Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema

Review published on April 21, 2016.

I love silent films, the older the better in my mind. As the years have drifted along I discover there is a dearth of books relative to the genre. The invention of technique or simple film making in the early days is barely covered at all. We all know the more famous names perhaps, but I bet they are nearly all male. However there were a vast number of females as well, across the world, in fact wherever films were made mainly between 1895 and the introduction of the talkies.

This book co-edited by Melody Bridges and Cheryl Robson sets out to inform us of the pioneers of cinema that hail from the female sex. It certainly needed all the information collated into one book and written down for posterity. I have no idea how they gained all this information other than by reading hundreds of snippets possibly, putting dates and reference pointers at the end of each chapter and also scattered liberally throughout the narrative. Whilst the book is packed with factual history, this minutiae can become a trifle tiresome, especially in the first half of the book. However, the second half becomes a more flowing example of fascinating script. This is not to say the entire book is poorly constructed, but the names become more recognizable to the reader, the jobbing actresses, the cinematographers, the producers and the many starlets that made the cinematic experience into what it eventually became.

Throughout the book one tends to feel an undercurrent of exciting emancipation in the writing, the women doing “a man’s job” in essence. This is of course morally quite unforgivable, the book does prove however that back in the early 20th century, the male of the species slowly and inexorably, pushed the few women in film production aside and effectively took over the studios. There are of course examples where this did not happen entirely, but in the main, the women largely became ignored – second rate, cheap labour in men’s eyes. My own personal feelings are that today more women should be making films, big blockbuster films. Perhaps then we may get a more balanced output.

This book is very informative, but it is primarily a reference book to my way of thinking, not an easy, smoothly comfortable read, but eminently worthwhile to add to the cinema bookshelf. There are quite a few photographs of these key women pioneers, brief biographies of a lot of them, and some more in depth studies probably because of the amount of information available to the writers. A decent lengthy interview with a director named Dorothy Arzner in 1977 reveals a lot of truths about how it really was back in the day.

Altogether a decent book, I would buy it due to my interest in both silent films and books, but it is not for the light reader at all. The contents needed putting together before it all became lost, especially now as a burgeoning wave of ‘silent film’ interest seems to be growing rapidly across the globe.

Reg Seward
Personal 4
Group 2

Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema
SupeerNova Books 978-0-9566329-9-9 pbk Feb 2016

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