The recently published mystery novel Frames is partially set in an old movie theater in Los Angeles. Reading this entertaining book by Michigan author Loren D. Estleman was made a lot more fun by my experiences at the Detroit Film Theatre, Michigan Theater, and Redford Theatre.
In Frames, an employee of the UCLA Film Preservation Program indulges his passion for movie history by purchasing an ancient, rundown movie house in the city where the film industry blossomed. As the pages turned in this fast-paced thriller, my mental images of the story’s settings often took on the look of the many visual impressions that I’ve taken away from visits to the Detroit Movie Palaces.
What most impressed me about the book was how it explored the two forms of preservation that the DFT, Michigan, and Redford specialize in—film and architecture. The main character of the book, the appropriately named Valentino, buys The Oracle (“a ruin left over from the lost ancient civilization of Hollywood”). As he explores his new purchase, he comes upon some cans of film that just might be the complete version of Greed, the legendary 1925 M-G-M silent film directed by Erich von Stroheim.
Without giving away too much of the plot, this murder mystery has fascinating tangents about the delicate challenges of film restoration, the captivating glow (and danger) of silver nitrate film, and the psychological details of old movie theaters. After I finished the story, I equally enjoyed the detailed bibliography, which led me to add two more books to my film library—Talking Pictures: How They are Made/How to Appreciate Them (1937), by Barrett C. Kiesling, and The Parade’s Gone By (1968), by Kevin Brownlow.
It would be very fun and interesting to have Loren Estleman make a personal appearance at the DFT, Michigan, or Redford. I’m sure there would be an educational and entertaining exchange of questions and answers. And many fans of old movie theaters would curl up that night with an autographed copy of Frames.
Copyright © 2008 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.