In 1927, The Jazz Singer heralded a revolution in the moviemaking industry with the advent of synchronized sound in full-length motion pictures. While movie studios adapted their production facilities to accommodate the new technology and movie theatres converted to sound, filmmakers continued to produce silents, albeit in dwindling numbers. And though talkies would overtake the industry and the public's demand soon enough, the silent motion picture did not disappear immediately.
The Last Silent Picture Show: Silent Films on American Screens in the 1930s looks at this cultural shift. Drawing primarily on contemporary records, this book details the fate of an entire art form-the silent cinema-in the United States during the 1930s and how it managed to survive the onslaught of sound. Through the most diverse venues, from tent shows to universities, political meetings to picture palaces, ghetto theaters to art houses, the silent film continued to play an important role in American culture in the Depression years, culminating in the first efforts to chronicle and preserve cinema history.
Through the voices of the audiences, critics, editors, and artists, Drew relates the impact of various silent films, whether new releases, reissues, or foreign imports, on the public and culture of the 30s-how they affected both the popular and intellectual environment and how they were promoted for their audiences. Providing an in-depth examination of the transitional period, which led to the birth of modern film studies, The Last Silent Picture Show is aimed not only at academics but also the large number of film devotees who will discover new information on a relatively neglected chapter of film history.
Best Film Book of 2012
The received wisdom is this: with the coming of sound, silent film was dead. But was it? The Last Silent Picture Show looks at the little known history of silent movies in the decade after their reported demise. Though talkies overtook the industry and public arena, the silent cinema survived the onslaught of sound through continued exhibition in diverse venues including tent shows, political meetings, universities, ethnic theaters, and art houses. This work rewrites film history. * The Huffington Post *
People tend to regard cinema's silent and talkie eras as wholly distinct, but there was a time when the two overlapped-and awkwardly so. As William Drew explains in his account of this monumental crossover period, the protracted gestation of the sound era meant a slow death for the silent generation. Hanging in the balance was no less than the public's conception of what exactly constituted a proper movie. Drew's history ranges far-from the silent apex of Chaplin and Murnau to the almost comical waffling on the part of theater owners, and on to what might be termed the first revival era. For the silent stars unable to make the transition to talkies, the theaters not wired for sound were a boon-or, from another perspective, a haven for the cinematic embalming of essentially dead careers. * Film Comment *
Drew does deliver exhaustive and rather unique surveys of the American press....Drew brings together a number of previously isolated phenomena and the little discussed points of view from small-town America. * Screening The Past *
The Last Silent Picture Show: Silent Films on American Screens in the 1930s examines the dynamic period as Hollywood made the transition from silent to sound movies and into the 1930s when sound became the industry standard and what audiences expected when they attended movie theaters. * Communication Booknotes Quarterly *