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[B]Sound on Film[/B]


Metropolisforever
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The sound on disc process was created by Thomas Edison in 1894.

 

The sound on film process was created by Eug?ne-Auguste Lauste in 1906.

 

If Hollywood has always had sound, why didn't they really use it until the 1920's? Why do silent films even exist?

 

(NOTE: I am NOT dissing silent films. I love silent films. I'm just asking a question.)

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Most of the systems for sound on disk were not very reliable, so the public was not sold on the idea. Most people in the "silent era" did not think of them as silent films. When they went to the theatre to see a film, they were just going to the "movies". Lee DeForrest invented a pretty good sound on film system in the early 1920s, but did not have the financial backing of any of the studios to make much of an impact. I have seen a few of his "phonfilms", and they are not bad, mostly musical stuff (Eddie Cantor, Sissle & Blake, etc), not all that different from the Vitaphone shorts that would be made a few years later.

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That's a good question. I'll guess and say that they didn't see the obvious. They(the collective everyone) probably saw film as a strictly "visual" experience. On the fly, I'll suppose that the great onstage performers of the day, both vaudeville and theatre, probably viewed the flickers with the same disdain that "golden age" Hollywood people applied to early television.

But I don't know.

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Actually, people in the 20s did think of them as "silent films", "voiceless dramas", etc. What we tend to forget is that at the same theatre, audiences could get a full vaudeville show with many of the same performers who we came to know and love in the talkies. There was no demand for talking films of all the vaudeville greats, because they would come around and perform at local theatres. Of course, some of the biggest stars (Eddie Cantor, for instance) made experimental talking shorts of their act.

 

The simple fact is that a talking film in, say, 1922 meant a static camera, usually running in a single take for close to ten minutes, while a performer did their act that was most likely much more electrifying, funny and exciting in person. On the other hand, silent film in 1922 could offer the delightful comedies of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, memorable adventure pictures like Douglas Fairbanks in "Robin Hood", and dramas such as Valentino's "Blood and Sand".

 

It wasn't until the crash of 1929, of course, when all the vaudeville houses started closing, and the circuits started drying up, that many of those comedians turned to making films in order to be able to continue working. While this gave us such memorable and brilliant talents as the Marx Bros. and W.C. Fields, it also eroded the unique grammar of screen comedy as it had been developed by Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. Sadly, many great vaudeville performers were lost to time as they were unable to catch on in the recorded medium.

 

 

When asking why sound didn't "catch on", you simply have to consider the vast entertainment options the average moviegoer had available at the time. This was also when radio was coming in, so people could just as easily sit in the comfort of their living room and listen to vaudeville performers do their act on the radio. Movies were still something special, and audiences liked it that way.

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>This was also when radio was coming in, so people could just as easily sit in the comfort of their living room and listen to vaudeville performers do their act on the radio. Movies were still something special, and audiences liked it that way.

Radio was created in the 1800's.

 

Television was created in the 1920's.

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True, but just as television didn't become a regular fixture in most American homes until the late 40s/early 50s, radio really took off in the late 20s, especially with the success of "Amos n' Andy" which appeared in 1926.

 

Interestingly, the impact of radio was strong enough that certain films, such as "Old Ironsides" and "Wings" featured scenes in a process called Magnoscope, which was a very primitive pre-cursor to widescreen (although it only increased the size of the projected image for certain scenes, not the actual shooting aspect ratio) in an attempt to add a gimmick to big releases.

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Very interesting, and well put Matt. Yeah, I figure that during the teens and early twenties, vaudeville was the place to see a show. As expensive as it is to make a film, taking a live show full of multiple acts on the road must've cost more. That's not even taking into consideration the logistical problems. Once they figured out how to perform a show once, and get it to the mass audience at a good price, it was the end of vaudeville and start of "Hollywood dominance" in the entertainment business. It just makes sense.

It's hard to fathom some of the stars hopping on train from city to city, night after night.

Pay them for a month and a half and own the film venue.....WOW.

Thats making money. As much as these stars were paid, they were paupers next to the successful moguls.

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If Hollywood has always had sound, why didn't they really use it until the 1920's? Why do silent films even exist?

 

There's sound, and there's sound. Apart from editing and layering multi-track sound, which was extraordinarily difficult using the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system introduced by Warner's in the mid-1920s, earlier attempts were even more limited due to the absence of a truly electronic recording system that permitted the sort of amplification motion pictures required to A: pick up sounds on a large film set; B: reproduce it through several generations needed for a film's post-production process, and C: project it in the often vast movie houses in which films would play.

 

Just as the acoustic recordings of the likes of Enrico Caruso or Al Jolson from the 'teens and earlier that one can buy nowadays on CD sound thin and scratchy, the acoustic (versus electronic) technology available in the pre-Vitaphone era was simply inadequate to the task motion pictures would place on it.

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part of the reason why sound technology was around for years before talkies became popular was that the studios didn't WANT sound films because the theaters they owned weren't wired for the technology.

 

It took a maverick studio (Warners... on the verge of bankruptcy) and a superstar (Al Jolson) to combine talents and create a DEMAND for talkies. Even in 1927 when THE JAZZ SINGER was released, the sound technology was rough and many theaters showed the film as a total silent. In 1928 when LIGHTS OF NEW YORK was released as the first "all taking" feature film, the film contained titled cards because it was also shown as a silent film. Both films were smash hits in big cities that had theaters wired for sound.

 

The many short films that had sound were seen mainly as novelties and even in the late 20s most people assumed a "talkie" would be musical or sound effects. Few people saw that DIALOG would be the mainstay of the sound revolution.

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