FANTASTIC FILMS OF THE DECADES
VOLUME 1: THE SILENT ERA
Wayne Kinsey (Peveril Publishing)
A careful selection of motion pictures. A treasure trove of eye-popping images and potted biographies of a battalion of forgotten film pioneers. A consideration of groundbreaking special effects and the men who created them.
This, then, is the absorbing content of Fantastic Films of the Decades, the first of what is touted as an ambitious nine volume series by ace writer/researcher Wayne Kinsey.
Genre buffs will know him as the specialist whose various books on Hammer Films have been pretty much the last word on the subject. Here Kinsey ventures into new territory by exploring key movies from the embryonic days of horror, sci-fi and fantasy.
His introduction sets the scene. He casts a glance back to the days of ‘70s ‘Monster Kids’ and the reading matter that moulded them: books by writers such as Denis Gifford and Alan Frank.
And he spoke directly to this reviewer when he dismissed the notion of reading and researching online, preferring to hold an honest-to-goodness book in his hands with real pages and two covers. For that alone he is to be applauded.
Fantastic Films of the Decades is a terrific companion piece – relevant and contemporaneous – to the books by Gifford, Frank et al. Kinsey keeps it all rattling along. His enthusiasm is infectious, his appreciation obvious. He tends not to critique his entries, preferring instead to let the background information he’s collated speak for itself.
Each entry is accompanied by credits (where known) and there is evidence of some terrier-like primary research into these long-ago wonders. The use of photographs is exemplary, particularly in the choice of vivid 1920s poster art. The poster gallery for The Phantom of the Opera is itself worth the book’s cover price. Full marks to the simpatico between author and designer.
In his introduction Kinsey is open about discovering some classics for the very first time. He’s similarly open about the issues involved in locating the best version of a film, which sometimes means hunting down long-lost video releases.
The flood of restored Blu-rays means frame grabbing is possible, and the book is littered with high quality grabs from significant moments in a string of pictures. Perhaps the best – certainly one of the most eye-catching – is the unmasking of Lon Chaney as Erik, the phantom, in Rupert Julian’s 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera.
Sixteen images, each carefully chosen, chart the unveiling. Even in still form the impact is powerful and undiminished. It’s a triumph and one that Kinsey rightly champions as he takes us on a delicious expedition through a lost world of flickering thrills, spills, shocks and chills.
There are some omissions. The book opens with an overview of the very first film pioneers. There are references to Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers but no mention of Louis Le Prince, who recorded the first moving images in 1888. However Le Prince has been largely airbrushed out of history by the Lumières and the ruthless, patent-gobbling Edison so in all fairness Kinsey cannot be blamed for that.
One more point: Peveril requires an assiduous copy editor. There are some jarring typos and some genuine howlers: on the same page Edgar Allan Poe becomes Edgar Allen Poe, which is unforgivable in a book of this type. It feels churlish to mention such errors but they are fundamental and must be excised if Peveril aims to maintain its authoritative status.
Fantastic Films of the Decades Volume 1: The Silent Era is limited to 500 copies and is available only from Peveril Publishing
Click HERE to place an order.
Star rating: 4 out of 5