1.4 – The invention of sound movies


As stated in the previous chapter (1.3), motion pictures were silent. The only sound was the live musical accompaniment in the theatres itself. In 1922, Lee De Forest made a strip Phonofilm sound-on-film, which was a huge success after years of failure in synchronizing audio and video. In 1926, Warner Brothers invented another system that revolutionized sound movies.

As stated above, in 1926 Warner Brotherrs introduced the new sound-on-disc system. Sound effects and music was recorded on a disc that would be synchronized with the film projecter. The movie Don Juan is one of the first sound movies ever that made use of this technology, right after The Jazz Singer, which was already described in chapter 1.3. Movie studios refused that these sound movies would ever replace silent pictures. We now know that this was obviously not the case.

The Jazz Singer & The Warner Brothers

The first sound movie “The Jazz Singer” was obviously revolutionairy. Therefore, a lot of people went to the movie theatres to see this brand new movie technique. This led to a whopping profit of 3,5 million dollars for The Warner Brothers, making them one of the top Hollywood studios in one blow.

The follow-up sound films that Warner Brothers released, like “The Lights Of New York”, also became box-office hits. This led to a change towards adapting sound technology. Everybody wanted a piece of the profit that this new technique delivered!

The involvement of businesses

Because the movie sounds came from outside industries, cinematography was linked to businesses more than ever before. Lucretive and profitable partnerships were set up between film studio and businesses. For example, Warner Brothers got their Vitaphone sound system from the company Western Electric. Their co-operation lead to great financial benefits for both.


The downsides of sound movies

The introduction of sound in movies was obviously a great achievement, but it was not only positive. Some orchestra musicians to provided live music for silent music lost their jobs. Also, the speech and voices of certain actors didn’t come across on the screen very well. This was especially the case for foreign actors who did not speak the American language fluently or actors that had a very strong accent, like Clara Bow (see picture below).



“Talking audiences for silent pictures became a silent audience for talking pictures”. This phrase was stated by Robert Sklar in his book Movie Made America. What he meant was the following: during silent movies, it was allowed to talk/discuss about the movie while it was playing. When sound movies were first released, this was obviously not very handy to do, since you couldn’t hear what the actors were saying. Therefore, a shift from ‘talking audiences for silent pictuers’ to ‘a silent audience for talking pictures’ occurred.



One response to “1.4 – The invention of sound movies

  1. Pingback: Chapter 1 – Origin | Cinemagix·

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