Cover of episode 026

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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Detailed show notes below…

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.

Cinefex 7

Cover of Cinefex 7

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!

Special Guest:
Fritzi Kramer

Image of Fritzi Kramer

Fritzi is the founder of Movies Silently, a blog dedicated to making silent films fun and accessible to newcomers.

Research Materials

More Bits

Live Sound with Film

Sound on Disc (or Cylinder)

Sound on Film

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)

Don Shay

Silent VFX Films

  1. The Blue Bird (1918) - Movies Silently review
  2. The Whispering Chorus (1918) - Movies Silently review
  3. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) - Movies Silently review
  4. The Burning Crucible (1923) - Movies Silently review
  5. The Lost World (1925) - Movies Silently review
  6. The Penalty (1920) - Movies Silently review

There are some YouTube links above, but none of them are great quality. Fritzi recommends Fandor for streaming silent films, and Silent Era for finding quality transfers on disc.

Musical Guest:
Digital Droo

As Ever