Hold onto your corset covers, kids, because this silent movie site is going to talk about sound! Nothing so coarse as actual talkies, of course, but all the sound technologies that led up to full-blown talking pictures.
The notion that sound pictures were a completely new invention in the 1920s is a myth. In fact, sound experiments were conducted from the birth of motion pictures all the way to the sound revolution. For example, here is an early sound experiment (1895!) designed for Edison’s kinetophone:
No, your sound isn’t broken. The copy held by the Library of Congress is silent, missing the phonograph record containing the violin music. You see, most early sound technologies relied on separate phonograph records and motion picture footage. This has led to movies with missing records, records with missing movies and partially surviving fragments of both.
We’re going to dive into these fascinating experiments and will be paying special attention to the often-ignored French innovations in this area.
In addition, we will be looking at the compromises made during the sound transition: movies with synchronized scores but no dialogue, movies that were primarily silent but included talking sequences, etc.
And because I know someone will ask, yes, I will indeed be covering Blackmail, both silent and sound versions.
(I will be making heavy use of the Discovering Cinema set from Flicker Alley. It includes a documentary on early sound and multiple films and clips demonstrating the technology. Highly recommended!)
While you’re waiting for new reviews, here are some previous reviews to whet your appetite:
She Goes to War: A real curio, this was a part-talkie that was re-released with all its title cards cut and the result is a surreal film punctuated by ukulele solos.
Don Juan: This costume picture was released with a synchronized score that included sound effects as a way for Warner Bros. to show off its new Vitaphone sound system. Well, not really new as it was our old friend, sound on disc.
The Gold Rush: I compare the 1925 silent original and the 1942 sound reissue with narration. This is a deep dive that includes a detailed comparison of the cuts and an examination of Charlie Chaplin’s changes to the picture.
The Trail of ’98: This Alaskan Gold Rush picture is deadly serious. It features a synchronized score with love songs and everything.
P.S. For the sake of my sanity, please remember that Singin’ in the Rain is not a documentary and the idea that silent stars with funny voices quit in droves is a myth. Yes, that includes John Gilbert. His voice was fine. And, no, Norma Talmadge and Clara Bow were not done in by Noo Yawk accents.
Dear People Spreading These Myths,
Please stop, you’re embarrassing yourself.