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The Electric Hotel

The beginnings of the film industry have always held a fascination for many people. In this carefully researched book, Dominic Smith has presented the best combination of factual progress and fictional characters who follow the pattern of those times. We see the development of the science of film making, the characters who saw the great potential for entertainment, and the audiences who were unsure of exactly what they would see and hear.

Claud Ballard (one of the original film makers), begins this story. He lives in a hotel and still carries his camera everywhere. He is retired now and spends his mornings gathering mushrooms and herbs from the local area. One day a young man comes to visit him. Martin is completing his PhD on the life of Claude and is very excited to have found him. They have coffee together, discussing many issues that are little known. Martin offers to take some of the old photographic reels that Claude keeps and restore them.

As Claude begins to tell his story many interesting details emerge. The Lumiere brothers are desperate to find a way to move a spool of film on sprockets. One night one of them goes to his mother’s sewing machine and looks at the mechanism that pulls the fabric towards the needle. He takes the machine apart, and from here develops the system of moving film automatically.

Claude is one of the first people invited to show film that he has taken. From here he enters a very different world and travels to many countries as a projectionist. The characters who enter Claude’s world now make a lasting difference to his life.

The beautiful Sabine becomes his lover, but the war intervenes. The Germans are intent on showing that they were not as wicked as the world perceived, so had Claude make a movie to show their benevolence. Many dignitaries were invited to the premier, however Claude had a reel of his own showing innocent people tortured by the Germans. He was lucky to escape with his life.

The total immersion into the times and thoughts of these characters makes this book very hard to put down. The language is descriptive and understated which creates quite a powerful atmosphere. The situation is shown as it is, with no judgemental overtones. We follow Claude and his thoughts with a deeper understanding of the early days of film.

Author Dominic Smith
Publisher Allen and Unwin
ISBN 9781760528621
Distributor Allen and Unwin
Released June 2019