cover image The Electric Hotel

The Electric Hotel

Dominic Smith. FSG/Crichton, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-14685-6

Smith (The Last Painting of Sara De Vos) takes readers back to the dawn of the motion picture era in his splendid latest. Claude Ballard is an old man in 1962, living at Hollywood’s Knickerbocker Hotel, when he’s contacted by Martin Embry, a PhD candidate in film history. When the elderly director reveals that he owns a print of his first feature film, long considered lost, the young scholar’s enthusiasm about its discovery prompts Claude to reminisce about the film’s genesis and aftermath. From his early days photographically documenting ailments at a Paris hospital, to his rapid rise to prominence by demonstrating the capabilities of the Lumière brothers’ moving picture innovations, to his ill-fated (both professionally and personally) production of The Electric Hotel, to his surprising heroic turn in WWI, Claude’s own story—and those of the leading lady, stuntman, and impresario who collaborated with him—unfolds as cinematically as the scenes he creates on film. Fascinating information about the making of silent films (including a villainous cameo by Thomas Edison) is balanced by poignant, emotional portrayals of individuals attempting to define their lives offscreen even as they made history on it. Smith winningly delves into Hollywood’s past. [em](June) [/em]