From their birth in the 1890s with the earliest narrative shorts, through the full-length features of the1920s, silent movies have captured the American imagination. These artifacts of a fledgling industry continue to engage viewers 80 years after the release of “The Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson, the first full-length feature film to incorporate synchronized dialogue and thereby herald the age of the “talkies.”
In his new book, “Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture,” Peter Kobel has created the definitive visual history of silent film. Published this month by the Library of Congress in association with Little, Brown & Co., this richly illustrated work draws on the Library’s extraordinary collection of posters, paper prints, film stills and memorabilia—most of which has never been in print. More than 400 images capture the birth of film and the rise of such icons as Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino.
“For more than a century, motion pictures have documented American life and culture,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “The Library of Congress has been actively involved in preserving the history of cinema since 1893 when Thomas Edison’s assistant, William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, submitted the first copyright registration for a commercially distributed movie, which marked the beginning of the film industry in America. Today, the Library makes accessible to scholars and researchers the largest collection of films in the world.”
With a foreword by legendary director Martin Scorsese and an introduction by filmmaker and film historian Kevin Brownlow, “Silent Movies” also looks at the technology of early film, the use of color photography and the preservation and restoration work being spearheaded by the Library of Congress and some of Hollywood’s most important directors.
Peter Kobel is the former managing editor of Premiere magazine. He has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly.
The book is dedicated to David W. Packard “in recognition of his support of film preservation at the Library of Congress.” Packard is the benefactor of the Library’s new Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va., which houses the Library’s film and sound collections.
The publication of “Silent Movies” coincides with the launch of a traveling film series, which begins at the Library of Congress on Nov. 9 and continues in November at venues throughout the Washington metropolitan area (National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Goethe-Institut Washington and AFI Silver Theater). The series then continues in December at several venues in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. For more information, go to www.loc.gov/pickford/
“Silent Movies,” a 320-page hardcover book with 400 illustrations, is available for $45 in bookstores nationwide and in the Library’s Sales Shop, Washington, D.C., 20540-4985, (888) 682-3557, www.loc.gov/shop/