The Parade's Gone By

by Kevin Brownlow. Knopf, $13.95. Mr. Brownlow’s history of silent movies is a work of uncritical love, and is consequently disfigured by exaggerated claims of excellence, long plot summaries, and blobs of purple prose, but these defects arc outweighed by the book’s merits. In addition to compiling useful background information, the author has managed to interview a surprising number of survivors from the period of silent films, not merely predictable stars like Gloria Swanson and the late Buster Keaton, but directors, cameramen, engineers, scriptwriters, and the wonderful odd-job types Griffith had a positive Figaro — whose descendants have proliferated into armies of technicians. Mr. Brownlow gives all these people the floor, recording their remarks with an appearance of total faith. One gets divergent reports of the same episodes, characters, and devices, a slapdash, gossipy method which slowly accumulates a body of reasonably established fact (Mr. Brownlow actually knows quite well who is silly and who is bluffing) and creates a genuine sense of the enthusiastic, inventive, experimental, treacherous milieu in which these people worked. European films are treated very briefly, and financial details, probably known only to the recording angel anyway, are hardly treated at all.