Books: A Record of Fleeting Realities

THE WAR, THE WEST AND THE WILDERNESS by Kevin Brownlow; Knopf; 602 pages; $27.50

The beginning of the movies coincided with the ending of three historical moments: years of peace in Europe, the frontier era in the American West, and the time when explorers tried to fill in the blank spaces on the globe. As one heroic age ended, a new one began, with new kinds of heroes: men and women who wondered what might be done with new-fangled motion-picture equipment to record the fleeting reality of their time.

Except for a few, like Robert Flaherty, and the team of Merian...

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