The Advent of Sound: 1927-1930

The Don Juan poster

"At the end of the 1920s the cinema underwent a revolution. The centre of this revolution was the introduction of synchronized sound dialogue, but it affected other areas as well, leaving very few untouched. It was a revolution that began in America and spread inexorably to the rest of the world, though certain aspects of it had a specific European inflection and some remote corners of the world did not feel the effects of any of it for some time.

The revolution can be conveniently dated from 6 October 1927, with the New York premiere of Warner Bros.' The Jazz Singer in which Al Jolson pronounces the immortal line "You ain't heard nothin' yet" with more or less perfect synchronization between his lips in the film and his voice recorded in parallel on a disc. But that was only a beginning. By 1930 the sound-on-disc technology pioneered by Western Electric was replaced by a simpler and more reliable sound-on-film system devised by the rival corporation General Electric. A European consortium led by the German companies Siemens and AEG entered the fray and successfully seized a sizable corner of the growing market for sound equipment. Within a few years thousands of theatres in Europe and America were wired for sound using technology licensed from the powerful patents holders. Only in the Soviet Union and Japan was the conversion to sound slow to take effect.

The Jazz Singer opening, October 6, 1927

The transition from silent to sound film marks a period of grave instability as well as great creativity in the history of cinema. The new technology produced panic and confusion, but it stimulated experiments and expectations too. While it undermined Hollywood's international position for several years, it led to a revival of national film production elsewhere. It is a period with specific features that differentiate it from the years before and after.

To understand the impact of sound, it should not be forgotten that silent cinema was not silent at all. Silent films have plenty of references to all kinds of sounds; they deliberately put the viewer in the position of a listener. Moreover, these films were presented in a cinema with live music performed by a pianist or an orchestra, and often the musicians would add sound effects to the action on the screen. In Japanese cinemas a voice was added to the images by a lecturer or benshi, who actually dominated the film show with his verbal interpretations." [1]

Sound in the U.S.

Newspaper ad for Phonofilm shorts shown at the Strand Theatre in New York City, December 9–10, 1925

"Of the three countries that dominated the world's conversion to sound - the United States, Germany, and the USSR - the U.S. film industry was the first to move successfully into sound production. Film executives had long anticipated the introduction of sound. The only question was Which system would be technically viable and profitable? Several alternatives were put on the market. Lee DeForest first demonstrated his Phonofilm in 1923. This sound-an-film process converted sound into light waves reproduced on a photographic strip running alongside the images on a regular 35 mm film strip. This system offered synchronization advantages. If the film broke and had to be repaired, the same number of frames of image and sound would be eliminated. Since DeForest was determined to be independent, his company remained small, though the sale of Phonofilm patent rights abroad promoted the spread of sound in some countries.

During the 1910s and early 1920s, Western Electric, a subsidiary of one of the world's largest companies, American Telephone & Telegraph, was developing recording systems, amplifiers, and loudspeakers. Heavily funded researchers combined these components so that sound on phonograph records could be kept in satisfactory synchronization with the images. In 1925, Western Electric marketed its sound-on-disc system, but most Hollywood studios were too cautious to adopt it." [2]

Warner Bros. & Vitaphone

"The Western Electric system was offered at a time when the small firm of Warner Bros. was expanding. Using Wall Street financing, Warner Bros. was investing in distribution facilities and theaters, trying to become vertically integrated. It also created a radio station in Los Angeles to promote its films. The radio equipment came from Western Electric, which also managed to interest Sam Warner in its film recording system.

Warner Bros. & Vitaphone

Initially the Warner brothers considered sound a cost-cutting substitute for live entertainment on film programs. By recording vaudeville acts and using orchestral accompaniment for features, they could save on labor in their own theaters and offer similar savings to other exhibitors. They signed major singers, comics, and other performers to exclusive contracts. Warner Bros. tested the Vitaphone process in a series of short films. The first public screening, on August 6, 1926, began with eight shorts, including a speech by Will Hays and an aria from I Pagliacci by Giovanni Martinelli. The feature, Don Juan (d. Alan Crosland), starring John Barrymore, had recorded music but no dialogue. The showing was successful, and Warners made more shorts and features with music.

On October 6, 1927, The Jazz Singer (d. Alan Crosland) premiered. Most sequences had only orchestral accompaniment, but in four scenes the vaudeville star Al Jolson sang and even spoke briefly ("You ain't heard nothin' yet"). The film's phenomenal success suggested that sound might provide more than a cheap way of reproducing stage acts and music. Warners made more "part-talkies" and in 1928 the first "all-talkie", Lights of New York (d. Bryan Foy), became another hit." [2]

Sound-On-Film is Adopted

"Warner Bros. was first into the field of sound, but another firm was a close second. As Western Electric was developing its sound-on-disc system, two engineers, Theodore Case and Earl Sponable, created a sound-on-film system, partly based on DeForest's Phonofilm. Fox Film Corporation invested in the Case-Sponable system. Like Warners, Fox was a small but expanding company that hoped sound would give it a com petitive advantage. Fox renamed the Case-Sponable system Movietone and demonstrated it in 1927 with short films of vaudeville acts and musical numbers. The showing was a success, but Fox soon found that most big-name theatrical talent had signed contracts with Warner Bros. Fox then concentrated on sound newsreels, including highly popular coverage of Charles Lindbergh's solo flight to Paris. Other uses of Movietone included a musical score for F. W. Murnau's 1927 feature Sunrise and some part-talkies in 1928.

The fourth major system was another sound-on-film technology developed by RCA ( Radio Corporation of America), a subsidiary of General Electric and Westinghouse). Dubbed Photophone, it was demonstrated in early 1927 and for a short time promised to rival the most successful system to date, Warner's Vitaphone, in becoming the industry standard.

The five largest producing companies in Hollywood at this point - MGM, Universal, First National, Paramount, and Producers Distributing Corporation proceeded cautiously in relation to sound. If firms acted individually, they might choose incompatible equipment. Since each firm's theaters had to show other companies' films, the lack of a common standard would hurt business. In February 1927, they signed the Big Five Agreement, pledging to act together in a dopting whichever sound system proved most advantageous. The two leading choices were the Western Electric sound-on-disc and the RCA sound-on-film systems. By 1928, Western Electric also had a sound-on-film technology available - and it offered more favorable contracts. The Big Five opted for Western Electric's system.

Because many theaters had already installed phonograph-style projectors, the Hollywood firms continued for a few years to release two different kinds of prints of most films: some with phonograph discs, some with sound-on-film. Only Warners continued to use discs during production. In 1931, however, it joined the rest of the industry by switching to sound-on-film.

Once the Hollywood studios decided what systems to adopt, they quickly began installing equipment in theaters. Independent theaters often used one of the cheaper sound systems. Many smaller theaters could not afford to buy any sound equipment at all, especially since the spread of sound coincided with the onset of the Depression. As a result, many American films were released in both sound and silent versions. Still, by about mid-1932, the conversion to sound was virtually complete in the United States." [2]

The Early Sound Era in Germany

"In 1918, three inventors came up with the German sound-on-film system, Tri-Ergon. From 1922 to 1926, the inventors tried to introduce the process, and the giant firm Ufa took an option on it. Probably because of Ufa's mid-1920s financial woes, however, the firm did not move into sound production.

In August 1928, various international companies pooled their sound patents, including those for Tri-Ergon, and formed the Tonbild-Syndikat (Sound Film Syndicate), usually referred to as Tobis. A few months later, major electronics and recording firms formed a second company, Klangfilm, to promote another sound-on-film system. After a brief court battle, in March 1929 the two companies merged into Tobis-Klangfilm, soon to be the most powerful sound firm outside the United States. In April, spurred by news of Vitaphone's successes, Ufa signed a contract with Tobis-Klangfilm and began building sound studios.

The first German talkie

The interests controlling Tobis-Klangfilm, which included powerful Swiss and Dutch financial groups, were determined to compete with the American firms. When Warners opened its immensely successful The Singing Fool (1928, d. Lloyd Bacon) in Berlin in 1929, TobisKlangfilm obtained a court injunction to stop the film's run. The firm claimed that the Vitaphone equipment Warners had installed in the theater infringed its patents. When it became apparent that Tobis-Klangfilm's officials were bent on keeping American sound systems out of Germany, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) declared that all American firms would stop sending films to German theaters and stop importing German films to the United States.

This period of uncertainty slowed the German transition to sound. Producers were reluctant to make sound films, for lack of wired theaters and for fear of being unable to export to the United States. Reciprocally, exhibitors hesitated to buy expensive projection systems when there were few sound films available. The first German talkie, Das Land ohne Frauen (The Land without Women, d. Carmine Gallone) was finished in 1928, but it was not until early 1930 that sound production and exhibition accelerated. By 1935, virtually all of Germany's theaters were wired.

Despite the departure of many German filmmakers for Hollywood during the 1920s, the early sound era saw a last flowering of creativity before the Nazi regime took control of the nation in 1933. Both veteran silent directors and important newcomers found ways to use sound creatively and to retain the stylistic flexibility of the moving camera and complex editing.

Fritz Lang's first sound film

The first sound film of Fritz Lang, who had been central to the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s, was one of his finest. M (1931) tells the story of the search for a serial killer of children. Lang chose to avoid all nondiegetic music, concentrating on dialogue and sound effects. Not lingering on any one character, he used crisp editing to move quickly among many. Far from creating static, lengthy scenes, Lang used sound to rapidly stitch together disparate actions and locales. He experimented with sound bridges, carrying over the sound, particularly voices, from one scene into the next - a technique that would not be commonly used until the modern Hollywood cinema.

Veteran silent director G.W. Pabst made three notable films in this early sound era: Westfront 1918 (1930), Die 3 Groschen-Oper (The Threepenny Opera, 1931), and Kamaradschaft (Comradeship, 1931). Both Westfront 1918 and Kamaradschaft were pacifist films, pleas for international understanding in an era when nationalism and militarism were growing in Germany. Westfront 1918 creates an antiwar stance through bitter symbolism and a realistic depiction of battlefront conditions. The film closes with a title, "The End ?!" accompanied by the sound of explosions.

Perhaps the most successful early sound films, both on the domestic German market and internationally, were musicals. Erik Charell's Der Kongreß tanzt (The Congress Dances, 1931) combined lavish historical costumes and sets with elaborate camera movements. Less grandiose, but no less infectiously cheerful, is Die Drei von der Tankstelle (Three from the Filling Station, 1930). Like many important early sound films, Three from the Filling Station avoids multiple-camera shooting and moves the action out of the studio whenever possible. Scenes that could be postsynchronized or that used only music were shot in the outdoor set, while those that needed synchronized sound were shot in the studio.

A very different sort of musical became one of the most widely seen of German sound films. Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg directed Emil Jannings (who had worked with Sternberg in Hollywood before the arrival of talkies forced him to return to Germany) in Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930). The film also brought world fame to Marlene Dietrich, until then a minor actress. Von Sternberg avoided multiple-camera shooting almost entirely, yet he still managed to create dialogue scenes with excellent lip synchronization. The Blue Angel is also famous for its realistically motivated offscreen sound." [2]

The USSR's Own Path to Sound

"While western countries struggled with incompatible systems and patent disputes, the Soviet filmmaking establishment remained relatively isolated. In 1926, two inventors, P. T. Tager and A. Shorin, independently began working on sound-on-film systems. In the same year, the German Tri-Ergon demonstrated its equipment in Moscow, but it was unsuccessful in contractualizing with Soviet companies. In 1929, just as the Soviet industry was arranging to obtain sound equipment from western companies, Tager and Shorin declared their systems ready. Vsevolod Pudovkin tried to use Tagefon for Prostoy sluchay (A Simple Case), but technical problems forced him to release the film silent. Dziga Vertov managed to use Shorinfon on location in his documentary feature Enthusiasm, but there were many difficulties, and the film, begun in 1929, was not released until April 1931.

Sergei Yutkevich's Zlatye gory

The first Soviet sound films were released in March 1930: Abram Room's Plan velikikh rabot (Plan for Great Works) - a compilation documentary with postdubbed sound only - and some vaudeville and musical shorts. At that point only two theaters were wired for sound. By 1931, however, enough theaters were equipped that sound films came out more frequently. Following Entuziazm: Simfoniya Donbassa (Enthusiasm), Yuri Raizman's silent Montage-style film Zemlya zhazhdet (The Earth Thirsts, 1930) was re-released in May with a track of music, songs, and sound effects. Other silent films soon received the same treatment. New sound films also appeared: in the fall of 1931, Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg's Odna (Alone) was released, soon followed by Sergei Yutkevich's Zlatye gory (Golden Mountains).

The transition to sound began during the First Five Year Plan, when the Soviet film industry was trying to expand and become self-sufficient in all areas. Moreover, the Depression hit the Soviet Union hard; prices and demand for its principal exports, grain and other raw materials, fell sharply. Consequently, as late as 1935, some theaters could show only silent versions of sound films; a few films were shot only in silent versions that year. By 1936, however, the USSR had completed the transition to sound with virtually no help from a broad.

While many western observers resisted sound film, fearing that static, dialogue-ridden scripts would ruin the artistic qualities achieved by the silent cinema, a more flexible view emerged from the famous 1928 "Statement on Sound," signed by Sergei Eisenstein, his associate Grigori Alexandrov, and V.I. Pudovkin. The filmmakers of the Montage movement welcomed sound as a way of creating juxtapositions to affect audiences more powerfully. Indeed, they warned against sound's "unimaginative use for 'dramas of high culture' and other photographed presentations of a theatrical order." Simply filming characters talking, they asserted, would destroy the concept of Montage, which depended on a brupt juxtapositions. But they recognized that "Only the contrapuntal use of sound vis-a-vis the visual fragment of montage will open up new possibilities for the development and perfection of montage." That is, sound should not simply duplicate the image but should add to the image in some way: offscreen sound could add narrative information, incongruous sound effects or music could change the tone of a scene, and nondiegetic sounds could comment ironically on the action." [2]


Les trois masques (1929)

During the silent era, Leon Gaumont had persistently tried to devise a French sound system. In October 1928, Gaumont presented a program of sound shorts and a feature with postdubbed songs. Like the Warner brothers, he wanted to replace the live music and other entertainment that typically accompanied silent films. The early sound market in France, however, was dominated by American and German systems. Also in October, Paramount wired its first-run Paris theater and showed a short film starring the French music-hall star Maurice Chevalier. Other successful screenings, such as The Jazz Singer in January 1929, led to a race by French producers to make sound features. Since French studios were still being wired, the earliest, largely undistinguished, films were produced in London (including the first French sound feature, Les Trois masques (The Three Masks, 1929) and in Berlin (e.g. L'Amour chante, Singing Love, 1930).

Since France was an important market, German interests sought to capture part of the production sector. In early 1929, Tobis-Klangfilm set up a subsidiary, the Societe Française des Films Sonores Tobis, in Paris. Tobis produced many major French films, including the highly influential first three sound features of Renè Clair.

Uncertainty concerning sound led to a dip in French production. By 1930, however, most of the main studio buildings were wired, using either American or German systems or one of several minor French brands. Wiring went on until 1934, since many theaters were small and independently owned." [2]

Great Britain

"In the mid-1920s, British film theaters began imitating American practice by adding vaudeville acts and prologues to their programs. The 1928 premiere of Vitaphone shorts aroused some interest, but there was no rush to convert to sound. Even The Jazz Singer, in September, failed to create a stir. Jolson's next film, The Singing Fool, however, opened to enormous acclaim in early 1929, and the push to wire theaters and studios began.

The first all-talkie film made in Great Britain

Western Electric's and RCA's were the principal systems on the market. Under the terms of the 1930 Paris agreement, 25 percent of the British market was reserved for Tobis-Klangfilm equipment, while 75 percent belonged to the American firms. But Tobis encountered technical difficulties as a result of having allied itself with the small British Phototone, and it could not exploit its share of the market. Several British companies offered cheaper sound outfits, but these provided poor reproduction. British Thomson-Houston (a subsidiary of General Electric) introduced reliable equipment in 1930, but it ran third behind the two American firms in the number of theaters wired. By 1933, all but the smallest British cinemas could reproduce sound.

The production companies, the weakest segment of the industry, had more trouble coping with the expense of converting to sound. The flow of investments into the British film industry after the 1927 Quota Act had slowed. By 1929, most of the new "quota" companies were in trouble, and their problems were compounded by the fact that their recent silent films were of little value in the big first-run cinemas. The main exception to this pattern was British International Pictures (BIP), which had been founded in 1927 by John Maxwell. Maxwell quickly wired his Elstree studio facility with RCA equipment. Rather than aiming for the largely closed American market, as other companies did, he concentrated on Europe and the British Commonwealth countries. His first production, Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail, was released in both sound and silent versions and was a big hit in 1929. BIP went on to make inexpensive sound films aimed at the British market, and the company remained profitable.

Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Blackmail with actress Anny Ondra

Blackmail was one of the most imaginative early sound films. Refusing to surrender the camera movement and rapid editing of the silent era, Hitchcock avoided multiple-camera shooting, finding a variety of other ways to work sound into his scenes. The opening sequence is a fast-cut episode in which the heroine's policeman boyfriend helps apprehend a criminal; the many shots of the police van speeding through the streets and the criminal trying to trick his pursuers were all shot silent, with only music added. Later, in the jail, the camera tracks forward behind the two police officers in another scene shot silent and postdubbed.

Such devices functioned mainly to circumvent the problems of early sound, but Hitchcock also uses sound to enhance the style of Blackmail. For example, in one scene the heroine sees a homeless man lying with outstretched hand, in a posture that reminds her of the body of the would-be rapist she has recently stabbed to death. A scream begins on the sound track, and a cut takes us immediately to the dead man's apartment, where his landlady is screaming upon discovering the body. In another scene, Hitchcock holds the shot on the heroine's distraught face as a gossipy neighbor babbles on about the killing. We hear the neighbor's speech subjectively, as the heroine does, with all the words becoming inaudible except the repeated "knife ... knife ... knife." Hitchcock would continue such deft manipulations of sound throughout his career." [2]


"Musical accompaniment gave most national cinemas "sound" films in the silent era, but Japan's industry was one of the few to have "talkies". The katsuben, or benshi, performer was a mainstay of exhibition, sitting in the theater near the screen, explaining the action and vocally portraying the characters. Not surprisingly, the Japanese cinema was one of the last major film industries to convert to synchronized sound movies, and the process involved a protracted struggle.

Although Japanese inventors had tinkered with sound systems in the mid-1920s, the big firms displayed no interest until Fox exhibited Movietone films in the spring of 1929. Major urban theaters, particularly those co-owned by Hollywood companies, were quickly wired. By the end of 1930, most imported films were talkies. Japanese production proceeded more cautiously. Financial problems of the Depression made the two major companies, Nikkatsu and Shochiku, reluctant to pay the high royalty fees demanded by U.S. equipment suppliers. Japanese studios also feared that giving the Americans control of sound would lead to foreign domination of the market, so the studios devised their own sound technology. Nikkatsu's sound-on-disc system was tried on a few films, but it proved a failure. Shochiku's Tsuchihashi system, modeled on RCA's Photophone, was launched with Heinosuke Gosho's Madamu to nyobo (Madam and Wife aka The Neighbor's Wife and Mine), which premiered in August 1931.

Madam and Wife, the first all-sound Japanese film

Madam and Wife is a domestic comedy that carefully integrates dialogue, music, and sound effects. A writer forever looking for excuses not to work is distracted by his neighbor's jazz band and the man's smoking, drinking modern wife. Gosho makes clever use of offscreen sounds (even mice), of subjective sound (the jazz dims when the writer puts cotton in his ears), and of thematic contrasts (the neighbor's wife is associated with jazz, while the writer's wife hums a traditional Japanese tune). The film also exploits the audience's fascination with American talkies. Gosho shot the lip-synchronized scenes in multiple-camera fashion, but other passages were filmed and cut quite fluidly.

The popularity of Madam and Wife helped convince the film industry to convert to talkies. In 1933, Nikkatsu allied itself with Western Electric, while Shochiku stuck with its Tsuchihashi system. Smaller firms used sound technology to break into the market: most notable were PCL (Photo-Chemical Laboratories) and JO, both of which began talkie production in 1932. On the whole, however, sound production proceeded more slowly in Japan than in any other major filmmaking nation. Sound films did not account for over half the feature output until 1935, and many of these had only music tracks. As late as 1936, one-quarter of Japanese films were still silent.

The delay was due to several factors. Many small firms could not sustain the costs of sound production, many rural theaters remained unwired for years, and, as in other countries, labor resisted the introduction of sound. In 1929, the powerfully unionized benshi went on strike at the theater premiering the Fox Movietone process. Producers and exhibitors sought to get rid of the benshi. When, in 1932, Shochiku fired ten benshi from major Tokyo theaters, they struck and won reinstatement. Three years of battles followed, during which sound pictures became dominant.

In 1935, when a violent benshi strike against Shochiku was settled by police intervention, the struggle ended. Many benshi took up storytelling in variety halls or in street performances. Still, even at the end of the 1930s, one might be found accompanying a silent movie in a remote rural theater or in a neighborhood screening in Hawaii. For such remote locations, the Japanese industry was still making a few silent films." [2]

Revolution in the Movie Theatre

"The consequences of the coming of sound are usually evaluated with respect to the production offilms, though the changes at the level of film exhibition and reception are of no less importance. Sound changed not only the film, but also the film's presentation and its relation to the viewer. In fact, the roots of silent film culture had to be demolished to give room to the rise of talking pictures. In the first place, the transferral of the orchestra from the pit to the sound-track marked the end of the cinema as a multimedia show with live performance, giving way to the cinema as a single-medium event. Musical accompaniment by a local orchestra was made superfluous; nor was it necessary any longer for the exhibitor to support his programmes with a live stage show.

Silent Movie Orchestra

Secondly, films no longer came to the theatre as semi-manufactured goods, but as final products. The new technology put an end to local variations in presentation. Sound films could offer a complete show in themselves, independent of local performers, and this show would be the same in every theatre all over the world. Thirdly, the definition of film changed drastically when music and sound effects, formerly a live element of the viewing context, became an integral part of the recorded film text. As a result ofthis 'textualization' of the context, the film text as an independent, autonomous artefact came into being. Finally, the conversion to sound did not only change the conditions, but also the rules of film viewing. Audiences no longer visited a multimedia show that was primarily staged at this side of the screen, now they entered a cinema just to see what happened on the screen, or at the other side of the screen, as one might say. Without the mediation of a live orchestra, the thrill of watching a movie was transformed from a communal happening between four walls into an exclusive relation between the film (-maker) and the individual viewer. The capacity of the exhibitor or the audience to intervene in the communication process had been reduced to a minimum.

The elimination of the cinema orchestras was first of all a social tragedy. In the 1920s the cinema had become the world's largest employer of musicians. Thousands of musicians were sacked while many vaudeville artists lost an important source of employment. Only the most luxurious movie theatres maintained a reduced orchestra and a side-show with live entertainment; a few even continued this tradition even into the 1960s. The greatest musical talents could find a job on the radio, but the majority had no alternative. Their wholesale dismissal could not have come at a worse time since it coincided with the outbreak of the economic depression and the spread of unemployment.

The wiring of cinemas also affected the competition between movie houses. A luxurious theatre could take advantage of the innovation since the conversion led to important savings. In doing so, however, it lost a characteristic attraction that had distinguished it from smaller theatres. Talking pictures made it possible to offer the same show in every cinema on earth. This levelling of differences would undermine the old theatre hierarchy and increase the competition in exhibition.

In all countries film critics, particularly the advocates of film as art, had great difficulties in accepting the new technology and integrating it in their aesthetic views. This reaction is understandable though paradoxical. Sound had increased the autonomy of the film by banning local influences on the presentation, thereby contributing to the ideal of film as an autonomous art, a central issue in the critical discussion of the 1920s. The champions of this view rejected the talking picture, however, for to them the end of silent cinema meant the death of the seventh art. It took some time before they had adapted their aesthetic views to the new conditions." [1]

Adjustments in the Studios

"Sound stimulated stylistic innovation, but within narrow limits. For example. talking pictures tended to have longer shots. and (contrary to what earlier historians used to say) they often showed more camera mobility than silent films did. Reframings, pannings, trackings, and a quicker succession of scenes compensated for a slackening of the tempo caused by the spoken word. This can be observed in American movies, but also in German and French films of the 1930s. In general, however, the shift in style did not alter the basic rules of realist story-telling that had come into being during the silent era.

Early sound booths (circa 1927)

The practice of musical illustration, almost perfected during the silent period, was more or less transplanted to the sound era. An important difference was, of course, that music could now become a part of the fictional world, for example when the film showed an orchestra or a singer in action. Further, sound film would subordinate music not only to the image, but to dialogue as well, turning it into pure background. Also, the big band with its brass and percussion instruments that had become popular in so many of the luxurious cinemas of the west, in imitation of American jazz, was replaced by a symphonic orchestra, a European invention from the nineteenth century. Studios now preferred strings and woodwinds, and Hollywood contracted composers with a training in classical European music, like Erich Korngold and Max Steiner. It would take a long time before the big band was accepted to play a film score again. The memory of the cinema orchestra in the mean time was reduced to a stereotype honky-tonk piano accompaniment of silent slapstick films.

The art of writing dialogue was new to the film and had to be imported from the stage. More than ever before, talented playwrights were employed in the film industry. The spoken word did not only enhance verbal communication in the screenplay, but an actor received a voice that would help to determine his character. In the early 1930s stars came to be identified by their voice as much as by their face. Hollywood developed a wide diversity of speaking styles, from tough-talking gangsters like James Cagney to the double entendres of Mae West, and the absurd puns of Groucho Marx. This quality was lost in foreign countries where voices were dubbed; dubbing damaged the star system. Dialogue also had the effect of enhancing the cultural specificity of a film in a way that could not be repressed by dubbing. This can best be seen in American films, for while Hollywood's silent pictures had a strong European bias, the spoken word urged them to give a more realistic impression of American society. Dialogue would make characters, scenes, and events thoroughly American." [1]

The International Adoption of Sound

Though sound had interrupted the process of internationalization that characterized the film industry from its beginnings, it could not bring it to a halt. Hollywood's world empire was shaken, but it survived the transition period. The American film industry would dominate the world again in 1933 as it had done in 1928, with the exception of countries like Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union that had imposed severe import restrictions on American films. In fact, sound ultimately stimulated internationalization, for the more films were produced as selfcontained and final products, the more easily they could be distributed internationally as complete commodities. Sound brought an end to local differences in exhibition, and guaranteed uniform presentations all over the world. It also reduced the differences in style internationally, making films look more homogeneous. In brief, sound marked a new phase in a long-term integration process.

Film-making with a portable microphone in the early days of sound

An important effect of the new technology was the revival of film production in many countries in response to the sudden demand for talking pictures in native languages. French cinema peaked with 157 feature films in 1932 after an all-time low of 52 in 1929, though the introduction of dubbing would bring the number down again. Small nations like Hungary, the Netherlands, and Norway, formerly dependent on film imports altogether, enjoyed an unexpected renaissance of national film production in their own languages. Most impressive, however, was the recovery of Czech cinema. Protected by language barriers and import restrictions, Czechoslovakia witnessed a boom in film-making, cinema attendance, and theatre-building. Czech talking pictures were received enthusiastically in the home market, and the new demand for films would lead to the recruitment of authentic talents like Martin Fric and Otakar Vavra. The success of Czech cinema was surpassed only by India, where local film production benefited immensely from the transition to sound, integrating musical numbers with action scenes, thus reconciling cinema with long-standing popular traditions. Without sound, India might not have become the world's largest producer of motion pictures.

The initial fear that the introduction of sound might cause a catastrophe aroused a greater sense of film history. Silent film art was discovered as an endangered heritage worth preserving for future generations. The importance of film archives was recognized, as a source of historical evidence and for aesthetic reasons. Nostalgia for the silent era came into being. Special cinemas were opened where one could see the masterpieces of the past, and the first histories of film as art were written: early attempts to define the canon of silent film, evaluating what belonged to the classical heritage and what did not. Here also begins the selection process that is typical of every historical enterprise: the tendency to forget what one did not want to see or hear in the past. For example, it was fifty years before it became possible to show a silent film as it had been presented originally in the cinema: accompanied by a live orchestra." [1]

Crossing the Language Barrier

"Sound filming created a problem for all producing countries: the language barrier threatened to limit export possibilities. Silent films could be translated through the simple substitution of intertitles, but talkies were another matter.

The world's first "multilingual" film: the British release

The earliest screenings of sound films explored several solutions to the problem. Sometimes films were shown abroad with no translation at all. Since sound was still a novelty, this occasionally worked, as when the German version of The Blue Angel met success in Paris. During the early sound era, Hollywood made several big revue musicals, such as King of Jazz (1930), that consisted of strings of musical numbers that could be enjoyed without a knowledge of English.

Because postproduction mixing of sound was impossible in the early years, dubbing a new sound track in a foreign language was clumsy and expensive. It involved, for example, rerecording all the music at the same time that the dialogue was put in, making lip synchronization difficult. Some dubbed films were successful in 1929, but others failed because the voices matched badly with the lip movements. Firms also added subtitles to some films, but these were often rejected as distracting. Other solutions, like eliminating the dialogue and substituting intertitles or even editing in narrators explaining the action in a different language, proved wholly unacceptable.

he world's first "multilingual" film: the German release

By 1929, many producers decided that the only way to preserve foreign markets was to reshoot additional versions of each film, with the actors speaking different languages in each. Advertised as the world's first "multilingual" film, the British production Atlantic was released in German and English (1929, E. A. Dupont). The assumption was that multilinguals would be relatively cheap to make, since the same scripts, sets, and lighting plans could be used. As each scene was finished, a new team of actors would move in, and the same scene would be done again. The cast and crew were usually changed for each version, though in some cases directors and stars who could speak two or more languages would work on more than one version. Occasionally stars learned their lines phonetically, as when Laurel and Hardy were called upon to make Spanish versions of their films.

After about two years, it became apparent that multilinguals would not solve the language problem. Multilingual production's main drawback was that it required so many people to be at the studio at the same time, most just waiting their turn to work. The market for each version was too small to warrant the additional expense, and audiences did not welcome minor actors in roles made famous by stars like Gary Cooper and Norma Shearer.

By 1931, the technique of mixing separate sound tracks after shooting had been refined. The original music and sound effects could be combined with new voices, and methods of synchronizing voice and lip movements had improved. Moreover, subtitles were accepted more widely. By 1932, dubbing and subtitles enabled talkies to cross the language barrier, and they have remained in use ever since." [2]