FANTASTIC FILMS OF THE DECADE -Volume 1: THE SILENT ERA. By Wayne Kinsey. Ultra- Limited Printing (500 copies) 175 pages
Only £25 plus P+P
(A Scarlet The Film Magazine Book Review by Steve Joyce )
When I first picked up Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 1: The Silent Era and began browsing quickly through its pages, I had an immediate reaction. I was struck by the number of illustrations (many a full page is nothing but) and muttered to myself something like “Well. Given that silent films were even more visual than they are today; that seems appropriate, I guess.”
Sure enough, when I started reading the introduction, I realized that author Wayne Kinsey and I were on the same page (so to speak). He states his book is “more pictorial in a fitting tribute to films that thrilled through pictures only” and is upfront in saying his volume was “designed to be an easy read” and “not designed to be … exhaustive”. Mr. Kinsey adds that he prefers holding a physical book and I’m onboard with that as well.
This then, pretty much sets the parameters for what the whole thing is all about. In conforming to the above stipulations, the book’s format is fairly structured. Each film write-up comes with a “What’s it about?” section, a “What’s it like?” section, a “Did you know?” section, etc. (Obviously, readers wishing to avoid SPOILERS will appreciate the “What’s it about?” section labeled as such.)
Not too surprisingly, in the “What’s it Like?” comments, the author provides his thoughts and opinions. It’s this reviewer’s opinion that when he describes 1916’s dated masterpiece, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, as “rather plodding” and goes on to say relatively good things about the oft-maligned Sheldon Lewis take on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) tale, that he’s spot on. His remarks left me with more than a couple takeaways; for instance, I have got to watch (and re-watch) more Old Dark House Mysteries one of these days (starting with The Last Warning (1929) which Kinsey states is superior to The Cat and the Canary (1927) which I thoroughly enjoyed). Movie tastes may vary but, at the very least, it’s clear that he’s carefully watched of which he writes.
Any number of tidbits are provided through a “Did you know?” section. One of my particular interests is adaptations and remakes. Along these lines, I have the author to thank for pointing out the connection between The Monster (1925) and Poe’s ‘The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether ‘as well as that between Go and Get It (1920) and the sound film The Monster and the Girl (1941). And, on the trivia front, … goodness knows I would have never guessed that the lost Frankenstein film, Life Without Soul (1915), was shot in my adopted state in nearby
Dahlonega, Georgia (heck, I never knew Georgia had any vintage films shot there at all.) And as for the account on the making of Noah’s Ark (1928), I found it to be downright shocking. This might have been my favorite section and I could easily list many other factoids that tickled my fancy.
Tangential to the films themselves are full page “Series Links” (e.g. the Frankenstein films, Poe films, Chaney/Browning films, etc.) and full page “Legend” bios for such luminaries as George Melies, Conrad Veidt, Lon Chaney, Paul Wegener and others. I particularly learned plenty about the
Westmore brothers who collectively did make-up work on everything from early classics like The Lost World (1925) and the talkie The Island of Lost Souls (1932) to The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and This Island Earth (1955) to Soylent Green (1973) and The Munsters (1964-66) TV show.
There are also smaller thumbnail biographies written in the “Look For” section in the film write-ups themselves; so, everything is generally accessible, organized and weighted properly. (However, there is one mysteriously misplaced mini-biography of cowboy star Roy Rogers on the page devoted to 1922’s The Headless Horseman which, of course, starred Will Rogers. The reviewer’s copy is in PDF format; I am not sure if this miscue appears in printed copies.)
Volume I of this series mainly covers extent movies but seven key lost films are included as well. Kinsey has apparently written extensively in the horror genre and there seems to be a slight emphasis on horror. Missing are mention of some important science fiction classics as The Unknown Purple (1923), L’inhumaine(1924) and Himmelskibet(aka A TRIP TO MARS ,1918).
Nonetheless, ” Volume 1″ succeeds in what it set out to accomplish.
Although lacking full comprehensiveness on silent era genre pictures, it provides a cogently written overview of the topic. I am looking forward to the next entries covering subsequent decades
There are some 60 to 70 films covered within the 175 pages of Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 1. A number of illustration pages are in color. It’s limited to only 500 copies and only available direct from http://www.peverilpublishing.co.uk
(Steve Joyce is the co-author of American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913–1929.)