Despite being one of the most acclaimed films of the silent era, King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928) remains unavailable to buy on home video in the U.S. The very citizenry that Vidor examined in this classic cannot have access to it. It is a member of the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, to be preserved for all time, and yet the only way we can see it is whenever it randomly appears on Turner Classic Movies or when Warner Bros. has it available to stream on the Warner Archive Instant app. Should Warner Bros. and the Warner Archive Collection ever decide to release it on DVD (at the very least), hopefully they give historian Jordan R. Young a call to contribute.
Young is the author of King Vidor’s THE CROWD: The Making of a Silent Classic, published by Past Times Publishing Co. in 2014. I picked up this book at Larry Edmunds in Hollywood during the TCM Film Festival. The textbook-size volume only runs 126 pages, but it’s packed with the kind of details you might hear while listening to a DVD commentary. Young goes much more in-depth then a commentary would allow though, going through each step of the filmmaking process and providing short biographies on those involved. There are also plenty of images scattered throughout, including stills of deleted sequences.
The most fascinating aspect of the book is learning how silent movies came together and how they were written. Young goes over each draft of The Crowd, providing excerpts and going step-by-step before the cameras role. Since silent films didn’t have dialogue, writers plotted out the sequences and imagined what each shot would look like. Young also includes invaluable comments from those who made the movie. They are long gone and silent movies might not be made any longer, but what they have to say about movies and storytelling is more often than not still true. That’s especially the case with Vidor himself.
With The Crowd still unavailable (and another screening on TCM is not scheduled for the immediate future), Young’s book can be used to refresh your mind on the film’s greatness. It’s also a valuable text for those who haven’t seen it but still share an interest in silent movies. The Crowd was made when the art form was at its height, just before The Jazz Singer changed everything in late 1927. The contrast between silent movies of 1927-28 to the early talkies is striking and The Crowd gives us a look at how silent films could have developed even further had Al Jolson not sung on the screen.
The Making of a Silent Classic is available on Amazon for just $17.99 in print. It’s worth it and, after reading it, you’ll be even more annoyed by The Crowd‘s lack of availability on DVD.