Notes for the Ninth Lecture.



Warner Brothers

Sound has been with us for some time before Synchronization is a problem with TIME.

There are many problems with synching sound to the picture.


The first problem to deal with is how the sound is recorded. Some systems recorded the visual on the camera, others recorded it on a separate machine on disk or cylinder.

When sound is recorded on a different machine than video, there is a problem of synchronizing the sound to the picture. If the sound is just music a slight slip in synchronization may not be noticeable, but with speech lip movement fails to match the sound track. For the image and sound to stay in synch, the apparatus that recorded the sound must maintain the same speed as the apparatus that recorded it and the same holds true for video. Since hand cranked machines are not that exact, it needed some consistant way of dealing with the problem.

In addition, the industry would have to stabilize what speeds were involved or different companies would require different projection and sound equipment,

A further problem was that while sound was possible rather early, it had little volume and so only one person could listen at a time. The problem of sound amplification needed to be resolved as well.

Optical sound, that is to say, sound recorded NOT on a disk but directly on the film solved the problem of synchronization, although competing sound systems existed side by side


Some of the competing systems of sound on disk were:

Kinetograph (Edison commissioned to provide visuals for his phonograph)
Cinephonograph (Edison)
Kinetophone 1894/5 (Dickson created for Edison)
Phonorama or Cinemacrophonograph (1899) (L.A. Berthon, C.F. Dussaud, G.F. Jaubert)
Chromophone (Leon Gaumont)
Vivaphone 1911 (Cecil Hepworth)
Phono-Cinema-Theatre 1900 (Clement-Maurice Gratioulet, Herni Lioret)
Vitaphone 1926

1907 Eugene Lauste received a patent for sound on film
In 1914, Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt awarded a German patent for a sound on film process
1919 Lee De Forest does work on optical sound on the same film as the visual
None of these "sound on film" approaches seemed to interest the movie makers
April 15th 1923 at the Rivoli Theater in New York City, De Forest released a series of short subjects with people like Sophie Tucker, George Jessel (who played Jackie Rabinowitz in the original play version of The Jazz Singer and who was scheduled to play it in the film, but an argument over money caused Warner Brothers to break his contract and hire Al Jolson) and Eddie Cantor among others. They all performed their stage acts.
1925 De Forest had entered into a working relationship with Theodire Case, but the relationship did not last in in 1925 Case joined Fox and thee company becomes Fox-Case Corporation. He and his assistant Earl Sponable named their system "Movietone"
So What Is the Earliest Syncronozed Sound Film?

The Edison 1894 film shows two employed dancing while another plays the violin. The entire film is perhaps not quite "sound synchronized" but short. A 10 minute Al Jolson film, "The Plantation Act" appeared the year before The Jazz Singer with synchronized sound from beginning to end. It is filmed as a theater production including curtain calls. So what was the big idea about The Jazz Singer? It is only partly sound – much of the film still has intertitles.

Here we have to fall back on the questions of definition. We have already pointed out shorts with "synchronized sound" from Edison (not on same track with the film – projection needs to keep up with sound); films completely in sound (but fourth wall is broken)

(1) Synching sound recorder speed to playback speed. If the speeds don’t match, the playback will have a higher or lower pitch. Compare with over and under cranking. the same problems hold true for the film projection. If the projector speed does not advance the film and the same speed the camera recorded the image you get fast motion or slow motion
(2) The next problem is synching the sound to the image. If the two are recorded at the same time, synching is possible but everything has to start at the same moment This is one of the functions of the clapboard in which the "clap" on the sound track can be matched to the image of the two boards hitting on a frame.
(3) Synching the sound to the image. Even if the sound recording speed and playback speed are the same, the same problems hold true for the film. So recording and playback have to be synched along with video and sound
Sound recording has its own history. The earliest sound recordings are mechanical with a large "horn" which "gathered" the sound and sensitive "membrane" moved a stylus which "wrote" the sound on paper or on a cylinder coated with wax or some soft metal. The fidelity and volume of these recordings is very low and it captured only a small part of what people can actually hear.

The history of sound goes from mechanical recording (1877-1925) to electrical (1925-1945) to magnetic (1945-1975) to digital (1975-).

1906, Eugene Augustin Lauste applied for a patent to record Sound-on-film, but was ahead of his time. In 1923, Lee de Forest applied for a patent to record to film; he also made a number of short experimental films, mostly of vaudeville performers. William Fox began releasing sound-on-film newsreels in 1926, the same year that Warner Bros. released Don Juan with music and sound effects recorded on discs, as well as a series of short films with fully-synchronized sound on discs. In 1927, the sound film The Jazz Singer was released; while not the first sound film, it made a tremendous hit and made the public and the film industry realize that sound film was more than a mere novelty. (Compare 3D)

The Jazz Singer used a process called Vitaphone that involved synchronizing the projected film to sound recorded on a disc. It essentially amounted to playing a phonograph record, but one that was recorded with the best electrical technology of the time. Audiences used to acoustic phonographs and recordings would, in the theatre, have heard something resembling 1950s "high fidelity".

The earliest practical recording technologies were entirely mechanical devices. These recorders typically used a large conical horn to collect and focus the physical air pressure of the sound waves produced by the human voice or musical instruments. A sensitive membrane or diaphragm, located at the apex of the cone, was connected to an articulated scriber or stylus, and as the changing air pressure moved the diaphragm back and forth, the stylus scratched or incised an analogue of the sound waves onto a moving recording medium, such as a roll of coated paper, or a cylinder or disc coated with a soft material such as wax or a soft metal.

By the end of the acoustic era, the disc had become the standard medium for sound recording, and its dominance in the domestic audio market lasted until the end of the 20th century.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in Paris made the first sound recording in 1860. He used an instrumentcalled the phonautograph. It worked by tracing sound waves onto paper blackened by smoke. There exists anintelligible recording of a human voice, which is believed tobe the oldest known, made on the phonautograph in 1860. It is of a French folk song called "Au Clair de la Lune" and is played at what is now believed to be the correct speed. The words are "Au clair de la lune, mon ami Pierrot, prête-m". Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. This is the first practical sound recording and reproduction device. Films from the outset were rarely shown "silent" Initially sound was music and special effects. These were either supplied by an in house orchestra or organ.

The synching of recorded sound with the picture also began with music and special effects. Even Dickson’s film seems not to have been set to synchronize with the actual playing of the violin.

In Sunrise you may recall, there is music and synch sound effects and even some words spoken (but in a crowd) where again the voices are not synched with any particular actor whose mouth movent would have to be in su=ynch with the dialog.

Before The Jazz Singer, there are many films - short and not so short - with synched sound, including many where people are giving speeches and the sound is synched with the person’s mouth moving in synch with the words spoken. However, in all of these, the audience is being addressed directly.

It is with The Jazz Singer that the audience gets to "eavesdrop" on a conversation. This seemed to have been a big thing for the movies (although this had been going on for centuries and perhaps millennia with theater so it is not exactly clear why this made such an impact on the audience other than they had become accustomed to the non-theatricality of the movies.

Finally film reaches the stage where sound design plays an important role one films - to the point where it is often said that if you have a very, very small budget and you can only pay one person it should be the sound one.

In this, sound design indicates the way sound is presented is crucial in many ways: clocks ticking, and other sound effects can take on meaning. The way dialog is handled (overlapping for example) which is not done with title cards). In The Jazz Singer, the idea that you can overhear what people are saying to each other rather than to an audience is sort of like an accidental “open microphone” which transmits what the speaker did not mean to be broadcast, but was intended for a single individual. This is a "device" in many TV plays and films.

Finally sound can become symbolic as well. Consider the sound of the birds in Hitchcock’s The Birds; the clicking of a Geiger counter in The Things from Another World; the use of an orchestra with only strings for the score in Pyscho.

A number of shorts had been produced that were full sound. Many had major stage stars in them.

Fox movietone made many sound shorts (including newsreels) well before the Jazz Singer.

In the previous films, the performer performs specifically for the movie going audience. It is a kind of documentation of a performance which the audience is a spectator and the performer addresses the audience. The Jazz Singer differed in a significant way – the characters talked to one another without their recognizing an existing audience. This much closed to what happens in MOST theatrical productions.

Consider for example Peter Pan’s frantic address to the audience to save Tinkerbell "If you believe in fairies, clap your hands"!

This not "breaking of the fourth wall" is generally regarded as appropriate in films although there are some actors known for doing this (e.g. Lou Costello and Oliver Hardy. In the academy award winning Tom Jones, Albert Finney, as Tom, talks directly at the audience in one scene while dealing with other actors in the scene

Of course, there were a multitude of problems associated with sound and the conversion thereto. Some were:

(a) The was the cost of converting the studios to sound
(b) There was the cost of converting the theaters to sound
(c) There was the potential loss of revenue from foreign markets which would ot be able to use films spoken in a &qout;foreign" language (it wasn’t hard to change title cards
(d) The possibility of loosing poplar stars whose voices did not match their images.
Synchronized sound films occur at roughly the same times around the world. The following indicate the dates of the earliest known films in various parts of the world. In some places like India, sound films in different languages appear at different dates.

America The Jazz Singer (1927) America/Lights of New York (1928)
China Singsong Girl Red Peony Gēnǚ hóng mǔdān (歌女紅牡丹,(1930)
Australia The Devil’s Playground (1930)
India Amdhuri (short) (1928) Alam Ara (1929)
Hong Kong Sha zai dongfang (The Idiot's Wedding Night) and Liang xing (Conscience) (1933)
Japan Reimai (Dawn) 1926 (Deforest Phonofilm system) by 1933 80% of films are sound. In 1929 Taii no musume (The Captain's Daughter) and Furusato (Hometown), are made. In 1931 sound on film appears.
Korea (last major film producing country to go to sound) Chunhyangjeon (1935)
We have seen in the question of the translation of titles, how translations work: for example Der Műde tod became Destiny rather than The Weary Death

Sound became a problem on several levels - one was the problem of exporting films which now were spoken in one language but being sent to countries where the language of the film was not the one in the film. This leads to dubbing vs,. Subtitles.

Also remember from out earlier discussion of definition and meaning, that words in different languages may refer to the same thing basically but have wildly different connotations

Technologically, sound had an enormous impact on how film looks. Noisy cameras had to be contained in clumsy boxes called "blimps" and inhibited camera mobility. This was sometimes compensated for by the use of multiple cameras. In addition, microphones had to be hidden on the set, necessitating the actors remain close to them inhibiting even more mobility - this time of the actors. Film like Show Girl in Hollywood (1930) gives some of the problems as does the much later Singin’ in the Rain.

Some actors had accents or unpleasant voices and their careers were either endangered or terminated. Norma Talmadge. Emil Jannings, John Gilbert had serious problems which terminated their careers. Other famous stars fell in popularity - Lillian Gish (for a while); Douglas Fairbanks and people whose acting was very physical like Harold Lloyd.

People came from vaudeville (often droven out when "ethnic humor" and "stereotypes" became less acceptable though censorship) and musical theater (Eddie Cantor, Marx Brothers, Jeanette MacDonald and James Cagney are just a few. Some made the transition - Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Janet Gaynor (Sunrise/Star is Born) Joan Crawford and surprisingly Greta Garbo whose accented voice was something of a worry initially until her appearance in Anna Christie (1930) "Gimme a Whisky" (German version: "Whisky – aber nicht zu knapp!" ("Whisky, but not too short") Garbo Talks! Nominated for Academy award. Garbo had been kept out of sound films while the studio worked on her English, which got so good they had to have her put her accent back to make the Swedish Anna seem Swedish!

Silent films were often projected at a faster speed in order to fit more showings in and thereby make more money! They were usually filmed at 16 fps but with sound they standardized at 24 fps for better audio.

Before sound, shooting was generally 16 frames per second (fps). There was, alas, much variation. Undercranking or overcranking occurred in order to improve exposures or for dramatic effect. It was, as noted,common to run projecors too fast in order to shorten running time and squeeze in extra shows (movies may be art but they are also a business!). Variable frame rate, however, made sound unlistenable.A new, strict standard of 24 fps was soon decided upon. The noisy arc lights used for filming in studio interiors had to be abandoned because they would be recorded as well. The switch to quiet incandescent illumination in turn required a switch to more expensive film stock. The sensitivity of the new panchromatic film delivered superior image tonal quality and gave directors the freedom to shoot scenes at lower light levels than was previously practical.

So it is clear that The Jazz Singer is not the first sound film. In fact it isn’t an "all sound film" there are great stretches of the films which are not sound synched and intertitle cards are still apparent

On July 6, 1928, the first all-talking feature, Lights of New York, (Warner Brothers) (Brian Foy dir) premiered. Made for $23,000.00 it grossed according to recors at Warner Bros., the film earned $1,160,000 in the U.S. and $92,000 in other markets.

The sudden shift to sound film production was actually the use to which sound was put:

1. As background music and sound effects and occasional sounds of people talking but In a crowd as occurs in Sunrise for example
2. Later it becomes synched to picture and in many cases with rather long talking or performing bits (Jolson sings) and speeches by the president or other dignitaries. Later, entire pictures are synched. Finally we come to all talking (and later all talking all singing all dancing musical)

3. In some films like Blow Out a sound recording becomes a crucial part of the story. Even in low level films like the Charlie Chan film The Scarlet Clue contains a recording which reveals the "pop" of a capsule breaking in a microphone which releases a gas involved in several murders. Remembering a bit of music is crucial in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. A song is also important in Cruising. In addition, some composers scored music with other aspects of the film in mind. Bernard Hermann says he wrote for strings only to match the black and white photography.
4. Sound is used in voice overs and by Foley artists. Sound allows for ""dubbing" of other voices. Cantor Rosenblum is the voice for Warner Oland (not quite synched). This became on option in many imported films - dubbing an English speaking actor reading a translated play. It allows for voice overs too (as in the travelogues). It also allows for singers to sing for actors who can’t sing. Natalie wood and Richard Beymer in West Side Story for example

Much of this is paralleled in the development of color in films from hand painting and tinting to 2 and 3 strip technicolor. The"artistic" use of color (or lack there of) appears in films like Wizard of Oz (Oz is in color, Kansas is not) or Matter of Life and Death (the Earth is in color and Heaven in Black and White) Finally there is Pleasantville in which color appears in bits and pieces.

One of the issues today with the film has to do with Jolson performing "blackface" a common occurrence with white performers in the teens and twenties, although historically it goes back to Shakespeare and White actors playing Othello doing it in blackface. It has also been said that none of the major white performers made any attempt to do stereotypic material but were always themselves, and not trying to imitate anyone

There are many examples of ethnic stereotyping in movies, vaudeville etc. until the establishment of the "code" which sanitized performance in films and other art forms; Jews, Italians, Irish, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, American Indians, Scots, Germans and what have you were popular in many of the performing arts.

Interestingly enough, Jolson indicated he had been told to perform in Blackface by an African American. It is also possible that in the jazz age, the use of Blackface became popular since jazz was associated with the black populations especially from the south. It is interesting to note, that Jolson (and also thers like Eddie Cantor, did not slip into "southern dialect")

Others have peculiarly argued it was a way of directing attention to the performers most important features - eyes and mouth and along with white gloves and white shirts made the performers more visible to the rear of the audience. This seems odd in that no performers on Broadway, for example did this to be more visible to the back of some of the largest theaters in the world.

Be that as it may, Jolson was well liked by African Americans perhaps because he gave support to causes associated the that population. A similar situation existed with Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian pseudo Indian (Espera Oscar de Corti born in Italy in 1904).

It is claimed that only 2 theaters were able to show The Jazz Singer with its Vitaphone sound. Presumably other theaters that had been showing Foxes shorts had a different system, although "A Plantation Act" is Vitaphone.

Some of The Jazz Singer was shot by silent cameras and some with sound cameras. When Jolson sings in the night club, the members of the audience move slightly faster than normal because that is a silent camera shot, whereas Jolson singing is shot with a sound camera.

Notice some of the developments in the use of a specific technology:

a. the differemce in the editing and movement of camera between silent shots and sound, The tracking shot through the streets as Yudelson rushes to tell the Cantor that his son is singing in a bar along with the quick edits to show speed. The sound sections lack almost any movement at all.
b. the use of dissolves: i.The senic picture on the wall becomes the one of Jackie and then reverts to the scenic one
ii.Jackie's reflection in the mirror becomes that of his father and then goes back.
iii. The appearance of Jackie's father as he sings in the Sybogigue
c. The use of music to match events i. East Side, West Side All Around the town (shots of the lower East side of New York)
ii. Give My Regards to Broadway (when Jackie gets the ticket to got to Broadway to perform)
iii. Romeo and Juliet (Tchaikovsky) When the fight occurs between Jackie and his father when Jackie returns - possibly because the Romeo and Juliet story also involves a family feudd (although between families)
The story of The Jazz Singer has been criticized as sentimental and even maudlin. This is doubtless true. It is a story which has as its crux, a person caught between two cultures, yet the film doesn’t seem to stress this except at the beginning and the end. The film’s camera work is restricted iin the sound sections because of the problems of the noise of the equipment. Because of this 3 separate cameras were used to film Jolson singing - one wide angle, one normal and one close up so they could cut between them without losing synchronization. (Cuts were done by actual frame counts)

This is also the first film to have a song in it which was released as a record when the film came out "Mother of Mine" released on Brunswick label phonograph records

One sad not to the film is that Sam Warner who spearheaded the entire project died the day before the world premiere. As a result, noneof the Warner brothers attended the premiere, almost paralleling the problems in the film.