Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T » The Proliferation of Motion Picture Companies and an Assessment of the Novelty Year - The Phantoscope and Other Projectors

Assessing the Novelty Year: Sound and Image

scene phonograph pictures screen

The first year of projected moving pictures reaffirmed and established screen practices that would be elaborated in ensuing years. Nothwithstanding frequent references to the “silent screen,” the cinema had an important audio component from the outset. At the vitascope’s Boston premiere, a pianist was used during the first week. Soon after, stage effects provided the sounds of hammer blows when THE BLACKSMITH SHOP was shown. In New York, the cinématographe was accompanied by “the flash of sabers, noise of guns, and all the other realistic theatrical effects.” 27 After seeing a performance at Keith’s Bijou, one Philadelphia critic remarked:

No play of the past season has contained a situation more thrilling than the reproduction of a parade of the Ninety-sixth Regiment French Cavalry. The soldiers march to the stirring tune of the “Marseillaise” and the scene stirred the audience to a pitch of enthusiasm that has rarely been equaled by any form of entertainment. The playing of the “Marseillaise” aided no little in the success of the picture. In the sham battle scene the noise and battle din created also added to the wonderful realism of the scene. A political argument and a street scene (children dancing to the strains of a hand-organ) were also excellent specimens of the work of the cinématographe ( Philadelphia Record, 11 August 1896, p. 2).

This policy continued with the biograph. The same newspaper later reported:

Not content with showing the living picture, Manager Keith furnishes with every view the noises which accompany the scene. Thus is anticipated what will come soon—a device that will be a phonograph as well as a reproducer of scenes. At the Bijou the roar of the waves, splashing of water, the playing of bands of music, a locomotive whistle, bell, stream, etc., are accompaniments that have played no small share in the 48 weeks’ success of the biograph ( Philadelphia Record, 23 November 1897, p. 2).

Other exhibitors showed projected images with phonograph recordings. “Music can be very appropriately and effectively rendered simultaneously with the exhibition of many vitascope subjects,” Raff & Gammon told prospective buyers in their brochure. “The Edison phonograph can thus be utilized to render band and orchestra selections.” But some showmen went beyond this. When Lyman Howe projected films, many “were accompanied by the phonograph, which reproduced the sounds suitable to the movements in the pictures.” Thus he recorded an approaching train for BLACK DIAMOND EXPRESS , SO that, according to one newspaper account, “it seemed as if the train were dashing down upon the audience, the rushing of steam, the ringing of bells and the roar of the wheels making the scene a startlingly realistic one.” After witnessing Edison’s Wonderful Magniscope and Concert Phonograph, one spectator remarked, “Not only could the observer see the moving pictures, but by some contrivance entirely new here, the sound of the horses’ feet while running upon the pavement and the whistle of the Black Diamond Express could be distinctly heard.” 28

Modern-day film producers distinguish four basic kinds of sounds: music, narration, effects, and dialogue. Of these, all but the fourth were commonly used during the first year of moving pictures. But even dialogue was employed within a short time as actors or singers were placed in back of the screen. Since sound accompaniment remained the responsibility of the exhibitors—as had been the case with precinematic screen practice—variation was inevitable, and the complete lack of sound accompaniment was one of many possibilities. The introduction of projected motion pictures, which had such a profound eifect on image production and exhibition, had very little effect on sound production.

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or