The Birth of the Talkies — or “You Can Add Sound to that Movie!”

“Somehow or other it never seemed to dawn on anybody that they should talk in motion sound_technicians_setting_up_the_turn-table_and_amplifiers_for_the_first_-talkies-_in_australia_1927-1928_2877787608pictures”  – George Groves

You might not have heard of George Groves before. Sound people are like that.  Always in the background. (That is, until they stop the action on set because they can hear a truck roaring by in the background).

George Groves is credited with being the first person to figure out how to synch sound with film. The year was 1926. The film was Don Juan. (Incidentally, the film also has the distinction of containing the most kisses from the most characters of all time. 191 different women. That’s a lot of kissing) It was primitive – essentially, George recorded a record album with an orchestra of 107 musicians, timed to exact scene changes in the film. Essentially, they synched the sound on film by needle dropping at precisely the right moment when the film started. And they let it play until the end.

And of course, most people know that the next major development was the first “talkie”, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson in 1927. Not much kissing in that one because the actors were too busy using their lips to speak words. Audiences were spellbound. Again, in the words of George Groves – “Everybody held their breath…It took everybody by storm that he just came out with spoken words”.

So why did it take so long for sound and images to synch up? It’s essentially because getting good sound and good images require different sets of equipment that are not really compatible. The solution these days is to buy a camera that has a built in microphone. But even then, these microphones and cameras don’t always live happily together.

In the next couple of posts, we’ll explore some techniques to synch up good sound and good pictures. It’s surprising how many of these techniques are the very same as those early film producers way back in those early days of film.

(PHOTO: SOUND TECHNICIANS SETTING UP THE TURN-TABLE AND AMPLIFIERS FOR THE FIRST “TALKIES” IN AUSTRALIA, 1927-1928)

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