Posted by: Neil Hollands
The transition from silent films to talkies is once again a hot topic. My two favorite new films last year, The Artist and Hugo, both dealt with this subject, and the transition to talkies is also the subject for my all-time favorite movie musical Singin’ in the Rain. In this era when the book world is trying to cope with transitions between old formats and new, there’s a lot of resonance in these tales of both the opportunities felt when new media arise and the careers and lives crushed when old artists weren’t well suited to adapt to new trends.
How can book groups get into this discussion? Start with the classic Kaufman and Hart play Once in a Lifetime which is a satirical comedy about three vaudevillians who try to make it big by pulling up stakes and moving to Hollywood to open a diction school. It’s a hilarious play that still holds up well to reading, but one that’s less known than You Can’t Take it with You or The Man Who Came to Dinner, because the film adaptation was less successful than those for other Kaufman and Hart plays and the large cast and costuming requirements make the play difficult to stage in the theater.
While it’s not about the transition to talkies, Louise Moriarty’s brand new book The Chaperone is a promising choice for book groups looking to explore the silent film era. It’s about a society woman who takes accompanies young Louise Brooks from Wichita to New York City in 1922 and the changes that visit would create in both women during the decades that followed. The early reviews are terrific and I’m a big fan of Moriarty’s earlier book The Center of Everything.
Finally, I’ll point you to the online resource, Silent Era, which is a great clearinghouse for online information about silent films, including a list of the top 100 silent films and a substantial section of reviews of nonfiction books about the silent film era and its stars.