Kenneth W. Leish’s Cinema was published in 1974 by Newsweek Books. Blending his own research with excerpts other well-known, film-centric tomes, Leish’s book is also packed with stunning images and illustrations from all eras of classic film.
Cinema covers film history, production, the development of certain genres, the transition from silents to talkies, Academy Award winners, box office hits throughout the years and more. With chapters dedicated to the “Heyday of Hollywood,” “Film Find[ing] Its Voice,” “Making the Movies” and “A Chronology of Cinema,” among others, a wealth of information is packed into these 192 pages.
The book is well-organized and designed. I found it at a library book sale and was first attracted to it by the bright cover (see photo at right). The chapters flow naturally, in chronological order as follows:
Chapter 1, “Opening Credits” – The 1890s, turn of the century and the invention of the Motion Picture
Chapter 2, “Window to a Wider World” – 1907 through the 1910s and the rise of the nickelodeon
Chapter 3, “The International Epoch” – World cinema of the late 1910s and early 1920s
Chapter 4, “Heyday of Hollywood” – American film in the 1920s and the invention of the movie star
Chapter 5, “Film Finds Its Voice” – The Vitaphone and sound films of the late 1920s
Chapter 6, “Chorines and Comics, Cowboys and Crooks” – Hollywood in the early 1930s
Chapter 7, “Challenge and Response” – European film during the rise of totalitarianism
Chapter 8, “Hollywood’s Fading Glory” – TV competition and legal troubles of the 1940s and 1950s
Chapter 9, “The Universal Art” – The rise of world cinema after World War II
Chapter 10, “New Talent, New Audience” – The 1960s and early 1970s
Following these chapters is the “Making the Movies” section, a collection of excerpts written by those involved in making the very films that the book has previously discussed.
And then there are the lists: a timeline of important developments in cinema, a list of every Academy Award winner up to 1973, a list of films that won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, a list of the all-time top-grossing films, and finally a selected bibliography (which is a great source for a film fan looking for more books to seek out for their enjoyment/collecting).
The engaging writing style makes Cinema a quick read. It’s much easier to become mentally engaged with than some of the textbook-ish, dense explorations of film history. Leish’s discussion of film is thorough but concise.
My one little editing issue with the book is that Leish misuses apostrophes consistently (using “1960’s,” for example, t0 refer to the entire decade, rather than the correct “1960s”). This is such a common mistake in professional, printed media. It’s also a pet peeve of mine and consistently baffles me. Even if the author is clueless on the subject of grammar, shouldn’t an editor understand these things?
Pet peeves aside, I enjoyed reading Cinema and am glad to have it as a part of my collection of film books. If you’re interested in owning a copy, keep your eyes peeled at your local used book shop, or scope out a copy on eBay, where the book can be found for around five dollars.