My Summer Silent Movie Reading List

It’s summertime in California and the weather looks like this:

hells-hinges-flaresYep, it’s wildfire season and my neck of the woods is getting scorched. Since I am neither an arsonist nor a firefighter, there’s not much I can do about it.

Oh well. A much happier summer tradition is a list of book picks. I’m going to share some silent film books I have recently obtained and intend to read in the near future. Obviously, I can’t say exactly how much I like them yet as I have not finished reading them but they all look very promising.

Silent Film Sound by Rick Altman

silent film soundVery excited about this one! It promises to be a comprehensive look at sound in silent films. It covers both famous methods and forgotten techniques. Did you know there was a fad for “backstage talkers” during the Nickelodeon era? Acting troupes would stand backstage and provide dialogue to fit the screen character’s lip movements. We also get samples of sheet music, contemporary tips on proper accompaniment and all sorts of technology designed to make sure that silent films were not silent.

Available in paperback and hardcover.

Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders: Cliffhanger Serials of the Silent-Movie Era

distressed damsels

I have to admit that mainstream Hollywood serials are something of a blind spot in my silent film research. Being a neurotic, obsessive completist, I don’t like having blind spots. I have heard enthusiastic reviews for this book, which is described as a well-researched and loving look at the genre. Sold!

Available in paperback.

William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come by James Curtis

shape of films to comeI am an unabashed fangirl of Menzies and I adore his opulent production design. How could I possibly say no to this book? Plus, it seems to be rather generous with the illustrations, always a bonus in a book about a production designer.

Available in hardcover.


And in case you were wondering, no, I am not just reading about silent movies. My non-silent movie picks are a collection of Kafka stories and Gogol’s Dead Souls translated by my favorite Russian literature team, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. For fun junk food reads, I have a couple of Star Trek novels on my Kindle. I’m sorry if this disappoints you but I do love my Cardassians.


  1. Ross

    Nabokov, in one of his regular pontifical moments, espoused the Bernard Guilbert Guerney translation of “Dead Souls.”

    Of course he wasn’t around to have read Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      I spent a good stretch in the bookstore comparing translations of War & Peace. Pevear and Volokhonsky won. NEEEEEEEEEERD!!!

      Seriously, I love the smoothness and precision of their work.

  2. jazzfeathers

    I think I’d have never found these books by myself. Hey, that’s why I like reading blogs (geek blogs? 😉 )

    I’m reading about European history in the 1920s… and getting slightly scared at the similarities with our own times

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