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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Silent Films, 1877-1996" may not have all the silent films listed, but it's still a wonderful resource worth owning!, June 13, 2012
This review is from: Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies (Paperback)
As a fan of films, I purchase a lot of guides. And if you are a cinema fan, there are way too many films out there and it really helps to have guide books lying around to get an idea of what the film is about, and I tend to compare these films on these guides in helping me decide to make a purchase.

But when it comes to silent films, many guides tend to focus on only the more popular titles.

Enter Robert K. Klepper, a young writer and contributor to the publication "Classic Images" and a silent film historian who was very passionate about silent films (he supported the cause of preservation and even funded the transfer of several silent films to video tape) and in 1996, he wrote a comprehensive guide book titled "Silent Films on Video: A Filmography of over 700 Silent Features available on Videocassette, with a Directory of Sources".

And in 1999, Klepper returned with another wonderful, critical guide book on silent films titled "Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies". And for most guide or film critic books, may it be from Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael or Leonard Maltin, one would expect a yearly book in which one would continue to add to the book on a yearly basis. Unfortunately, Robert K. Klepper passed away a year after his second book was released and there really hasn't been a guide book on silent films since then and that is unfortunate.

With that being said, "Silent Films, 1877-1996: A Critical Guide to 646 Movies" is what one would experience from a book that dealt with film criticism, one may support his feelings towards that film and others may not. For those used to film critic books from Pauline Kael, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Andrew Sarris, etc., this is not an essay book and some films such D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" or "Birth of a Nation" may have more dedicate to a certain film than others. For example, I've read that he has detested Chaplin's "little tramp" characters, so you aren't going to find many of Chaplin's tramp films in this book but he does favor films such as "The Kid" and "Modern Times".

Klepper is also not afraid to show his disdain for a film that others may have loved. For example, Murnau's 1926 film "Nosferatu", Klepper writes, "While this film has received consistent praise over the years, this reviewer fails to see why". Klepper continues with "the narrative style is rather poor, and the film drags in many spots. In some parts, the store is barely coherent.".

There are a good number of films in which I agreed with his critical review. For example, Theda Bara's 1914 film "A Fool There Was", Klepper is quick to stand up to this film by writing "Since this was Theda Bara's first film, produced at a time when the movies were still in their relatively primitive stages, it is not fair to judge Bara's performance. At points in this film, she overacts to the point of being ridiculous." and with that comment, I definitely agree with him.

Another was his review for G.W. Pabst's 1928 film "Pandora's Box" in which he praised the filmmaker and actress Louise Brooks but you also get some bits of information of actors who were living at the time that didn't respond to fan mail to Klepper thanking people and the companies for preserving the film.

The book is broken down by year and each film is presented in alphabetical order in that year and are numbered. Klepper has provided us his rating for the film as well as cast and production credits as well. Also, some films have images included.

As Klepper watched many silent films and was very astute on titles that made it to video tape, unfortunately, for those of us who no longer watch VHS copies scour the Internet for any detailed information we can get on silent films on DVD (and now on Blu-ray). So, certain titles on DVD such as Doris Kenyon's "The Ocean Waif" or Harry Langdon's "The Long Pants" on DVD from KINO or Olive Thomas' "The Flapper" on DVD from Milestone have no mention in this book. But the fact is there are silent films that are being found, restored and because this book was written and published in 1999, you're not going to all silent films in this book but yet there are still 646 titles from 1877-1996 that are included.

Overall, this book is a must-own book for those who are silent film fans. Not only as a reference or film guide book but there's no book like it out there right now. Sure, there are silent film review sites but sometimes the reviews are sparse and once in awhile, you are able to access older New York Times reviews online or old copies of Photoplay Magazine, but this book is still timeless. Some may find the book quite expensive but definitely do your research as you may find it cheaper online.

It's unfortunate that Mr. Klepper is no longer with us because I truly believe he would have found the evolution of silent films on video to be an amazing time as more are being prints are being found and restored and have no doubt that this book would have grown considerably. But his work and passion for silent films will continue to be a valuable resource for many others who are discovering silent films.

Highly recommended!
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