The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith

The Electric Hotel was the final film of both director Claude Ballard and actress Sabine Montrose. Ballard was an innovator of filmmaking during the silent age creating worlds in the peaks of the Palisades in New Jersey. Decades later a film student tracks the reclusive director down during his dissertation research, finding a man severed from his medium yet loving it from afar.

The book progresses in dual storylines of the past and present. In the past we meet Ballard as he is first falling in love with creating moving pictures; in the present he is sharing his past with a curious film student. It was hard to understand why a man who was so enthralled with his art could leave it behind, has never even watched a film in the intervening decades, but as the book progresses his life choices begin to make sense.

The tale is historical but it’s also a character study of how each character handles the failure of The Electric Hotel. Ballard, Montrose, the producer and lead stuntman are all fully-formed and react to life’s challenges in various ways. If you have read any books about the ruthlessness of Thomas Edison and want to add another to your list you can see how differently film may have progressed if Edison didn’t control so many patents. New Jersey could have become what Hollywood is today.