document the abandoned theaters of his youth, and [Michael] Putnam has answered his wish."(New Yorker)
"Disused small-town and neighborhood movie theaters are to photographer Putnam what the decrepit churches and storefronts of the rural South were to Walker Evans: objects that, austerely photographed in their decline, can cause us to reflect... As you study Putnam's well-composed and well-lit photographs of abandoned theaters, a pang for the lost past inevitably afflicts you. Even more saddening is his record of conversions―theaters turned into evangelical churches, bookshops, banks, restaurants, a swimming pool."(Richard Schickel Wilson Quarterly)
"Haunting, edgy, black-and-white photos... accompanied by commentary on love, loss and change by Larry McMurty, Peter Bogdanovich, Andrew Sarris, Molly Haskell, Chester H. Liebs and John Hollander."(Publishers Weekly)
"A haunting portrait of the gradual decline of cinemas in small-town America. Putnam's book is a superb example of a documentary project's ability to arrest particular, concrete situations―and their attending emotional counterparts―and thereby illuminate the social and economic movements that engender them."(DoubleTake)
"Takes us back to the wonderful world of the small hometown theater―not as they were but what they have become. A wonderful chronicle of a time when twenty-five cents was the price of an afternoon of entertainment and a soda."(Route 66 Magazine)
"Evocative enough to make a viewer nostalgic for places he has never been."(Kevin Riordan Cherry Hill Courier-Post)
"These poignant and often distressing pictures of boarded-up neighborhood bijous speak volumes about main-street moviegoing in decades past, as opposed to the multiplex experience of today."(Playboy)
"Michael Putnam's strikingly beautiful photographs document American movie theaters and the passing of that era in American culture. They penetrate the barrier that traditionally separates significant aesthetic achievement and historical events. Such is the contribution, historically, of great documentary photography."(James L. Enyeart St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"The remnants of a bygone era are documented in Michael Putnam's Silent Screens. These poignant and often distressing pictures of boarded-up neighborhood bijous speak volumes about main-street moviegoing in decades past, as opposed to the multiplex experience of today."(Leonard Maltin)
Starkly beautiful photos of abandoned and converted movie theaters -- with new essays by Peter Bogdanovich, Molly Haskell, Andrew Sarris, and Chester H. Liebs--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The photographs are wide-ranging and honest, capturing the small movie houses in various states of abandonment, disrepair, adaptive re-use (particularly as churches), and even demolition.
To its credit, the book does contain two 'necrologies' of sorts: the first is a four-page chapter called "Demolitions Noted" where several hundred movie houses around the nation are listed as gone, featuring, for example, an eight-page spread of the Pekin Th. of Pekin, Illinois being demolished, yet nothing is shown of it in its prime so that the reader could really appreciate that this was a unique Chinese-styled small movie palace of the 'atmospheric' (stars and clouds) type worthy of preservation. Had the author taken the trouble to locate a copy of one of the foremost books on the American movie theatre: AMERICAN MOVIE PALACES by David Naylor, he would have seen on its page 82 a photo of the Pekin Theatre in its pre-demolition prime, and then his photos of it in demolition would have had more context and impact had he sought to include this photo with his. Any research on his part would have disclosed that the photo was owned by one of the founders of the Theatre Historical Society of America which publishes a magazine of such theatre history: "Marquee", and no doubt that photo and many others could have been obtained, but neither the Society nor its magazine are mentioned in the book. Such research is what sets a quality book apart from others of lesser stature, picture book or not.
The second 'necrology' is the chapter entitled: "Conversions Noted" which is perhaps the least depressing in the book since it shows, within its seven pages of listings, that theatres large or small can have other useful lives. An overlooked conversion was the unusual one which occurred in Milwaukee when the 1920 Riviera Th. was converted to a bicycle emporium cum velodrome with a planned bike racing track to be constructed atop the balcony and around the walls under the old chandelier positions with inverted bicycle frames supporting high intensity up-lights as the new 'chandeliers'!
The comentaries by several notables do little to advance scholarship, something one would have expected from a book published by a university press. When the author/photographer explains in the "Conclusion" that he knew nothing of the documented locations of movie houses (few of these here could really qualify to use the term 'theatre') until someone introduced him to the standard of such guides: "The Film Daily Yearbook", it is obvious that scholarship or any real contribution to the body of knowledge was not the genesis of this work. Even one afternoon in any real library would have introduced him to the many volumes on the subject as well as magazines, and had such limited research been done, no doubt the author would have been able to do more than stumble about the towns of America hoping to find a dead show house; he could have given us some background to the origins of this genre and thus put meat on the bones of the photos, good ones though they are.
The book's 100 some pages in the long format are nicely produced, and they may create a longing for more information so absent from this opus, in which case one is well advised to consult the landmark book which its Forward writer described as the "appropriate epitaph" of the movie house: "THE BEST REMAINING SEATS: The Golden Age of the Movie Palace" by the late Ben M. Hall (several editions available here at Amazon). "SILENT SCREENS" is a clever title, and in some depressing way it is more of an epitaph than the former title, yet it is unfulfilling, unless one is satisfied with a vagabond's jaunt with a camera down so many main streets.