Kamera Books’ series of publications on all genres of film has been an amazing revelation for film buffs and general audiences who want to know a little bit more about the historic significance of particular subjects in the film pantheon of which author Brian J. Robb’s “Silent Cinema” is but one. Let me first say that these books were not designed for the proficient film historian but instead for the beginner or those just learning (or studying) about film genre and culture. Robb’s book looks back at the beginnings of cinema itself by examining its first genre which is the silent film.
For many this will be a revelation on just how the film industry developed and how the techniques of the silent film came to be. Robb spends the first chapter on the development of the film industry as the evolution of the silent film is directly related to the development of the film industry itself. He then spends an entire chapter on film innovator George Melies who took the new technology into a whole different direction and opened up the possibilities for future innovators. This then opens the rest of the book to focusing on other aspects of the silent film industry which includes chapters on directors, both dramatic and silent actors, and even some of the scandals that threatened to bring down the film industry (or at least forced it to take a mirror to itself).
Because the film industry was not developed in a vacuum but had innovators from all parts of the world contribute to its evolution, Robb spends some of the book on the International silent cinema and its place in the industry as a whole. The book ends by examining the coming of sound and how it brought an end to the golden age of silent cinema.
Robb’s book is a testament to the contributions of the silent cinema and the development of the film industry from its very beginnings. Despite Robb’s dry sense of writing it does work for this “just the facts” style book which could have gone the direction of being too scholarly but doesn’t. Robb hits all the right marks by taking a look at all the names and people that even the casual filmgoer may know such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. Demille, Gloria Swanson, Lilian Gish and many, many more. This is the history of the film industry. This is the legacy of the silent film.