Behind the Fourth Wall

Actors and Directors on the Set
Photographs 1926-2001

American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Cultural Center
March 7th - May 26th

"Motion pictures were the dominant art for the 20th century. Movies were the center of social mores, fashion and design, politics—in short, at the center of culture—and, in so being, dictated the terms of their dominance to the other art forms: literature, theater, and painting were all redefined by their relationship to cinema. Movies have owned the 20th century.

It will not be so in the 21st century."

Paul Schrader
"Canon Fodder," Film Comment, September 2006

The dawn of the movies in the 1920s necessitated the creation of a machine that could control a large and complex process with great precision. A story would be conceived in the mind of a screenwriter. Locations were scouted, sets were constructed, cast and crew were hired, and the movie was shot. The sets were then struck, and the moment was gone. From the 1920s until the advent of digital imagery in the 1990s, the need to document what happened during that transitory period of creation was paramount to filmmakers but relatively unknown to those outside the industry. The essence of that hidden world was preserved in photographs. The purpose of these photographs was largely practical, but the passage of time has made them historic, telling, and unexpectedly significant.

Royal Books, in conjunction with the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, has curated for this exhibit a collection of vintage, behind-the-scenes photographs documenting the creation of classic and important films from the silent era to the end of the 20th century. Some of the photographers represented are famous (Mario Tursi, Bob Willoughby, Roger Corbeau), others were known working professionals, and others anonymous. Photographers were sometimes hired to document a film for a studio's internal use, other times press photographers for various newspapers and magazines would visit a set and take photographs to capture the spirit of a film as it was being made.

Despite their varied origins, these photographs have in common a candid quality, one that reveals the reality of a film set, catching actors, directors, or crew assemblages in unguarded, unposed moments. Unlike photographs issued by the studio to promote a film, these are photographs were taken and struck by their makers. Many have never before been available to the public, and nearly all of them are either unique or very nearly so.

Royal Books began business as a seller of rare books and paper in 1996, and since that time has developed a strong specialty in American and world cinema. In recent years, that specialty has expanded to photographs, and in particular candid vintage photographs of directors, cinematographers, and actors on the sets of their respective films. Outside of sale catalogs and book fairs, this exhibit at the AFI Silver represents the first comprehensive gathering of items from their inventory in a publically accessible space.

About the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center

AFI Silver is one of the nation's premier film theaters, building an appreciation of the art and artists through exploring and celebrating new and classic films and filmmakers from around the globe. AFI Silver offers a year-round program of the best in American and international cinema, featuring a dynamic mix of retrospectives, special events, tributes, on-stage guest appearances, specialty first-run movies, festivals, premieres and education and community-based programs in a theatrical setting of the highest standards. Anchored by the stunningly restored 1938 Silver Theatre, the three-screen AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center is a state-of-the-art film and digital media exhibition venue that serves as a national model for preserving and honoring our shared film and film-going heritage. For more information about AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, visit

About Royal Books

Royal Books is located in the midtown area of Baltimore, Maryland. Since 1996, we have specialized in rare books and paper relating to twentieth century literature, genre fiction, the arts, and popular culture, with a particular emphasis on cinema. For more information, or to browse our complete inventory, please visit

For more information on the exhibit contact Royal Books
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