Recommended Reading

"American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films 1913-1929"

by John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella with Steve Joyce and Harry H. Long, Researcher/Archivist Bill Chase (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2012, two volumes, 810 pages) - http://www.mcfarlandpub.com - order line: 1-800-253-2187

 

WOW! . . . at least that's the reaction we had after the first five minutes of flipping through this copious and magnificent two-volume set. No wonder there are five guys listed as having written, researched and contributed to this amazing compilation - the sheer magnitude of the task of pulling all of this together would be daunting, to say the least. Let's take a look. Volumes I and II (they come together as a package) provide over 800 pages of delicious elucidation on nearly 300 films in the genre with 86 more films highlighted in the "Appendix of Tangential Films," those the authors felt came close to the genre which the tome celebrates, but didn't quite make the cut. As a matter of fact, Soister points out in his introduction how difficult it was to draw that line - some films having a "touch" of the fantasy, science fiction or horror, while others had titles that were misleading about their contents - all resulting in time-consuming research that, in many cases, didn't contribute to the task at hand. Let's be sure and make something clear, though - this is not your ordinary "The Films of . . ." series that we've seen so much of over the years. Each entry not only has the expected credits (release date, length, production company, cast, crew, etc.), but most importantly, the commentaries reveal serious, in-depth research with an eye for facts, trivia and tidbits that will hold the reader's attention. Soister, et. al., are to be commended, too, for refusing to fill all these pages with "dry" narrative. If anything's "dry," it would be the sense of humor these guys imbue into their writing which is witty, sharp, lively and a pleasure to read. Don't expect a lot of photos or graphics - if that's what you want, go find a picture book. So many of these are - if not rare - simply nonexistent, as are the majority films from this era. As we have experienced over the years with images for the Silents Are Golden website, stills, lobbies, posters and other advertising material can be nearly impossible to find if the film is at any level of obscurity or produced by a minor, low-budget studio. But, commendably, that's not what the authors were after - the sheer size of this offering is impressive which means there's lots of meat inside the insightful and enaging text - free of "padding" with stuff that doesn't matter. Yes, you'll find the"biggies" in here - Fairbanks' "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924), Griffith's "The Sorrows of Satan" (1927), Chaney's "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925), and Barrymore's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920). However, have you ever heard of "Do the Dead Talk?" (1920) or the Ebony Film Corp. that produced it? How about "The Case of Becky" (1915) starring Blanche Sweet? . . .and another version of the same film with Constance Binney in 1920? And what about "Up the Ladder" (1925) starring Virginia Valli and produced by a major studio, Universal. This one is actually available from Grapevine Video (www.grapevinevideo.com - after reading the authors' entry on the film, you'll probably run to the computer to order a copy!). The reader will also find his/her favorites of the genre here, as we did - films such as Rex Ingram's "The Magician" (1926) and King Vidor's "Wild Oranges" (1924) - two very highly-recommended films. So, what else can be said? If you're a silent movie fan of any kind, you should have this in your library. A warning - don't dismiss this excellent compilation with, "Nah, I don't get into those kinds of films." The elements on which Soister and friends based their decision for inclusion are present in more of our favorite and most popular silent films than you realize - as you WILL realize after seeing this wonderful offering. Top-notch research, talented writing, a treasure-trove of engaging and little-known information. We normally think of compilations just teasing us with a "taste" of a variety of films. Get this two-volume set in your hands, and you've got a feast!


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