Recommended Reading

"Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography"

by David S. Shields (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

David Shields' "Still" is a recommended book but with caveats. Anyone who collects fan photos and/or stills from the silent era will find this book informative and insightful regarding the men and women who so beautifully captured the personalities of the stars and the memorable moments from the films. Silent movie fans for years have seen the signatures on photos such as Witzel, Evans, Freulich, Louise, Hurrell, Spurr or Abbe - names that are familiar thanks in part to books such as "Ruth Harriet Louise and Hollywood Glamour Photography" by Robert Dance and Bruce Robertson (University of California Press, 2002), "Hollywood: The Years of Innocence" by John Kobal (Abbeville Press, 1985), "Masters of Starlight" by David Fahey and Linda Rich (Ballantine Books, 1987) and "Hollywood Glamor Portraits" edited by John Kobal (Dover Publications, 1976). Most are not, however, familiar with such names a Rice, Boris, Majdrakoff, Earle, Curtis, Lachman, Gaudio, van den Broek, Seely and a host of others. Not only are there insights into the artistry of these photographers and engrossing discussion of how their styles differed, the silent movie fan will also find the relationship of these photographers to the stars, directors and producers who employed them extremely enlightening and interesting. Unfortunately, there are some glaring errors in the book that weaken its appeal - errors such as referring to photographer Arthur F. Rice as Arthur J. Rice, referencing Enid Bennett in a "Robin Hood" photo caption as Billie Bennett, mislabeling a full page photo of Reginald Denny as Richard Dix, mislabeling a photo of Antonio Moreno and Alice Terry from "Mare Nostrum" as Peter (sic) Wegener and Alice Terry from "The Magician" - and, not only is Moreno identified as Wegener, Wegener's name is "Paul," not "Peter." In spite of the valuable information found within these pages on the still photographers, one is led to believe that for all his expertise regarding photography, Shields is not a very devoted silent movie fan. In addition to the unfortunately mislabeling of photos, this is further evidenced in his "Overture" to introduce the book when he states, " . . . the still image rivaled the moving image in revealing personality and that it proved a more durable medium for preserving action, character, and personality than the motion picture." A silent movie fan who has viewed the evolution of a star from the beginning of his/her career and on into the sound era in a variety of demanding roles will find this statement a bit difficult with which to agree. As noted, we do recommend this book, but with caveats. It is somewhat academic in writing style, and one only wishes there were more photographs. Measuring 7 1/4" by 10 1/4", it is by no means a "coffee table" book, and although there are over 150 photographs, the book's appeal could have been greatly enhanced with the inclusion of more, not only in number, but in size as well. It is a beautifully produced book with glossy photos that are crisp and clear. It may not be for every silent movie fan, but if you're a fan of the still photography from the era, you'll find the story behind those stills in this book to your liking.

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