Episode 026 May 2017
We explore the fascinating history of sound in films — the trial and error that led from silent films to the first talkies — with Fritzi Kramer of Movies Silently. Fritzi also suggests some silent VFX films, and we catch up with good news about former Cinefex publisher Don Shay.
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About The Optical
Host Mark Boszko takes you on a journey back through the annals of Cinefex magazine, talking about the movies and topics they covered 30+ years ago. We talk to people involved in the films, people who make movies, and people who love movies, and have a fun time doing it.
Special thanks to Cinefex for access to these out-of-print back issues.
Even though these are out of print, you can now download and read along with Issue 7 — and every other back issue of Cinefex — in the Cinefex iPad App. Download the free iPad app now!
Fritzi is the founder of Movies Silently, a blog dedicated to making silent films fun and accessible to newcomers.
- Movies Silently
- The Blue Bird (1918)
- The Whispering Chorus (1918)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
- The Burning Crucible (1923)
- The Lost World (1925)
- The Penalty (1920)
- Follow along with our List on Letterboxd, featuring films we've covered, and upcoming films to watch.
- City Lights (1931)
- The Sheik (1921)
- Metropolis (1927)
- The Lost World (1925), with stop-motion effects by Willis O'Brien (not Harryhausen, as I misspoke)
- Auguste and Louis Lumière
- 1895 in film
- Kinetoscope, which I mispronounced as “Kinescope” in the podcast, which is a whole other thing
- Kinetophone, aka Phonokinetoscope, a later Kinetoscope improvement with stethoscope-like earphones
Live Sound with Film
- Photoplay Music FAQ
- The Pioneers of Movie Music: Sounds from the American Silent Cinema, 1914–1928
- Sounds for the Silents: Photoplay Music from the Days of Early Cinema
- Flicker Alley: Georges Méliès: The First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) 5-disc set. “Thirteen [films] are presented with the original English narrations written by Méliès.”
- Théâtre Optique, patented in 1888 by Charles-Émile Reynaud, first presented in 1889, and the Pantomimes Lumineuses series of animated films were presented in 1892–1900 at the Musée Grévin in Paris
- Discovering Cinema: "Learning to Talk" & "Movies Dream in Color"
- L. Frank Baum
- Photoplayer, the “sound effects machine” I mentioned.
- American Fotoplayer, a popular brand.
- YouTube demonstration: Joe Rinaudo Discusses the American Fotoplayer. There are plenty more videos of this guy doing amazing stuff with that machine. Prepare to fall down a rabbit hole.
- La Mort du duc de Guise (1908), scored by Camille Saint-Saëns is the “first” score written specifically for synchronized performance with a motion picture. (…or “one of the first,” depending on who you ask.)
- Raoul Grimoin-Sanson devised a system with a conductor's baton in the lower right of the screen, as used in the film, Le Comte de Griolet (1920)
- Song Car-Tunes (1924-1927), a series of short animated films produced by the Fleischer brothers using a bouncing ball to lead audience sing-alongs.
- I have not been able to find to find more information on “Cine Pupite” (sp?). The Learning to Talk documentary says that it tried to synchronize a rolled paper score (for the conductor) with the projector, but seems like it always slid off sync.
Sound on Disc (or Cylinder)
- Sound-on-disc on Wikipedia
- Edison Phonograph, invented in 1877, is not the first device that could record sound, but it was the first that could also play it back.
- More about the experimental photo-cylinder and the kinetoscope: Lomography: Thomas Edison and the Kinetoscope
- Calico Ghost Town
- The Dickson Experimental Sound Film on YouTube, restored and synchronized
- Film tinting in the silent era
- Phonorama, invented by François Dussaud, and the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, developed by Clément-Maurice Gratioulet, are both discussed in the Early Steps section of the Sound Film Wikipedia page
- Léon Gaumont, who developed the Chronophone (1902), which used an electrical signal to sync the playback of a Cinématographe with a disc phonograph.
- From Wikipedia: In 1906, “Gaumont introduced the Elgéphone, a compressed-air amplification system based on the Auxetophone, developed by British inventors Horace Short and Charles Parsons.” Apparently the Auxetophone was very loud.
- Edison Kinetophone
- YouTube: Nursery Favorites (1913), Edison Kinetophone short film with sync sound.
Sound on Film
- Ernst Rheumer’s 1901 article in Scientific American about the Photographophone (paywall)
- Photographophone in Wikipedia
- Vintage Selenium cells from around 1900
- Sound-on-film on Wikipedia
- Slides from a 2012 SMPTE presentation about Lee de Forest, by Mike Adams, San Jose State University, which also includes a photo of the Photographophone
- Optical Sound on Wikipedia
- Sound Recording and Reproduction (Sound on Film) (1943), An Instructional Sound Film, Produced by Erpi Classroom Films Inc.
- From Wikipedia: “The first practical electronic device that could amplify was the Audion (triode) vacuum tube, invented in 1906 by Lee de Forest, which led to the first amplifiers around 1912.”
- Technicolor official page
- History of Technicolor on Widescreen Museum
- Pathéchrome stencil coloring, on The Timeline of Historical Film Colors, which is just an amazing site.
- Theodore Case
- Central NY Spectrum News 2011 article on Theodore Case
- Movietone sound system
- Vitaphone on Wikipedia
- History of the Vitaphone Process on Vitaphone Varieties
- Don Juan (1926), and on Wikipedia
- The Jazz Singer (1927), and on Wikipedia
- Modern Times (1936)
- Lights of New York (1928), and on Wikipedia, the first all-talking Vitaphone picture
- Regarding the first “all-talking” Movietone picture, Fritzi found this account in The Talkies: American Cinema's Transition to Sound, 1926-1931 (History of the American Cinema) by Donald Crafton, p.281:
The first milestone all-talking film program was presented at the Roxy during the week of 15 November 1928. It comprised the newsreel and two Movietone comedies, including John Ford’s three-reeler Napoleon’s Barber [now believed to be lost]. This all-dialogue film told the story of a barber who regales a customer with stories of what he would do if he met Napoleon. Needless to say, the customer is Napoleon.
- MGM’s first full talkie was the musical The Broadway Melody (1929), and was also the first(?) all-talking movie musical, and one of the first movies to include a Technicolor sequence. It was released in both sound-on-disc and sound-on-film versions, with the sound-on-film version cropped from 1.37:1 to 1.20:1, to make room for the optical sound[^1]. It was also released in a silent version (which… I assume was just the sound-on-disc version, but without the disc?). The credited sound system on IMDb[^1] is the “Western Electric Sound System,” which in 1929 advertisements[^2] said that it encompassed both Movietone and Vitaphone for theatrical reproduction.
- RCA Photophone was used by RKO. In 1929, Syncopation was the first film released by RKO, and also their first sound musical.
- Some clips from the questionable soundtrack by The Tiger Lillies for Varieté (1925)
Silent VFX Films
- The Blue Bird (1918) - Movies Silently review
- The Whispering Chorus (1918) - Movies Silently review
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) - Movies Silently review
- The Burning Crucible (1923) - Movies Silently review
- The Lost World (1925) - Movies Silently review
- The Penalty (1920) - Movies Silently review