Dominic Smith, an author not everyone is familiar with, has been one of my favorite historical fiction writers for years. His most recent release (and a new book is coming this April!), is titled “The Electric Hotel,” is a wonderful look at the early years of the motion picture industry, a topic that has fascinated me for years.
It is 1962 and Claude Ballard is living in the rundown Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles, when he is tracked down by film student Martin Embry. Ballard has been filling his days taking photos of miscellaneous subjects living within walking distance of his hotel, but after a few weeks agrees to meet with Embry to discuss his role in the very beginning of motion pictures, and by the very beginning Ballard broke in working for the French film pioneers, the Lumiere Brothers.
Week after week the two meet and Ballard tells Embry about the very beginning of motion pictures as well as his role in the development and expansion of movies throughout the world. Ballard eventually becomes a Director in the US and his career hits its apex with the release of the movie, The Electric Hotel. The first third of the book deals with the very earliest days of motion pictures, the middle third goes into the making of the movie, a movie that eventually only had one screening before Thomas Edison was able to shut it down!
Smith transports us to this magical era when so many people are trying to transition from stage to film. Ballard becomes one of the leading pioneers in the industry and The Electric Hotel is going to be the movie that will be the most shocking and advanced movie ever produced. If only that had happened! Due to events beyond his control Ballard leaves the industry and ends up producing WW1 battlefield movies. This final third of the book is a letdown for Ballard, but also is fascinating as to how movies played a major part in the propaganda, as well as bringing the harsh realities of the battlefield into the worlds theatres.
As hoped for, the film The Electric Hotel is able to be restored and all things are nicely wrapped up by the end of the book. Wonderful and authentic writing by Smith as to the early days of motion pictures, the book transports readers back to a questionably simpler time, or at least a most exciting time in motion picture history.