A companion DVD to the book "Silent Lives: 100 Biographies of the Silent Film Era"

Lon Davis, author of "Silent Lives: 100 Biographies of the Silent Era" (Bear Manor Media, 2008), has produced a most fitting DVD supplement to his wonderful book entitled "Silent Lives: Classic Screen Moments." Composed of clips from 23 great silent films with optional commentary by Davis, the viewer is taken on a chronological journey through the silent era beginning with Melies' "A Trip to the Moon" and concluding most appropriately with Fairbanks' "The Iron Mask." But you've seen this type of thing before - a mélange of scenes from silent movies, many times poor quality, unexciting excerpts, and quite often boring. Then you'll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of Davis' offering - there is a mixture of the familiar - "Intolerance" (1916), "The Kid" (1921), "The Sheik" (1921), "Nosferatu" (1922), "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) and "Steamboat Bill, Jr." (1928) . . . but there's a sprinkling of some less familiar titles to add spice to the offering - "Tillie Wakes Up" (1917), "The Ropin' Fool" (1922), "Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride" (1925), "The Caretaker's Daughter" (1925), and "The Bells" (1925), for example. The enjoyment is enhanced greatly, too, by the variety of great scores that accompany these clips - no "pieced together" junk. Produced, edited and scored by Glenn Hanna, you'll enjoy original scores by The Music Crafters Orchestra, organist Daniel Chorozempa, Robert Israel, and others. And although the commentary is optional, we recommend watching the DVD with Davis' insightful, informative and entertaining commentary turned on. For example, we learn some very interesting facts about these films of which the viewer may not have already been aware. As we watch "The Immigrant" (1917) clip, Davis tells us that Chaplin said this film "touched him" more than any other he made and shot more than 90,000 feet of film for a completed film of about 2,000 feet. During "The Sheik" (1921), we learn a bit about the "Italian School" of acting - that is, broad gestures and wide-eyed expressions that were considered, at the time, to be the appropriate means of conveying emotions on the screen. "The Ropin' Fool" (1922) was one of the first films to employ slow motion photography. Did you know that Max Schreck's name means "fear" in German? In addition to that piece of trivia, we are told during the viewing of "Nosferatu" (1922) that Bram Stoker's wife sued for copyright infringement on her husband's book "Dracula" and won, resulting in the film's original negative being destroyed. Fortunately, though, prints survived the years. In his comments on one of Barrymore's best performances as "The Beloved Rogue" (1927), Davis informs us that Barrymore actually had disdain for his film work, having a much higher regard for his stage work. "Steamboat Bill, Jr." (1928) was filmed in Sacramento and originally was to have a flood as the climax rather than a cyclone. However, because of a recent devastating flood in the news, it was thought the humor may not be appreciated. Finally, Fairbanks, we are told, knew the silent era was coming to an end, as well as his advancing age bringing an end to his swashbuckling days - therefore, he put his "all" in to the making of "The Iron Mask" (1929) employing an expert in the period from France, ensuring accurate and quality sets, and providing us with a touching and very appropriate close-out to the silent era.

Davis gets high marks for providing us a pleasant, entertaining and informative series of highlights from this most important period in cinema history. Thankfully, he doesn't try to do it all - just enough to sample some of the delights that one can find by delving into these cinematic treasures. Want to introduce someone to the silent era? This is the perfect DVD. Get a copy.

Copyright 2011 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved.

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