Sound is one of the most important aspects of a movie. It is not only used to display conversations between characters on the screen but also makes the film more interesting as the audience can connect with the characters and understand their emotions through the use of dialogue, background music, and other sound effects. Even though sound does not give much consideration when making films in Hollywood and other current film industries all over the world, the level of sound of incorporation in film production has improved over the years. One of several early inventors of the film and sound technology such as Thomas Edison with his phonograph and Kinetoscope came up with the idea of sound film (Geduld, 1975; Bradley, 1913).
However, the equipment they developed like amplifiers could not produce enough sound that could reach everyone in the theatres. In most cases, people sitting in front, and the rear part of the theatre could get whatever actors were saying on stage making it difficult for them to properly synchronize the coordination between the film and sound. By the end of the 1920s, a new invention, the Vitaphone, was used to record and play harmonica with the film created by Western Electric. And Warner Brothers sound producers have taken advantage of Vitaphone to produce their sound films, leading the movement to other major studios to follow them. Sound technology was not developed by a single person or company, it was a process that took years where different people and companies made several invention attempts. Warner Bros was recognized as one of the most influential figures in the transition.
Warner Bros. began associating with Western Electric by producing the first sound shorts with musical sound effects and introducing the concept of dialogue and conversation into film narratives, thus starting to transit from silent film? to sound film or “talkies” as they called at the time, and changing the American cinema forever. Linking action and sound began in the early 1890s with the use of phonograph (Geduld, 1975), and has been tested by different inventors for the next three decades.
Thomas Edison’s phonograph was instrumental in making the first sounds in film and this continued from the 1890s through the 1920s (Geduld, 1975). Eyman (1977) stated that Edison was “determined to take the next logical step: extend his phonograph invention into movies.” Later on, Edison invented Kinetoscope with the hope of achieving sound synchronization and amplification in film production. Although Edison has consistently worked on making sound films over the decades, he could not achieve the amplification or synchronization as he desired so he gave up on. Geduld (1975) explained that Edison “no longer considered sound movies worthy of further improvement or experimentation, and persistently ridiculed or underrated the efforts of other inventors to accomplish what he had failed to do with the Kinetoscope.” After the defeat of Edison, an American inventor named Dr.
Lee De Forest invented the Audion Three- Electrode Amplifier Tube in 1906, in which helped to improve and support some inventions and concepts, including sound film (Eyman, 1997). De Forest’s invention of the Audion Tube would not only improve radio broadcasting reception (Geduld, 1975) but also helped Western Electric – telephone company by providing long distance calls (Eyman 1997). Geduld (1975) wrote that “Through the Audion Tube, weak sounds received via radio (and also over telephone cable) would be greatly amplified.” He also pointed out that De Forest’s tube has solved the problem of amplification, which was an obstacle to radio broadcasting reception, long distance calls, and sound films. The tube would become the key to the beginning of properly amplified, and? the movie sound synchronized. An amplification system was invented by De Forest and perfected by Western Electric (Eyman, 1997). The American cinema only needed a system that syncs sound with movies. After inventing the Audion Tube, DeForest “began playing around with talking picture” (Eyman,1997).
With the help of Dr. Hugo Riesengield, DeForest would set up the De Forest Phonofilm Corporation that wired 34 theaters in the United States and produced hundreds of short Phonofilms between 1922 and 1927 (Bradley, 2005). Because De Forest’s ideas and contributions to sound films were not accepted or used by major studios, he did not receive any recognition or participated in proceedings with major Hollywood studios, despite the continuous and successful production of Phonofilm shorts over the years. Finally, his career and company, Phonofilm collapsed. Western Electric on sound film project was only remaining hope for achieving a successful introduction of sound film into the American cinema.
Western Electric was testing sound films in their Bell Telephone lab while DeForest was working on his sound project. Although the company began and operated as a telephone company under Bell Telephone Company, Western Electric became an integral part of the 1926 film industry. Western Electric’s interest in sound film was captured after they used the Audion Tube to make long distance calls throughout the country. The company proceeded to sound synchronize in two distinct ways: sound on film and sound on disc (Eyman, 1997). In an attempt to test using sound on a disc system, Western Electric initially tried to achieve and maintain synchronization with the use of “two revolution counters” that were “mounted side by side, one connected to the turntable, one to the projector,” (Eyman, 1997). Eventually, Western Electric became successful in developing the sound on disc system after some issues and, in 1925, the company presented “its test shorts to all the major Hollywood Studios,” (Bradley, 2005).
This made Warner Bros.’s Sam Warner interested in producing sound films. The remaining studios were not excited about Western Electric’s presentation and would stick with silent films when they were loved by the audience and still considered a novelty.
This prevailed until the success of the first talking picture produced by Warner Bros. “The decisive events leading to the coming of ‘talkies’ occurred during the mid-twenties and this involved the association of Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
, with Western Electric and Bell Telephone Laboratories” Geduld (1975). According to Geruld (1975), the combination of Warner Bros. and Western Electric led to the production of the first, sound shorts and then the talkies.
Warner Bros. Pictures Inc. was not necessarily a big Hollywood studio, and not on the same level with Paramount, Universal, Fox or MGM at the time. For a long time, the four brothers built and ran a small chain of nickelodeon’s (Eyman, 1997). They were famous and prosperous because of the idea of ?Sam Warner and insisted on making sound films. Finally, in 1926, after watching Western Electric’s show, Warner Bros. signed a deal with Western Electric, creating the Vitaphone Corporation, which would produce sound films. The theaters would now be equipped with the Western Electric system to operate the new sound?? film (Bradley, 2005).
At this point, Warner Bros. would begin producing their first sync sound shorts. Although the sound film was now entirely possible, no matter amplification or synchronization, the early Warner Bros films did not have the dialogue. The sound system was mainly used for background music, which would help the theater not hiring live musicians or orchestras and providing accurate music for all the movies across the country. In 1926, Warner Bros. produced eight sets of sound shorts, which were quite successful.
Edwin M. Bradley writes, “For Warner Bros., these earliest shorts were mere warm ups for what was to be the formal introduction of Vitaphone to the world,” (Bradley, 2005) referred to the release of Don Juan on August 6, 1926, the first sound film by John Barrymore as Don Juan (Bradley, 2005). The movie became a hit at Box Office and was loved by the audience.
Don Juan marks the beginning of sound films and talkies. No more than a year after Don Juan’s released on October 6, 1927, The Jazz Singer, Al Jolson’s first feature talking film as Jakie Rabinowitz, was released by the Warner Bros. The Jazz Singer included singing, music, sound effects and short dialogue between two characters. Although the context of the conversation in the movie was not long, the audience still enjoyed it, and the film itself became a big hit at Box Office. After the success of The Jazz Singer, Warner Bros. released The Singing Fool and The Lights of New York in 1928. The Singing Fool was known as the “$3 million” film and Warner Bros.’s most successful film.
It was produced until 1928. The light of New York was also a successful film, as it was the first talking film to be made. It was well received by the audience. The first three films, extremely successful sound film of Warner Bros.
with the Vitaphone Corporation in 1927 and 1928, all major Hollywood studios had to produce their own talking films, thus creating exponential growth. While in 1928, only 74 sound films were produced versus 220 silent films, in 1929, 252 sound films were produced compared to only 38 silent films. Also, between 1926 and 1931, most cinemas nationwide had wires for sound films. The year 1926 marks the end of the silent film era and the beginning of Sound Film. American cinema began with the photograph, first, it became moving pictures and then talking with pictures. Talkie introduced a new way to watch movies and allow audiences to participate more in movies and characters through music, sound effects and dialogue, not just expressions and body language. This made sound film one of the most important breakthroughs of American Cinema.
Crafton (1997) explained the role of Warner Bros. and others counterparts in the development of sound film by writing, “The transition was years in the making and in the finishing. While Warner Bros. played a crucial role in innovating sound, other corporations — Western Electric, RCA, De Forest Phonofilm, and Fox Films — were also spearheading the change.
” Warner Bros. was the first to experiment with Vitaphone’s new sound technology, which was invented by Western Electric with the assistance of De Forest’s Audion Tube, and produced the successful The Jazz Singer, The Singing Fool and The Lights of New York. Since these films have been so successful in the studio and widely accepted by the public, other major Hollywood studios have had the incentive to start producing talkie films. Within two years, talkies became more familiar with the audience than silent films. Throughout the years 1926 to 1931, sound film completely took over Hollywood and almost all major studios produced talkie. Today, sound film, in general, is not new to most Americans. It’s just a form of mass entertainment.
However, sound film completely transformed the film and entertainment industry in the twentieth century.