Sound film
A sound film is a motion picture with synchronized sound
Synchronization is timekeeping which requires the coordination of events to operate a system in unison. The familiar conductor of an orchestra serves to keep the orchestra in time....

, or sound technologically coupled to image, as opposed to a silent film
Silent film
A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue. In silent films for entertainment the dialogue is transmitted through muted gestures, pantomime and title cards...

. The first known public exhibition of projected sound films took place in Paris in 1900, but decades would pass before sound motion pictures were made commercially practical. Reliable synchronization was difficult to achieve with the early sound-on-disc
The term Sound-on-disc refers to a class of sound film processes using a phonograph or other disc to record or playback sound in sync with a motion picture...

 systems, and amplification and recording quality were also inadequate. Innovations in sound-on-film
Sound-on-film refers to a class of sound film processes where the sound accompanying picture is physically recorded onto photographic film, usually, but not always, the same strip of film carrying the picture. Sound-on-film processes can either record an analog sound track or digital sound track,...

 led to the first commercial screening of short motion pictures using the technology, which took place in New York City in April 1923.

The primary steps in the commercialization of sound cinema were taken in the United States in the mid- to late 1920s. At first, the sound films incorporating synchronized dialogue—known as "talking pictures", or "talkies"—were exclusively shorts; the earliest feature-length
Feature film
In the film industry, a feature film is a film production made for initial distribution in theaters and being the main attraction of the screening, rather than a short film screened before it; a full length movie...

 movies with recorded sound included only music and effects. The first feature film originally presented as a talkie was The Jazz Singer
The Jazz Singer (1927 film)
The Jazz Singer is a 1927 American musical film. The first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences, its release heralded the commercial ascendance of the "talkies" and the decline of the silent film era. Produced by Warner Bros. with its Vitaphone sound-on-disc system,...

, released in October 1927. A major hit, it was made with Vitaphone
Vitaphone was a sound film process used on feature films and nearly 1,000 short subjects produced by Warner Bros. and its sister studio First National from 1926 to 1930. Vitaphone was the last, but most successful, of the sound-on-disc processes...

, the leading brand of sound-on-disc technology. Sound-on-film, however, would soon become the standard for talking pictures.

By the early 1930s, the talkies were a global phenomenon. In the United States, they helped secure Hollywood's position as one of the world's most powerful cultural/commercial systems (see Cinema of the United States
Cinema of the United States
The cinema of the United States, also known as Hollywood, has had a profound effect on cinema across the world since the early 20th century. Its history is sometimes separated into four main periods: the silent film era, classical Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood, and the contemporary period...

). In Europe (and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere) the new development was treated with suspicion by many filmmakers and critics, who worried that a focus on dialogue would subvert the unique aesthetic virtues of soundless cinema. In Japan
Cinema of Japan
The has a history that spans more than 100 years. Japan has one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world – as of 2009 the fourth largest by number of feature films produced. Movies have been produced in Japan since 1897, when the first foreign cameramen arrived...

, where the popular film tradition integrated silent movie and live vocal performance, talking pictures were slow to take root. In India
Cinema of India
The cinema of India consists of films produced across India, which includes the cinematic culture of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. Indian films came to be followed throughout South Asia and...

, sound was the transformative element that led to the rapid expansion of the nation's film industry—the most productive such industry in the world since the early 1960s.

Early steps

The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as the concept of cinema itself. On February 27, 1888, a couple of days after photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge
Eadweard Muybridge
Eadweard J. Muybridge was an English photographer who spent much of his life in the United States. He is known for his pioneering work on animal locomotion which used multiple cameras to capture motion, and his zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the flexible...

 gave a lecture not far from the laboratory of Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. In addition, he created the world’s first industrial...

, the two inventors privately met. Muybridge later claimed that on this occasion, six years before the first commercial motion picture exhibition, he proposed a scheme for sound cinema that would combine his image-casting zoopraxiscope
The zoopraxiscope is an early device for displaying motion pictures. Created by photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge in 1879, it may be considered the first movie projector. The zoopraxiscope projected images from rotating glass disks in rapid succession to give the impression of motion. The...

 with Edison's recorded-sound technology. No agreement was reached, but within a year Edison commissioned the development of the Kinetoscope
The Kinetoscope is an early motion picture exhibition device. Though not a movie projector—it was designed for films to be viewed individually through the window of a cabinet housing its components—the Kinetoscope introduced the basic approach that would become the standard for all cinematic...

, essentially a "peep-show" system, as a visual complement to his cylinder
Phonograph cylinder
Phonograph cylinders were the earliest commercial medium for recording and reproducing sound. Commonly known simply as "records" in their era of greatest popularity , these cylinder shaped objects had an audio recording engraved on the outside surface which could be reproduced when the cylinder was...

The phonograph record player, or gramophone is a device introduced in 1877 that has had continued common use for reproducing sound recordings, although when first developed, the phonograph was used to both record and reproduce sounds...

. The two devices were brought together as the Kinetophone in 1895, but individual, cabinet viewing of motion pictures was soon to be outmoded by successes in film projection. In 1899, a projected sound-film system known as Cinemacrophonograph or Phonorama, based primarily on the work of Swiss-born inventor François Dussaud, was exhibited in Paris; similar to the Kinetophone, the system required individual use of earphones. An improved cylinder-based system, Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, was developed by Clément-Maurice Gratioulet and Henri Lioret of France, allowing short films of theater, opera, and ballet excerpts to be presented at the Paris Exposition
Exposition Universelle (1900)
The Exposition Universelle of 1900 was a world's fair held in Paris, France, from April 15 to November 12, 1900, to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next...

 in 1900. These appear to be the first publicly exhibited films with projection of both image and recorded sound. Phonorama and yet another sound-film system—Théâtroscope—were also presented at the Exposition.

Three major problems persisted, leading to motion pictures and sound recording largely taking separate paths for a generation. The primary issue was synchronization: pictures and sound were recorded and played back by separate devices, which were difficult to start and maintain in tandem. Sufficient playback volume was also hard to achieve. While motion picture projectors soon allowed film to be shown to large theater audiences, audio technology before the development of electric amplification could not project to satisfactorily fill large spaces. Finally, there was the challenge of recording fidelity. The primitive systems of the era produced sound of very low quality unless the performers were stationed directly in front of the cumbersome recording devices (acoustical horns, for the most part), imposing severe limits on the sort of films that could be created with live-recorded sound.
Cinematic innovators attempted to cope with the fundamental synchronization problem in a variety of ways. An increasing number of motion picture systems relied on gramophone records—known as sound-on-disc
The term Sound-on-disc refers to a class of sound film processes using a phonograph or other disc to record or playback sound in sync with a motion picture...

 technology; the records themselves were often referred to as "Berliner discs", after one of the primary inventors in the field, German-American Emile Berliner
Emile Berliner
Emile Berliner or Emil Berliner was a German-born American inventor. He is best known for developing the disc record gramophone...

. In 1902, Léon Gaumont
Léon Gaumont
Léon Gaumont was a French inventor, engineer, and industrialist who was a pioneer of the motion picture industry....

 demonstrated his sound-on-disc Chronophone, involving an electrical connection he had recently patented, to the French Photographic Society
Société française de photographie
The Société française de photographie is an association, founded in 1854, devoted to the history of photography. It has a large collection of photographs and old cameras...

. Four years later, Gaumont introduced the Elgéphone, a compressed-air amplification system based on the Auxetophone, developed by British inventors Horace Short and Charles Parsons. Despite
high expectations, Gaumont's sound innovations had only limited commercial success—though improvements, they still did not satisfactorily address the three basic issues with sound film and were expensive as well. For some years, American inventor E. E. Norton's Cameraphone was the primary competitor to the Gaumont system (sources differ on whether the Cameraphone was disc- or cylinder-based); it ultimately failed for many of the same reasons that held back the Chronophone.

In 1913, Edison introduced a new cylinder-based synch-sound apparatus known, just like his 1895 system, as the Kinetophone; instead of films being shown to individual viewers in the Kinetoscope cabinet, they were now projected onto a screen. The phonograph was connected by an intricate arrangement of pulleys to the film projector, allowing—under ideal conditions—for synchronization. Conditions, however, were rarely ideal, and the new, improved Kinetophone was retired after little more than a year. By the mid-1910s, the groundswell in commercial sound motion picture exhibition had subsided. Beginning in 1914, The Photo-Drama of Creation
The Photo-Drama of Creation
The Photo-Drama of Creation, or Creation-Drama, was a four-part Christian film produced by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania under the direction of Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Bible Student movement.The film presented Russell's beliefs about God's plan from the...

, promoting Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The religion reports worldwide membership of over 7 million adherents involved in evangelism, convention attendance of over 12 million, and annual...

' conception of mankind's genesis, was screened around the United States: eight hours worth of projected visuals involving both slides and live action were synchronized with separately recorded lectures and musical performances played back on phonograph.

Meanwhile, innovations continued on another significant front. In 1907, French-born, London-based Eugene Lauste
Eugene Augustin Lauste
Eugène Augustin Lauste was a French inventor instrumental in the technological development of the history of cinema....

—who had worked at Edison's lab between 1886 and 1892—was awarded the first patent for sound-on-film
Sound-on-film refers to a class of sound film processes where the sound accompanying picture is physically recorded onto photographic film, usually, but not always, the same strip of film carrying the picture. Sound-on-film processes can either record an analog sound track or digital sound track,...

 technology, involving the transformation of sound into light waves that are photographically recorded direct onto celluloid
Celluloid is the name of a class of compounds created from nitrocellulose and camphor, plus dyes and other agents. Generally regarded to be the first thermoplastic, it was first created as Parkesine in 1862 and as Xylonite in 1869, before being registered as Celluloid in 1870. Celluloid is...

. As described by historian Scott Eyman,

It was a double system, that is, the sound was on a different piece of film from the picture.... In essence, the sound was captured by a microphone and translated into light waves via a light valve, a thin ribbon of sensitive metal over a tiny slit. The sound reaching this ribbon would be converted into light by the shivering of the diaphragm, focusing the resulting light waves through the slit, where it would be photographed on the side of the film, on a strip about a tenth of an inch wide.

Though sound-on-film would eventually become the universal standard for synchronized sound cinema, Lauste never successfully exploited his innovations, which came to an effective dead end. In 1914, Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt
Eric Tigerstedt
Eric Magnus Campbell Tigerstedt was one of the most significant inventors in Finland at the beginning of the 20th century, and has been called the "Thomas Edison of Finland"...

 was granted German patent 309,536 for his sound-on-film work; that same year, he apparently demonstrated a film made with the process to an audience of scientists in Berlin. Hungarian engineer Denes Mihaly
Dénes Mihály
Dénes Mihály was a Hungarian inventor, engineer.Mihály graduated as a mechanical engineer at the Technical University in Budapest. During his high school studies – at the age of 16 – he published books on automobiles and motorcycles. After university he began experimenting with television...

 submitted his sound-on-film Projectofon concept to the Royal Hungarian Patent Court in 1918; the patent award was published four years later. Whether sound was captured on cylinder, disc, or film, none of the available technology was adequate to big-league commercial purposes, and for many years the heads of the major Hollywood film studios saw little benefit in producing sound motion pictures.

Crucial innovations

A number of technological developments contributed to making sound cinema commercially viable by the late 1920s. Two involved contrasting approaches to synchronized sound reproduction, or playback:

Advanced sound-on-film – In 1919, American inventor Lee De Forest
Lee De Forest
Lee De Forest was an American inventor with over 180 patents to his credit. De Forest invented the Audion, a vacuum tube that takes relatively weak electrical signals and amplifies them. De Forest is one of the fathers of the "electronic age", as the Audion helped to usher in the widespread use...

 was awarded several patents that would lead to the first sound-on-film technology with commercial application. In De Forest's system, the sound track was photographically recorded on to the side of the strip of motion picture film to create a composite, or "married", print. If proper synchronization of sound and picture was achieved in recording, it could be absolutely counted on in playback. Over the next four years, he improved his system with the help of equipment and patents licensed from another American inventor in the field, Theodore Case
Theodore Case
Theodore Willard Case known for the invention of the Movietone sound-on-film sound film system, was born into a prominent family in Auburn, New York.-Family history:...


At the University of Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign is a large public research-intensive university in the state of Illinois, United States. It is the flagship campus of the University of Illinois system...

, Polish-born research engineer Joseph Tykociński-Tykociner was working independently on a similar process. On June 9, 1922, he gave the first reported U.S. demonstration of a sound-on-film motion picture to members of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers
American Institute of Electrical Engineers
The American Institute of Electrical Engineers was a United States based organization of electrical engineers that existed between 1884 and 1963, when it merged with the Institute of Radio Engineers to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers .- History :The 1884 founders of the...

. As with Lauste and Tigerstedt, Tykociner's system would never be taken advantage of commercially; De Forest's, however, soon would.

On April 15, 1923, at New York City's Rivoli Theater, came the first commercial screening of motion pictures with sound-on-film, the future standard: a set of shorts under the banner of De Forest Phonofilms
In 1919, Lee De Forest, inventor of the audion tube, filed his first patent on a sound-on-film process, DeForest Phonofilm, which recorded sound directly onto film as parallel lines. These parallel lines photographically recorded electrical waveforms from a microphone, which were translated back...

, accompanying a silent feature. That June, De Forest entered into an extended legal battle with an employee, Freeman Harrison Owens
Freeman Harrison Owens
Freeman Harrison Owens , born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the only child of Charles H. Owens and Christabel Harrison. He attended Pine Bluff High School in Pine Bluff, but quit in his senior year to work at a local movie theatre as a projectionist.Owens constructed his own 35mm movie camera at the age...

, for title to one of the crucial Phonofilm patents. Although De Forest ultimately won the case in the courts, Owens is today recognized as a central innovator in the field. The following year, De Forest's studio released the first commercial dramatic film shot as a talking picture—the two-reeler Love's Old Sweet Song, directed by J. Searle Dawley and featuring Una Merkel
Una Merkel
Una Merkel was an American Tony Award-winning stage and film actress.-Life and career:Una Merkel was born in Covington, Kentucky, and grew up in Philadelphia and New York City. She bore a resemblance to actress Lillian Gish and began her career as a stand-in for Gish, most notably in the 1928...

. Phonofilm's stock in trade, however, was not original dramas but celebrity documentaries, popular music acts, and comedy performances. President Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge
John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was the 30th President of the United States . A Republican lawyer from Vermont, Coolidge worked his way up the ladder of Massachusetts state politics, eventually becoming governor of that state...

, opera singer Abbie Mitchell
Abbie Mitchell
Abriea "Abbie" Mitchell , also billed as Abbey Mitchell, was an American soprano opera singer who sang the role of "Clara" in the premier production of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in 1935....

, and vaudeville stars such as Phil Baker, Ben Bernie
Ben Bernie
Ben Bernie , born Bernard Anzelevitz, was an American jazz violinist and radio personality, often introduced as The Old Maestro. He was noted for his showmanship and memorable bits of snappy dialogue....

, Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor was an American "illustrated song" performer, comedian, dancer, singer, actor and songwriter...

, and Oscar Levant
Oscar Levant
Oscar Levant was an American pianist, composer, author, comedian, and actor. He was more famous for his mordant character and witticisms, on the radio and in movies and television, than for his music.-Life and career:...

 appeared in the firm's pictures. Hollywood remained suspicious, even fearful, of the new technology. As Photoplay
Photoplay was one of the first American film fan magazines. It was founded in 1911 in Chicago, the same year that J. Stuart Blackton founded a similar magazine entitled Motion Picture Story...

editor James Quirk put it in March 1924, "Talking pictures are perfected, says Dr. Lee De Forest. So is castor oil." De Forest's process continued to be used through 1927 in the United States for dozens of short Phonofilms; in the UK it was employed a few years longer for both shorts and features by British Sound Film Productions, a subsidiary of British Talking Pictures, which purchased the primary Phonofilm assets. By the end of 1930, the Phonofilm business would be liquidated.

In Europe, others were also working on the development of sound-on-film. In 1919, the same year that DeForest received his first patents in the field, three German inventors patented the Tri-Ergon
The Tri-Ergon sound-on-film system was patented from 1919 on by German inventors Josef Engl , Hans Vogt , and Joseph Massolle . The name Tri-Ergon was derived from Greek and means "the work of three." In 1926, William Fox of Fox Film Corporation purchased the U. S...

 sound system. On September 17, 1922, the Tri-Ergon group gave a public screening of sound-on-film productions—including a dramatic talkie, Der Brandstifter (The Arsonist) —before an invited audience at the Alhambra Kino in Berlin. By the end of the decade, Tri-Ergon would be the dominant European sound system. In 1923, two Danish engineers, Axel Petersen and Arnold Poulsen, patented a system in which sound was recorded on a separate filmstrip running parallel with the image reel. Gaumont would license and briefly put the technology to commercial use under the name Cinéphone.

It was domestic competition, however, that led to Phonofilm's eclipse. By September 1925, De Forest and Case's working arrangement had fallen through. The following July, Case joined with Fox Film, Hollywood's third largest studio
Studio system
The studio system was a means of film production and distribution dominant in Hollywood from the early 1920s through the early 1960s. The term studio system refers to the practice of large motion picture studios producing movies primarily on their own filmmaking lots with creative personnel under...

, to found the Fox-Case Corporation. The system developed by Case and his assistant, Earl Sponable, given the name Movietone
Movietone sound system
The Movietone sound system is a sound-on-film method of recording sound for motion pictures that guarantees synchronization between sound and picture. It achieves this by recording the sound as a variable-density optical track on the same strip of film that records the pictures...

, thus became the first viable sound-on-film technology controlled by a Hollywood movie studio. The following year, Fox purchased the North American rights to the Tri-Ergon system, though the company found it inferior to Movietone and virtually impossible to integrate the two different systems to advantage. In 1927, as well, Fox retained the services of Freeman Owens, who had particular expertise in constructing cameras for synch-sound film.

Advanced sound-on-disc – Parallel with improvements in sound-on-film technology, a number of companies were making progress with systems in which movie sound was recorded onto phonograph discs. In sound-on-disc technology from the era, a phonograph turntable is connected by a mechanical interlock to a specially modified film projector
Movie projector
A movie projector is an opto-mechanical device for displaying moving pictures by projecting them on a projection screen. Most of the optical and mechanical elements, except for the illumination and sound devices, are present in movie cameras.-Physiology:...

, allowing for synchronization. In 1921, the Photokinema
Photo-Kinema was a sound-on-disc system for motion pictures invented by Orlando Kellum.-1921 introduction:The system was first used for a small number of short films, mostly made in 1921...

 sound-on-disc system developed by Orlando Kellum was employed to add synchronized sound sequences to D. W. Griffith
D. W. Griffith
David Llewelyn Wark Griffith was a premier pioneering American film director. He is best known as the director of the controversial and groundbreaking 1915 film The Birth of a Nation and the subsequent film Intolerance .Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation made pioneering use of advanced camera...

's failed silent film Dream Street
Dream Street (film)
Dream Street is a silent movie directed by D. W. Griffith, and starring Carol Dempster, Charles Emmett Mack, and Ralph Graves in a story about a love triangle set in London, and based on two short stories by Thomas Burke, "Gina of Chinatown" and "Song of the Lamp"...

. A love song, performed by star Ralph Graves, was recorded, as was a sequence of live vocal effects. Apparently, dialogue scenes were also recorded, but the results were unsatisfactory and the film was never publicly screened incorporating them. On May 1, 1921, Dream Street was re-released, with love song added, at New York City's Town Hall theater, qualifying it—however haphazardly—as the first feature-length film with a live-recorded vocal sequence. There would be no others for more than six years.
In 1925, Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

, then a small Hollywood studio with big ambitions, began experimenting with sound-on-disc systems at New York's Vitagraph Studios
Vitagraph Studios
American Vitagraph was a United States movie studio, founded by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. By 1907 it was the most prolific American film production company, producing many famous silent films. It was bought by Warner Bros...

, which it had recently purchased. The Warner Bros. technology, named Vitaphone
Vitaphone was a sound film process used on feature films and nearly 1,000 short subjects produced by Warner Bros. and its sister studio First National from 1926 to 1930. Vitaphone was the last, but most successful, of the sound-on-disc processes...

, was publicly introduced on August 6, 1926, with the premiere of the nearly three-hour-long Don Juan
Don Juan (1926 film)
Don Juan is a Warner Brothers film, directed by Alan Crosland. It was the first feature-length film with synchronized Vitaphone sound effects and musical soundtrack, though it has no spoken dialogue...

; the first feature-length movie to employ a synchronized sound system of any type throughout, its soundtrack
A soundtrack can be recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, book, television program or video game; a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film or TV show; or the physical area of a film that contains the...

 contained a musical score
Film score
A film score is original music written specifically to accompany a film, forming part of the film's soundtrack, which also usually includes dialogue and sound effects...

 and sound effects, but no recorded dialogue—in other words, it had been staged and shot as a silent film. Accompanying Don Juan, however, were eight shorts of musical performances, mostly classical, as well as a four-minute filmed introduction by Will H. Hays
Will H. Hays
William Harrison Hays, Sr. , was the namesake of the Hays Code for censorship of American films, chairman of the Republican National Committee and U.S. Postmaster General from 1921 to 1922....

, president of the Motion Picture Association of America
Motion Picture Association of America
The Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. , originally the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America , was founded in 1922 and is designed to advance the business interests of its members...

, all with live-recorded sound. These were the first true sound films exhibited by a Hollywood studio. Warner Bros.' The Better 'Ole
The Better 'Ole
The Better 'Ole, also called The Romance of Old Bill, is an Edwardian musical comedy with a book by Bruce Bairnsfather and Arthur Elliott, music by Herman Darewski, and lyrics by Percival Knight and James Heard, based on the cartoon character Old Bill, an infantryman, drawn by Bairnsfather...

, technically similar to Don Juan, followed in October.

Sound-on-film would ultimately win out over sound-on-disc because of a number of fundamental technical advantages:
  • Synchronization: no interlock system was completely reliable, and sound could fall out of synch due to disc skipping or minute changes in film speed, requiring constant supervision and frequent manual adjustment
  • Editing: discs could not be directly edited, severely limiting the ability to make alterations in their accompanying films after the original release cut
  • Distribution: phonograph discs added expense and complication to film distribution
  • Wear and tear: the physical process of playing the discs degraded them, requiring their replacement after approximately twenty screenings

Nonetheless, in the early years, sound-on-disc had the edge over sound-on-film in two substantial ways:
  • Production and capital cost: it was generally less expensive to record sound onto disc than onto film and the exhibition systems—turntable/interlock/projector—were cheaper to manufacture than the complex image-and-audio-pattern-reading projectors required by sound-on-film
  • Audio quality: phonograph discs, Vitaphone's in particular, had superior dynamic range
    Dynamic range
    Dynamic range, abbreviated DR or DNR, is the ratio between the largest and smallest possible values of a changeable quantity, such as in sound and light. It is measured as a ratio, or as a base-10 or base-2 logarithmic value.-Dynamic range and human perception:The human senses of sight and...

     to most sound-on-film processes of the day, at least during the first few playings; while sound-on-film tended to have better frequency response
    Frequency response
    Frequency response is the quantitative measure of the output spectrum of a system or device in response to a stimulus, and is used to characterize the dynamics of the system. It is a measure of magnitude and phase of the output as a function of frequency, in comparison to the input...

    , this was outweighed by greater distortion
    A distortion is the alteration of the original shape of an object, image, sound, waveform or other form of information or representation. Distortion is usually unwanted, and often many methods are employed to minimize it in practice...

     and noise

As sound-on-film technology improved, both of these disadvantages were overcome.

The third crucial set of innovations marked a major step forward in both the live recording of sound and its effective playback:
Fidelity electronic recording and amplification – Beginning in 1922, the research branch of AT&T
AT&T Inc. is an American multinational telecommunications corporation headquartered in Whitacre Tower, Dallas, Texas, United States. It is the largest provider of mobile telephony and fixed telephony in the United States, and is also a provider of broadband and subscription television services...

's Western Electric
Western Electric
Western Electric Company was an American electrical engineering company, the manufacturing arm of AT&T from 1881 to 1995. It was the scene of a number of technological innovations and also some seminal developments in industrial management...

 manufacturing division began working intensively on recording technology for both sound-on-disc and sound-on film. In 1925, the company publicly introduced a greatly improved system of electronic audio, including sensitive condenser microphones and rubber-line recorders. That May, the company licensed entrepreneur Walter J. Rich to exploit the system for commercial motion pictures; he founded Vitagraph, which Warner Bros. acquired a half interest in just one month later. In April 1926, Warners signed a contract with AT&T for exclusive use of its film sound technology for the redubbed Vitaphone operation, leading to the production of Don Juan and its accompanying shorts over the following months. During the period when Vitaphone had exclusive access to the patents, the fidelity of recordings made for Warners films was markedly superior to those made for the company's sound-on-film competitors. Meanwhile, Bell Labs
Bell Labs
Bell Laboratories is the research and development subsidiary of the French-owned Alcatel-Lucent and previously of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company , half-owned through its Western Electric manufacturing subsidiary.Bell Laboratories operates its...

—the new name for the AT&T research operation—was working at a furious pace on sophisticated sound amplification technology that would allow recordings to be played back over loudspeaker
A loudspeaker is an electroacoustic transducer that produces sound in response to an electrical audio signal input. Non-electrical loudspeakers were developed as accessories to telephone systems, but electronic amplification by vacuum tube made loudspeakers more generally useful...

s at theater-filling volume. The new moving-coil speaker system was installed in New York's Warners Theatre at the end of July and its patent submission, for what Western Electric called the No. 555 Receiver, was filed on August 4, just two days before the premiere of Don Juan.

Late in the year, AT&T/Western Electric created a licensing division, Electrical Research Products Inc. (ERPI), to handle rights to the company's film-related audio technology. Vitaphone still had legal exclusivity, but having lapsed in its royalty payments, effective control of the rights was in ERPI's hands. On December 31, 1926, Warners granted Fox-Case a sublicense for the use of the Western Electric system; in exchange for the sublicense, both Warners and ERPI received a share of Fox's related revenues. The patents of all three concerns were cross-licensed. Superior recording and amplification technology was now available to two Hollywood studios, pursuing two very different methods of sound reproduction. The new year would finally see the emergence of sound cinema as a significant commercial medium.

Triumph of the "talkies"

In February 1927, an agreement was signed by five leading Hollywood movie companies: the so-called Big Two—Paramount
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American film production and distribution company, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Founded in 1912 and currently owned by media conglomerate Viacom, it is America's oldest existing film studio; it is also the last major film studio still...

 and MGM—a pair of studios in the next rank—Universal
Universal Studios
Universal Pictures , a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, is one of the six major movie studios....

 and the fading First National
First National
First National was an association of independent theater owners in the United States that expanded from exhibiting movies to distributing them, and eventually to producing them as a movie studio, called First National Pictures, Inc. It later merged with Warner Bros.-Early history:The First National...

—and Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil Blount DeMille was an American film director and Academy Award-winning film producer in both silent and sound films. He was renowned for the flamboyance and showmanship of his movies...

's small but prestigious Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC). The five studios agreed to collectively select just one provider for sound conversion. The alliance then sat back and waited to see what sort of results the forerunners came up with. In May, Warner Bros. sold back its exclusivity rights to ERPI (along with the Fox-Case sublicense) and signed a new royalty contract similar to Fox's for use of Western Electric technology. As Fox and Warners pressed forward with sound cinema in different directions, both technologically and commercially—Fox with newsreels and then scored dramas, Warners with talking features—so did ERPI, which sought to corner the market by signing up the five allied studios.
The big sound film sensations of the year all took advantage of pre-existing celebrity. On May 20, 1927, at New York's Roxy Theater, Fox Movietone presented a sound film of the takeoff of Charles Lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh
Charles Augustus Lindbergh was an American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist.Lindbergh, a 25-year-old U.S...

's celebrated flight to Paris, recorded earlier that day. In June, a Fox sound newsreel depicting his return welcomes in New York and Washington, D.C., was shown. These were the two most acclaimed sound motion pictures to date. In May, as well, Fox had released the first Hollywood fiction film with synchronized dialogue: the short They're Coming to Get Me, starring comedian Chic Sale
Chic Sale
Charles "Chic" Sale , was an American actor and vaudevillian. Named at birth Charles Partlow Sale, he was a son of Frank Orville and Lillie Belle Sale, and brother of writer, actress Virginia Sale-Wren....

. After rereleasing a few silent feature hits, such as Seventh Heaven, with recorded music, Fox came out with its first original Movietone feature on September 23: Sunrise
Sunrise (film)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, also known as Sunrise, is a 1927 American silent film directed by German film director F. W. Murnau. The story was adapted by Carl Mayer from the short story "Die Reise nach Tilsit" by Hermann Sudermann.Sunrise won an Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production...

, by acclaimed German director F. W. Murnau. As with Don Juan, the film's soundtrack consisted of a musical score and sound effects (including, in a couple of crowd scenes, "wild", nonspecific vocals).

Then, on October 6, 1927, Warner Bros.' The Jazz Singer
The Jazz Singer (1927 film)
The Jazz Singer is a 1927 American musical film. The first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences, its release heralded the commercial ascendance of the "talkies" and the decline of the silent film era. Produced by Warner Bros. with its Vitaphone sound-on-disc system,...

premiered. It was a smash box office success for the mid-level studio, earning a total of $2.625 million in the U.S. and abroad, almost a million dollars more than the previous record for a Warners' film. Produced with the Vitaphone system, most of the film does not contain live-recorded audio, relying, like Sunrise and Don Juan, on a score and effects. When the movie's star, Al Jolson
Al Jolson
Al Jolson was an American singer, comedian and actor. In his heyday, he was dubbed "The World's Greatest Entertainer"....

, sings, however, the film shifts to sound recorded on the set, including both his musical performances and two scenes with ad-libbed speech—one of Jolson's character, Jakie Rabinowitz (Jack Robin), addressing a cabaret audience; the other an exchange between him and his mother. The "natural" sounds of the settings were also audible. Though the success of The Jazz Singer was due largely to Jolson, already established as one of America's biggest music stars, and its limited use of synchronized sound hardly qualified it as an innovative sound film (let alone the "first"), the movie's profits were proof enough to the industry that the technology was worth investing in.

The development of commercial sound cinema had proceeded in fits and starts before The Jazz Singer, and the film's success did not change things overnight. Not until May 1928 did the group of four big studios (PDC had dropped out of the alliance), along with United Artists
United Artists
United Artists Corporation is an American film studio. The original studio of that name was founded in 1919 by D. W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks....

 and others, sign with ERPI for conversion of production facilities and theaters for sound film. Initially, all ERPI-wired theaters were made Vitaphone-compatible; most were equipped to project Movietone reels as well. Even with access to both technologies, however, most of the Hollywood companies remained slow to produce talking features of their own. No studio beside Warner Bros. released even a part-talking feature until the low-budget-oriented Film Booking Offices of America
Film Booking Offices of America
Film Booking Offices of America was an American film studio of the silent era, a producer and distributor of mostly low-budget films. The business began as Robertson-Cole , the American division of a British import–export company...

 (FBO) premiered The Perfect Crime on June 17, 1928, eight months after The Jazz Singer. FBO had come under the effective control of a Western Electric competitor, General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

's RCA
RCA Corporation, founded as the Radio Corporation of America, was an American electronics company in existence from 1919 to 1986. The RCA trademark is currently owned by the French conglomerate Technicolor SA through RCA Trademark Management S.A., a company owned by Technicolor...

 division, which was looking to market its new sound-on-film system, Photophone
RCA Photophone
RCA Photophone was the trade name given to one of four major competing technologies that emerged in the American film industry in the late 1920s for synchronizing electrically recorded audio to a motion picture image. RCA Photophone was a sound-on-film, "variable-area" film exposure system, in...

. Unlike Fox-Case's Movietone and De Forest's Phonofilm, which were variable-density systems, Photophone was a variable-area system—a refinement in the way the audio signal was inscribed on film that would ultimately become the rule. (In both sorts of system, a specially designed lamp, whose exposure
Exposure (photography)
In photography, exposure is the total amount of light allowed to fall on the photographic medium during the process of taking a photograph. Exposure is measured in lux seconds, and can be computed from exposure value and scene luminance over a specified area.In photographic jargon, an exposure...

 to the film is determined by the audio input, is used to record sound photographically as a series of minuscule lines. In a variable-density process, the lines are of varying darkness; in a variable-area process, the lines are of varying width.) By October, the FBO-RCA alliance would lead to the creation of Hollywood's newest major studio, RKO Pictures
RKO Pictures
RKO Pictures is an American film production and distribution company. As RKO Radio Pictures Inc., it was one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. The business was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum theater chains and Joseph P...

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. had released three more talkies, all profitable, if not at the level of The Jazz Singer: In March, The Tenderloin appeared; it was billed by Warners as the first feature in which characters spoke their parts, though only 15 of its 88 minutes had dialogue. Glorious Betsy followed in April, and The Lion and the Mouse (31 minutes of dialogue) in May. On July 6, 1928, the first all-talking feature, Lights of New York
Lights of New York (1928 film)
Lights of New York was the first all-talking feature film, released by Warner Brothers and directed by Bryan Foy. The film, which cost only $23,000 to produce, grossed over $1,000,000. It was also the first film to define the crime genre...

, premiered. The film cost Warner Bros. only $23,000 to produce, but grossed $1.252 million, a record rate of return surpassing 5,000%. In September, the studio released another Al Jolson part-talking picture, The Singing Fool
The Singing Fool
The Singing Fool is a 1928 musical drama Part-Talkie motion picture which was released by Warner Brothers. The film starred Al Jolson and was a follow-up to his previous film, The Jazz Singer...

, which more than doubled The Jazz Singers earnings record for a Warners movie. This second Jolson screen smash demonstrated the movie musical's ability to turn a song into a national hit: inside of nine months, the Jolson number "Sonny Boy" had racked up 2 million record and 1.25 million sheet music sales. September 1928 also saw the release of Paul Terry
Paul Terry (cartoonist)
Paul Houlton Terry was an American cartoonist, screenwriter, film director and one of the most prolific film producers in history...

Dinner Time
Dinner Time
Dinner Time is an animated short subject produced and directed by Paul Terry, co-directed by John Foster, and produced at Van Beuren Studios...

, among the first animated cartoon
Animated cartoon
An animated cartoon is a short, hand-drawn film for the cinema, television or computer screen, featuring some kind of story or plot...

s produced with synchronized sound. Soon after he saw it, Walt Disney
Walt Disney
Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer, international icon, and philanthropist, well-known for his influence in the field of entertainment during the 20th century. Along with his brother Roy O...

 released his first sound picture, the Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse is a cartoon character created in 1928 by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks at The Walt Disney Studio. Mickey is an anthropomorphic black mouse and typically wears red shorts, large yellow shoes, and white gloves...

Short subject
A short film is any film not long enough to be considered a feature film. No consensus exists as to where that boundary is drawn: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all...

Steamboat Willie
Steamboat Willie
Steamboat Willie is a 1928 American animated short film directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. It was produced in black-and-white by The Walt Disney Studio and released by Celebrity Productions. The cartoon is considered the debut of Mickey Mouse, and as his girlfriend Minnie, but the characters...


Over the course of 1928, as Warner Bros. began to rake in huge profits due to the popularity of its sound films, the other studios quickened the pace of their conversion to the new technology. Paramount, the industry leader, put out its first talkie in late September,
Beggars of Life; though it had just a few lines of dialogue, it demonstrated the studio's recognition of the new medium's power. Interference, Paramount's first all-talker, debuted in November. The process known as "goat glanding" briefly became widespread: soundtracks, sometimes including a smatter of post-dubbed dialogue or song, were added to movies that had been shot, and in some cases released, as silents. A few minutes of singing could qualify such a newly endowed film as a "musical." (Griffith's Dream Street had essentially been a "goat gland.") Expectations swiftly changed, and the sound "fad" of 1927 became standard procedure by 1929. In February 1929, sixteen months after The Jazz Singers debut, Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film production and distribution company. Columbia Pictures now forms part of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Sony. It is one of the leading film companies...

 became the last of the eight studios that would be known as "majors" during Hollywood's Golden Age to release its first part-talking feature, Lone Wolf's Daughter. In late May, the first all-color, all-talking feature, Warner Bros.' On with the Show!
On with the Show (1929 film)
On with the Show! is a 1929 American musical film released by Warner Bros. The film is noted as the first ever all-talking all-color feature length movie, and the second color movie released by Warner Bros.; the first was a partly color, black-and-white musical, The Desert Song . -Plot:With unpaid...

, premiered. Most American movie theaters, especially outside of urban areas, were still not equipped for sound and the studios were not entirely convinced of the talkies' universal appeal—through mid-1930, the majority of Hollywood movies were produced in dual versions, silent as well as talking. Though few in the industry predicted it, silent film as a viable commercial medium in the United States would soon be little more than a memory. Points West, a Hoot Gibson
Hoot Gibson
Hoot Gibson was an American rodeo champion and a pioneer cowboy film actor, director and producer.-Early life and career:...

Western (genre)
The Western is a genre of various visual arts, such as film, television, radio, literature, painting and others. Westerns are devoted to telling stories set primarily in the latter half of the 19th century in the American Old West, hence the name. Some Westerns are set as early as the Battle of...

 released by Universal Pictures in August 1929, was the last purely silent mainstream feature put out by a major Hollywood studio.

Transition: Europe

The Jazz Singer had its European sound premiere at the Piccadilly Theatre in London on September 27, 1928. According to film historian Rachael Low, "Many in the industry realized at once that a change to sound production was inevitable." On January 16, 1929, the first European feature film with a synchronized vocal performance and recorded score premiered: the German production Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame (I Kiss Your Hand, Madame). Dialogueless, it contains only a few songs performed by Richard Tauber
Richard Tauber
Richard Tauber was an Austrian tenor acclaimed as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century. Some critics commented that "his heart felt every word he sang".-Early life:...

. The movie was made with the sound-on-film system controlled by the German-Dutch firm Tobis, corporate heirs to the Tri-Ergon concern. With an eye toward commanding the emerging European market for sound film, Tobis entered into a compact with its chief competitor, Klangfilm, a joint subsidiary of Germany's two leading electrical manufacturers. Early in 1929, Tobis and Klangfilm began comarketing their recording and playback technologies. As ERPI began to wire theaters around Europe, Tobis-Klangfilm claimed that the Western Electric system infringed on the Tri-Ergon patents, stalling the introduction of American technology in many places. Just as RCA had entered the movie business to maximize its recording system's value, Tobis also established its own production operations.

Over the course of 1929, most of the major European filmmaking countries began joining Hollywood in the changeover to sound. Many of the trend-setting European talkies were shot abroad as production companies leased studios while their own were being converted or as they deliberately targeted markets speaking different languages. One of Europe's first two feature-length dramatic talkies was created in still a different sort of twist on multinational moviemaking: The Crimson Circle was a coproduction between director Friedrich Zelnik's Efzet-Film company and British Sound Film Productions (BSFP). In 1928, the film had been released as the silent Der Rote Kreis in Germany, where it was shot; English dialogue was apparently dubbed in much later using the De Forest Phonofilm process controlled by BSFP's corporate parent. It was given a British trade screening in March 1929, as was a part-talking film made entirely in the UK: The Clue of the New Pin, a British Lion production using the sound-on-disc British Photophone system. In May, Black Waters, a British and Dominions Film Corporation promoted as the first UK all-talker, received its initial trade screening; it had been shot completely in Hollywood with a Western Electric sound-on-film system. None of these pictures made much impact.

The first successful European dramatic talkie was the all-British Blackmail
Blackmail (1929 film)
Blackmail is a 1929 British thriller drama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Anny Ondra, John Longden, and Cyril Ritchard, and featuring Donald Calthrop, Sara Allgood and Charles Paton. The film is based on the play Blackmail by Charles Bennett, as adapted by Hitchcock, with dialogue by...

. Directed by twenty-nine-year-old Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

, the movie had its London debut June 21, 1929. Originally shot as a silent, Blackmail was restaged to include dialogue sequences, along with a score and sound effects, before its premiere. A British International Pictures (BIP) production, it was recorded on RCA Photophone, General Electric having bought a share of AEG in order to gain access to the Tobis-Klangfilm markets. Blackmail was a substantial hit; critical response was also positive—notorious curmudgeon Hugh Castle, for example, called it "perhaps the most intelligent mixture of sound and silence we have yet seen."

On August 23, the modest-sized Austrian film industry came out with a talkie: G’schichten aus der Steiermark (Stories from Styria), an Eagle Film–Ottoton Film production. On September 30, the first entirely German-made feature-length dramatic talkie, Das Land ohne Frauen (Land Without Women), premiered. A Tobis Filmkunst production, about one-quarter of the movie contained dialogue, which was strictly segregated from the special effects and music. The response was underwhelming. Sweden's first talkie, Konstgjorda Svensson (Artificial Svensson), premiered on October 14. Eight days later, Aubert Franco-Film came out with Le Collier de la reine (The Queen's Necklace), shot at the Épinay
-Transport:Épinay-sur-Seine is served by Épinay-sur-Seine station on Paris RER line C.It is also served by Épinay – Villetaneuse station on the Transilien Paris – Nord suburban rail line....

 studio near Paris. Conceived as a silent film, it was given a Tobis-recorded score and a single talking sequence—the first dialogue scene in a French feature. On October 31, Les Trois masques debuted; a Pathé
Pathé or Pathé Frères is the name of various French businesses founded and originally run by the Pathé Brothers of France.-History:...

-Natan film, it is generally regarded as the initial French feature talkie, though it was shot, like Blackmail, at the Elstree studio
Elstree Studios
"Elstree Studios" refers to any of several film studios that were based in the towns of Borehamwood and Elstree in Hertfordshire, England, since film production begun in 1927.-Name:...

, just outside of London. The production company had contracted with RCA Photophone and Britain then had the nearest facility with the system. The Braunberger-Richebé talkie La Route est belle, also shot at Elstree, followed a few weeks later. Before the Paris studios were fully sound-equipped—a process that stretched well into 1930—a number of other early French talkies were shot in Germany. The first all-talking German feature, Atlantik, had premiered in Berlin on October 28. Yet another Elstree-made movie, it was rather less German at heart than Les Trois masques and La Route est belle were French; a BIP production with a British scenarist and German director, it was also shot in English as Atlantic. The entirely German Aafa-Film production Dich hab ich geliebt (Because I Loved You) opened three-and-a-half weeks later. It was not "Germany's First Talking Film", as the marketing had it, but it was the first to be released in the United States.
In 1930, the first Polish talkies premiered, using sound-on-disc systems: Moralność pani Dulskiej (The Morality of Mrs. Dulska) in March and the all-talking Niebezpieczny romans (Dangerous Love Affair) in October. In Italy, whose once vibrant film industry had become moribund by the late 1920s, the first talkie, La Canzone dell'amore (The Song of Love), also came out in October; within two years, Italian cinema would be enjoying a revival. The first movie spoken in Czech debuted in 1930 as well, Tonka Šibenice (Tonka of the Gallows). Several European nations with minor positions in the field also produced their first talking pictures—Belgium (in French), Denmark, Greece, and Romania. The Soviet Union's robust film industry came out with its first sound features in December 1930: Dziga Vertov
Dziga Vertov
David Abelevich Kaufman , better known by his pseudonym Dziga Vertov , was a Soviet pioneer documentary film, newsreel director and cinema theorist...

's nonfiction Entuziazm had an experimental, dialogueless soundtrack; Abram Room
Abram Room
Abram Room was aRussian film director.Room's best known film is Bed and Sofa . In the film, a woman who is married to a construction worker has an affair with their lodger. The film tracks the evolution of a housewife into a strong liberated woman, which was very unusual for its time...

's documentary Plan velikikh rabot (The Plan of the Great Works) had music and spoken voiceovers. Both were made with locally developed sound-on-film systems, two of the two hundred or so movie sound systems then available somewhere in the world. In June 1931, the Nikolai Ekk
Nikolai Ekk
Nikolai Vladimirovich Ekk , real name Ivakin , was a Soviet film director and screenwriter.Born in Riga, he studied acting and directing in the theater of Vsevolod Meyerhold...

 drama Putevka v zhizn (The Road to Life or A Start in Life), premiered as the Soviet Union's first true talking picture.

Throughout much of Europe, conversion of exhibition venues lagged well behind production capacity, requiring talkies to be produced in parallel silent versions or simply shown without sound in many places. While the pace of conversion was relatively swift in Britain—with over 60 percent of theaters equipped for sound by the end of 1930, similar to the U.S. figure—in France, by contrast, more than half of theaters nationwide were still projecting in silence by late 1932. According to scholar Colin G. Crisp, "Anxiety about resuscitating the flow of silent films was frequently expressed in the [French] industrial press, and a large section of the industry still saw the silent as a viable artistic and commercial prospect till about 1935." The situation was particularly acute in the Soviet Union; as of May 1933, fewer than one out of every hundred film projectors in the country was as yet equipped for sound.

Transition: Asia

During the 1920s and 1930s, Japan was one of the world's two largest producers of motion pictures, along with the United States. Though the country's film industry was among the first to produce both sound and talking features, the full changeover to sound proceeded much more slowly than in the West. It appears that the first Japanese sound film, Reimai (Dawn), was made in 1926 with the De Forest Phonofilm system. Using the sound-on-disc Minatoki system, the leading Nikkatsu
is a Japanese entertainment company well known for its film and television productions. It is Japan's oldest major movie studio. The name Nikkatsu is an abbreviation of Nippon Katsudō Shashin, literally "Japan Cinematograph Company".-History:...

 studio produced a pair of talkies in 1929: Taii no musume (The Captain's Daughter) and Furusato (Hometown), the latter directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi
Kenji Mizoguchi was a Japanese film director and screenwriter. His film Ugetsu won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and appeared in the Sight & Sound Critics' Top Ten Poll in 1962 and 1972. Mizoguchi is renowned for his mastery of the long take and mise-en-scène...

. The rival Shochiku
is a Japanese movie studio and production company for kabuki. It also produces and distributes anime films. Its best remembered directors include Yasujirō Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, Keisuke Kinoshita and Yōji Yamada...

 studio began the successful production of sound-on-film talkies in 1931 using a variable-density process called Tsuchibashi. Two years later, however, more than 80 percent of movies made in the country were still silents. Two of the country's leading directors, Mikio Naruse
Mikio Naruse
was a Japanese filmmaker, screenwriter, and producer who directed some 89 films spanning the period 1930 to 1967.Naruse is known for imbuing his films with a bleak and pessimistic outlook...

 and Yasujiro Ozu
Yasujiro Ozu
was a prominent Japanese film director and script writer. He is known for his distinctive technical style, developed during the silent era. Marriage and family, especially the relationships between the generations, are among the most persistent themes in his body of work...

, did not make their first sound films until 1935 and 1936, respectively. As late as 1938, over a third of all movies produced in Japan were shot without dialogue.

The enduring popularity of the silent medium in Japanese cinema owed in great part to the tradition of the benshi
were Japanese performers who provided live narration for silent films . Benshi are sometimes also called or .-Role of the benshi:...

, a live narrator who performed as accompaniment to a film screening. As director Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa
was a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter and editor. Regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Kurosawa directed 30 filmsIn 1946, Kurosawa co-directed, with Hideo Sekigawa and Kajiro Yamamoto, the feature Those Who Make Tomorrow ;...

 later described, the benshi "not only recounted the plot of the films, they enhanced the emotional content by performing the voices and sound effects and providing evocative descriptions of events and images on the screen.... The most popular narrators were stars in their own right, solely responsible for the patronage of a particular theatre." Film historian Mariann Lewinsky argues,

The end of silent film in the West and in Japan was imposed by the industry and the market, not by any inner need or natural evolution.... Silent cinema was a highly pleasurable and fully mature form. It didn't lack anything, least in Japan, where there was always the human voice doing the dialogues and the commentary. Sound films were not better, just more economical. As a cinema owner you didn't have to pay the wages of musicians and benshi any more. And a good benshi was a star demanding star payment.

By the same token, the viability of the benshi system facilitated a gradual transition to sound—allowing the studios to spread out the capital costs of conversion and their directors and technical crews time to become familiar with the new technology.
The Mandarin-language Gēnǚ hóng mǔdān , starring Butterfly Wu, premiered as China's first feature talkie in 1930. By February of that year, production was apparently completed on a sound version of The Devil's Playground, arguably qualifying it as the first Australian talking motion picture; however, the May press screening of Commonwealth Film Contest prizewinner Fellers is the first verifiable public exhibition of an Australian talkie. In September 1930, a song performed by Indian star Sulochana
Ruby Myers
Sulochana , real name Ruby Myers) was an Indian silent film star of Jewish ancestry, although it is unclear whether she descended from an Ashkenazi family, Bene Israeli family, or both....

, excerpted from the silent feature Madhuri (1928), was released as a synchronized-sound short, the country's first. The following year, Ardeshir Irani
Ardeshir Irani
Khan Bahadur Ardeshir Irani ; popularly known as Ardeshir Irani, was a writer, director, producer, actor, film distributor, film showman and cinematographer in the silent and sound eras of early Indian cinema. He was renowned for making films in Hindi, Telugu, English, German, Indonesian, Persian,...

 directed the first Indian talking feature, the Hindi-Urdu Alam Ara
Alam Ara
Alam Ara is a 1931 film directed by Ardeshir Irani. It was the first Indian sound film.Irani recognized the importance that sound would have on the cinema, and raced to complete Alam Ara before several contemporary sound films. Alam Ara debuted at the Majestic Cinema in Mumbai on March 14, 1931...

, and produced Kalidas, primarily in Tamil with some Telugu. Nineteen-thirty-one also saw the first Bengali-language film, Jamai Sasthi, and the first movie fully spoken in Telugu, Bhakta Prahlada. In 1932, Ayodhyecha Raja
Ayodhyecha Raja
Ayodhyecha Raja was the first Marathi talkie released in 1932, directed by Shantaram Rajaram Vankudre...

became the first movie in which Marathi was spoken to be released (though Sant Tukaram was the first to go through the official censorship process); the first Gujarati-language film, Narsimha Mehta, and all-Tamil talkie, Kalava, debuted as well. The next year, Ardeshir Irani produced the first Persian-language talkie, Dukhtar-e-loor. Also in 1933, the first Cantonese-language films were produced in Hong Kong—Sha zai dongfang (The Idiot's Wedding Night) and Liang xing (Conscience); within two years, the local film industry had fully converted to sound. Korea, where pyonsa (or byun-sa) held a role and status similar to that of the Japanese benshi, in 1935 became the last country with a significant film industry to produce its first talking picture: Chunhyangjeon (/) is based on the seventeenth-century pansori
Pansori is a genre of Korean traditional music. It is a vocal and percussional music performed by one sorikkun and one gosu . The term pansori is derived from pan , and sori .- Overview :...

 folktale "Chunhyangga
The Chunhyangga is the most famous Pansori in Korea. The Chunhyangga has delighted all Korean for a century. The Chunhyangga is the best Pansori as musically, literary, and a well-made play....

", of which as many as fifteen film versions have been made through 2009.


In the short term, the introduction of live sound recording caused major difficulties in production. Cameras were noisy, so a soundproofed cabinet was used in many of the earliest talkies to isolate the loud equipment from the actors, at the expense of a drastic reduction in the ability to move the camera. For a time, multiple-camera shooting was used to compensate for the loss of mobility and innovative studio technicians could often find ways to liberate the camera for particular shots. The necessity of staying within range of still microphones meant that actors also often had to limit their movements unnaturally. Show Girl in Hollywood (1930), from First National Pictures (which Warner Bros. had taken control of thanks to its profitable adventure into sound), gives a behind-the-scenes look at some of the techniques involved in shooting early talkies. Several of the fundamental problems caused by the transition to sound were soon solved with new camera casings, known as "blimps", designed to suppress noise and boom microphones
Boom operator (media)
A Boom operator is an assistant of the production sound mixer. The principal responsibility of the boom operator is microphone placement, sometimes using a "fishpole" with a microphone attached to the end and sometimes, when the situation permits, using a "boom" which is a more intricate and...

 that could be held just out of frame and moved with the actors. In 1931, a major improvement in playback fidelity was introduced: three-way speaker systems in which sound was separated into low, medium, and high frequencies and sent respectively to a large bass "woofer", a midrange driver, and a treble "tweeter."

There were consequences, as well, for other technological aspects of the cinema. Proper recording and playback of sound required exact standardization of camera and projector speed. Before sound, 16 frames per second
Frame rate
Frame rate is the frequency at which an imaging device produces unique consecutive images called frames. The term applies equally well to computer graphics, video cameras, film cameras, and motion capture systems...

 (fps) was the supposed norm, but practice varied widely. Cameras were often undercranked
Time-lapse photography is a cinematography technique whereby the frequency at which film frames are captured is much lower than that which will be used to play the sequence back. When replayed at normal speed, time appears to be moving faster and thus lapsing...

 or overcranked
Slow motion
Slow motion is an effect in film-making whereby time appears to be slowed down. It was invented by the Austrian priest August Musger....

 in order to improve exposures or for dramatic effect. Projectors were commonly run too fast in order to shorten running time and squeeze in extra shows. Variable frame rate, however, made sound unlistenable, and a new, strict standard of 24 fps was soon established. Sound also forced the abandonment of the noisy arc lights
Arc lamp
"Arc lamp" or "arc light" is the general term for a class of lamps that produce light by an electric arc . The lamp consists of two electrodes, first made from carbon but typically made today of tungsten, which are separated by a gas...

 used for filming in studio interiors. The switch to quiet incandescent
Incandescence is the emission of light from a hot body as a result of its temperature. The term derives from the Latin verb incandescere, to glow white....

 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.

As David Bordwell
David Bordwell
David Bordwell is an American film theorist and film historian. Since receiving his PhD from the University of Iowa in 1974, he has written more than fifteen volumes on the subject of cinema including Narration in the Fiction Film , Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema , Making Meaning , and On the...

 describes, technological improvements continued at a swift pace: "Between 1932 and 1935, [Western Electric and RCA] created directional microphones, increased the frequency range of film recording, reduced ground noise ... and extended the volume range." These technical advances often meant new aesthetic opportunities: "Increasing the fidelity of recording ... heightened the dramatic possibilities of vocal timbre, pitch, and loudness." Another basic problem—famously spoofed in the 1952 film Singin' in the Rain
Singin' in the Rain
Singin' in the Rain is a 1952 American comedy musical film starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds and directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly also providing the choreography...

—was that some silent-era actors simply did not have attractive voices; though this issue was frequently overstated, there were related concerns about general vocal quality and the casting of performers for their dramatic skills in roles also requiring singing talent beyond their own. By 1935, rerecording of vocals by the original or different actors in postproduction, a process known as "looping", had become practical. The ultraviolet recording system introduced by RCA in 1936 improved the reproduction of sibilants and high notes.
With Hollywood's wholesale adoption of the talkies, the competition between the two fundamental approaches to sound-film production was soon resolved. Over the course of 1930–31, the only major players using sound-on-disc, Warner Bros. and First National, changed over to sound-on-film recording. Vitaphone's dominating presence in sound-equipped theaters, however, meant that for years to come all of the Hollywood studios pressed and distributed sound-on-disc versions of their films alongside the sound-on-film prints. Fox Movietone soon followed Vitaphone into disuse as a recording and reproduction method, leaving two major American systems: the variable-area RCA Photophone and Western Electric's own variable-density process, a substantial improvement on the cross-licensed Movietone. Under RCA's instigation, the two parent companies made their projection equipment compatible, meaning films shot with one system could be screened in theaters equipped for the other. This left one big issue—the Tobis-Klangfilm challenge. In May 1930, Western Electric won an Austrian lawsuit that voided protection for certain Tri-Ergon patents, helping bring Tobis-Klangfilm to the negotiating table. The following month an accord was reached on patent cross-licensing, full playback compatibility, and the division of the world into three parts for the provision of equipment. As a contemporary report describes:

Tobis-Klangfilm has the exclusive rights to provide equipment for: Germany, Danzig, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, the Dutch Indies, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Finland. The Americans have the exclusive rights for the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Russia. All other countries, among them Italy, France, and England, are open to both parties.

The agreement did not resolve all the patent disputes, and further negotiations were undertaken and concords signed over the course of the 1930s. During these years, as well, the American studios began abandoning the Western Electric system for RCA Photophone's variable-area approach—by the end of 1936, only Paramount, MGM, and United Artists still had contracts with ERPI.


While the introduction of sound led to a boom in the motion picture industry, it had an adverse effect on the employability of a host of Hollywood actors of the time. Suddenly those without stage experience were regarded as suspect by the studios; as suggested above, those whose heavy accents or otherwise discordant voices had previously been concealed were particularly at risk. The career of major silent star Norma Talmadge
Norma Talmadge
Norma Talmadge was an American actress and film producer of the silent era. A major box office draw for more than a decade, her career reached a peak in the early 1920s, when she ranked among the most popular idols of the American screen.Her most famous film was Smilin’ Through , but she also...

 effectively came to an end in this way. The celebrated German actor Emil Jannings
Emil Jannings
Emil Jannings was a German actor. He was not only the first actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, but also the first person to be presented an Oscar...

 returned to Europe. Moviegoers found John Gilbert
John Gilbert (actor)
John Gilbert was an American actor and a major star of the silent film era.Known as "the great lover," he rivaled even Rudolph Valentino as a box office draw...

's voice an awkward match with his swashbuckling persona, and his star also faded. Audiences now seemed to perceive certain silent-era stars as old-fashioned, even those who had the talent to succeed in the sound era. The career of Harold Lloyd
Harold Lloyd
Harold Clayton Lloyd, Sr. was an American film actor and producer, most famous for his silent comedies....

, one of the top screen comedians of the 1920s, declined precipitously. Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish
Lillian Diana Gish was an American stage, screen and television actress whose film acting career spanned 75 years, from 1912 to 1987....

 departed, back to the stage, and other leading figures soon left acting entirely: Colleen Moore
Colleen Moore
Colleen Moore was an American film actress, and one of the most fashionable stars of the silent film era.-Early life:...

, Gloria Swanson
Gloria Swanson
Gloria Swanson was an American actress, singer and producer. She was one of the most prominent stars during the silent film era as both an actress and a fashion icon, especially under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille, made dozens of silents and was nominated for the first Academy Award in the...

, and Hollywood's most famous performing couple, Douglas Fairbanks
Douglas Fairbanks
Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. was an American actor, screenwriter, director and producer. He was best known for his swashbuckling roles in silent films such as The Thief of Bagdad, Robin Hood, and The Mark of Zorro....

 and Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford was a Canadian-born motion picture actress, co-founder of the film studio United Artists and one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences...

. As actress Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks
Mary Louise Brooks , generally known by her stage name Louise Brooks, was an American dancer, model, showgirl and silent film actress, noted for popularizing the bobbed haircut. Brooks is best known for her three feature roles including two G. W...

 suggested, there were other issues as well:

Studio heads, now forced into unprecedented decisions, decided to begin with the actors, the least palatable, the most vulnerable part of movie production. It was such a splendid opportunity, anyhow, for breaking contracts, cutting salaries, and taming the stars.... Me, they gave the salary treatment. I could stay on without the raise my contract called for, or quit, [Paramount studio chief B. P.] Schulberg said, using the questionable dodge of whether I'd be good for the talkies. Questionable, I say, because I spoke decent English in a decent voice and came from the theater. So without hesitation I quit.

Similarly, Clara Bow
Clara Bow
Clara Gordon Bow was an American actress who rose to stardom in the silent film era of the 1920s. It was her appearance as a spunky shopgirl in the film It that brought her global fame and the nickname "The It Girl." Bow came to personify the roaring twenties and is described as its leading sex...

's speaking voice was sometimes blamed for the demise of her Hollywood career, though the real issues involved her clashes with studio executives and what film historian David Thomson
David Thomson (film critic)
David Thomson is a film critic and historian based in the United States and the author of more than 20 books, including The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.-Career:...

 describes as the "backlash of bourgeois hypocrisy" against a lifestyle that would have been unremarkable for a male star. Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton
Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton was an American comic actor, filmmaker, producer and writer. He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname "The Great Stone Face".Keaton was recognized as the...

 was eager to explore the new medium, but when his studio, MGM, made the changeover to sound, he was quickly stripped of creative control. Though a number of Keaton's early talkies made impressive profits, they were artistically dismal.

Several of the new medium's biggest attractions came from vaudeville and the musical theater, where performers such as Jolson, Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor was an American "illustrated song" performer, comedian, dancer, singer, actor and songwriter...

, Jeanette MacDonald
Jeanette MacDonald
Jeanette MacDonald was an American singer and actress best remembered for her musical films of the 1930s with Maurice Chevalier and Nelson Eddy...

, and the Marx Brothers
Marx Brothers
The Marx Brothers were an American family comedy act, originally from New York City, that enjoyed success in Vaudeville, Broadway, and motion pictures from the early 1900s to around 1950...

 were accustomed to the demands of both dialogue and song. James Cagney
James Cagney
James Francis Cagney, Jr. was an American actor, first on stage, then in film, where he had his greatest impact. Although he won acclaim and major awards for a wide variety of performances, he is best remembered for playing "tough guys." In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him eighth...

 and Joan Blondell
Joan Blondell
Rose Joan Blondell was an American actress who performed in movies and on television for five decades as Joan Blondell.After winning a beauty pageant, Blondell embarked upon a film career...

, who had teamed on Broadway, were brought west together by Warner Bros. in 1930. A few actors were major stars during both the silent and the sound eras: Richard Barthelmess
Richard Barthelmess
Richard Semler "Dick" Barthelmess was an Oscar-nominated silent film star.-Early life:Barthelmess was educated at Hudson River Military Academy at Nyack and Trinity College at Hartford, Connecticut...

, Clive Brook, Bebe Daniels
Bebe Daniels
Bebe Daniels was an American actress, singer, dancer, writer and producer. She began her career in Hollywood during the silent movie era as a child actress, became a star in musicals like 42nd Street, and later gained further fame on radio and television in Britain...

, Norma Shearer
Norma Shearer
Edith Norma Shearer was a Canadian-American actress. Shearer was one of the most popular actresses in North America from the mid-1920s through the 1930s...

, the comedy team of Stan Laurel
Stan Laurel
Arthur Stanley "Stan" Jefferson , better known as Stan Laurel, was an English comic actor, writer and film director, famous as the first half of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy. His film acting career stretched between 1917 and 1951 and included a starring role in the Academy Award winning film...

 and Oliver Hardy
Oliver Hardy
Oliver Hardy was an American comic actor famous as one half of Laurel and Hardy, the classic double act that began in the era of silent films and lasted nearly 30 years, from 1927 to 1955.-Early life:...

, and the incomparable Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin
Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin, KBE was an English comic actor, film director and composer best known for his work during the silent film era. He became the most famous film star in the world before the end of World War I...

, whose City Lights
City Lights
City Lights is a 1931 American silent film and romantic comedy-drama written by, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin. It also has the leads Virginia Cherrill and Harry Myers. Although "talking" pictures were on the rise since 1928, City Lights was immediately popular. Today, it is thought of...

(1931) and Modern Times
Modern Times (film)
Modern Times is a 1936 comedy film by Charlie Chaplin that has his iconic Little Tramp character struggling to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced during the Great Depression, conditions created, in...

(1936) employed sound almost exclusively for music and effects. Janet Gaynor
Janet Gaynor
Janet Gaynor was an American actress and painter.One of the most popular actresses of the silent film era, in 1928 Gaynor became the first winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in three films: Seventh Heaven , Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and Street Angel...

 became a top star with the synch-sound but dialogueless Seventh Heaven and Sunrise, as did Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford , born Lucille Fay LeSueur, was an American actress in film, television and theatre....

 with the technologically similar Our Dancing Daughters
Our Dancing Daughters
Our Dancing Daughters is a 1928 MGM silent drama film starring Joan Crawford and John Mack Brown , about the "loosening of youth morals" that took place during the 1920s. The film was directed by Harry Beaumont and produced by Hunt Stromberg...

(1928). Greta Garbo
Greta Garbo
Greta Garbo , born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, was a Swedish film actress. Garbo was an international star and icon during Hollywood's silent and classic periods. Many of Garbo's films were sensational hits, and all but three were profitable...

 was the one non–native English speaker to achieve Hollywood stardom on either side of the great sound divide.

As talking pictures emerged, with their prerecorded musical tracks, an increasing number of moviehouse orchestra musicians found themselves out of work. More than just their position as film accompanists was usurped; according to historian Preston J. Hubbard, "During the 1920s live musical performances at first-run theaters became an exceedingly important aspect of the American cinema." With the coming of the talkies, those featured performances—usually staged as preludes—were largely eliminated as well. The American Federation of Musicians
American Federation of Musicians
The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada is a labor union of professional musicians in the United States and Canada...

 took out newspaper advertisements protesting the replacement of live musicians with mechanical playing devices. One 1929 ad that appeared in the Pittsburgh Press
Pittsburgh Press
The Pittsburgh Press is an online newspaper in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, currently owned and operated by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Historically, it was a major afternoon paper...

features an image of a can labeled "Canned Music / Big Noise Brand / Guaranteed to Produce No Intellectual or Emotional Reaction Whatever" and reads in part:

Canned Music on Trial

This is the case of Art vs. Mechanical Music in theatres. The defendant stands accused in front of the American people of attempted corruption of musical appreciation and discouragement of musical education. Theatres in many cities are offering synchronised mechanical music as a substitute for Real Music. If the theatre-going public accepts this vitiation of its entertainment program a deplorable decline in the Art of Music is inevitable. Musical authorities know that the soul of the Art is lost in mechanisation. It cannot be otherwise because the quality of music is dependent on the mood of the artist, upon the human contact, without which the essence of intellectual stimulation and emotional rapture is lost.

By the following year, a reported 22,000 U.S. moviehouse musicians had lost their jobs.


In September 1926, Jack Warner
Jack Warner
Jack Leonard "J. L." Warner , born Jacob Warner in London, Ontario, was a Canadian American film executive who was the president and driving force behind the Warner Bros. Studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California...

, head of Warner Bros., was quoted to the effect that talking pictures would never be viable: "They fail to take into account the international language of the silent pictures, and the unconscious share of each onlooker in creating the play, the action, the plot, and the imagined dialogue for himself." Much to his company's benefit, he would be proven very wrong—between the 1927–28 and 1928–29 fiscal years, Warners' profits surged from $2 million to $14 million. Sound film, in fact, was a clear boon to all the major players in the industry. During that same twelve-month span, Paramount's profits rose by $7 million, Fox's by $3.5 million, and Loew's/MGM's by $3 million. RKO, which hadn't even existed in September 1928 and whose parent production company, FBO, was in the Hollywood minor leagues, by the end of 1929 was established as one of America's leading entertainment businesses. Fueling the boom was the emergence of an important new cinematic genre made possible by sound: the musical. Over sixty Hollywood musicals were released in 1929, and more than eighty the following year.

Even as the Wall Street crash
Wall Street Crash of 1929
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 , also known as the Great Crash, and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its fallout...

 of October 1929 helped plunge the United States and ultimately the global economy into depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

, the popularity of the talkies at first seemed to keep Hollywood immune. The 1929–30 exhibition season was even better for the motion picture industry than the previous, with ticket sales and overall profits hitting new highs. Reality finally struck later in 1930, but sound had clearly secured Hollywood's position as one of the most important industrial fields, both commercially and culturally, in the United States. In 1929, film box-office receipts comprised 16.6 percent of total spending by Americans on recreation; by 1931, the figure had reached 21.8 percent. The motion picture business would command similar figures for the next decade and a half. Hollywood ruled on the larger stage, as well. The American movie industry—already the world's most powerful—set an export record in 1929 that, by the applied measure of total feet of exposed film, was 27 percent higher than the year before. Concerns that language differences would hamper U.S. film exports turned out to be largely unfounded. In fact, the expense of sound conversion was a major obstacle to many overseas producers, relatively undercapitalized by Hollywood standards. The production of multiple versions of export-bound talkies in different languages, a common approach at first, largely ceased by mid-1931, replaced by post-dubbing and subtitling. Despite trade restrictions imposed in most foreign markets, by 1937, American films commanded about 70 percent of screen time around the globe.
Just as the leading Hollywood studios gained from sound in relation to their foreign competitors, they did the same at home. As historian Richard B. Jewell describes, "The sound revolution crushed many small film companies and producers who were unable to meet the financial demands of sound conversion." The combination of sound and the Great Depression led to a wholesale shakeout
Shakeout is a term used in business and economics to describe the consolidation of an industry or sector, in which businesses are eliminated or acquired through competition...

 in the business, resulting in the hierarchy of the Big Five integrated companies (MGM, Paramount, Fox, Warners, RKO) and the three smaller studios also called "majors" (Columbia, Universal, United Artists) that would predominate through the 1950s. Historian Thomas Schatz describes the ancillary effects:

Because the studios were forced to streamline operations and rely on their own resources, their individual house styles and corporate personalities came into much sharper focus. Thus the watershed period from the coming of sound into the early Depression saw the studio system
Studio system
The studio system was a means of film production and distribution dominant in Hollywood from the early 1920s through the early 1960s. The term studio system refers to the practice of large motion picture studios producing movies primarily on their own filmmaking lots with creative personnel under...

 finally coalesce, with the individual studios coming to terms with their own identities and their respective positions within the industry.

The other country in which sound cinema had an immediate major commercial impact was India. As one distributor of the period said, "With the coming of the talkies, the Indian motion picture came into its own as a definite and distinctive piece of creation. This was achieved by music." From its earliest days, Indian sound cinema has been defined by the musical—Alam Ara featured seven songs; a year later, Indrasabha would feature seventy. While the European film industries fought an endless battle against the popularity and economic muscle of Hollywood, ten years after the debut of Alam Ara, over 90 percent of the films showing on Indian screens were made within the country.

Most of India's early talkies were shot in Bombay
Mumbai , formerly known as Bombay in English, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and the fourth most populous city in the world, with a total metropolitan area population of approximately 20.5 million...

, which remains the leading production center, but sound filmmaking soon spread across the multilingual nation. Within just a few weeks of Alam Aras March 1931 premiere, the Calcutta
Kolkata , formerly known as Calcutta, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, it was the commercial capital of East India...

-based Madan Pictures had released both the Hindi
Shirin Farhad and the Bengali Jamai Sasthi. The Hindustani Heer Ranjha was produced in Lahore
Lahore is the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab and the second largest city in the country. With a rich and fabulous history dating back to over a thousand years ago, Lahore is no doubt Pakistan's cultural capital. One of the most densely populated cities in the world, Lahore remains a...

, Punjab
Punjab region
The Punjab , also spelled Panjab |water]]s"), is a geographical region straddling the border between Pakistan and India which includes Punjab province in Pakistan and the states of the Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and some northern parts of the National Capital Territory of Delhi...

, the following year. In 1934,
Sati Sulochana
Sati Sulochana
Sati Sulochana is a film made in Kannada language. The film was released in the year 1934 and is the first talkie film in Kannada language...

, the first Kannada talking picture to be released, was shot in Kolhapur, Maharashtra
Maharashtra is a state located in India. It is the second most populous after Uttar Pradesh and third largest state by area in India...

Srinivasa Kalyanam became the first Tamil talkie actually shot in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Its capital and largest city is Chennai. Tamil Nadu lies in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula and is bordered by the union territory of Pondicherry, and the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh...

. Once the first talkie features appeared, the conversion to full sound production happened as rapidly in India as it did in the United States. Already by 1932, the majority of feature productions were in sound; two years later, 164 of the 172 Indian feature films were talking pictures. Since 1934, with the sole exception of 1952, India has been among the top three movie-producing countries in the world every single year.

Aesthetic quality

In the first, 1930 edition of his global survey The Film Till Now, British cinema pundit Paul Rotha
Paul Rotha
Paul Rotha was a British documentary film-maker, film historian and critic. He was educated at Highgate School....

 declared, "A film in which the speech and sound effects are perfectly synchronised and coincide with their visual image on the screen is absolutely contrary to the aims of cinema. It is a degenerate and misguided attempt to destroy the real use of the film and cannot be accepted as coming within the true boundaries of the cinema." Such opinions were not rare among those who cared about cinema as an art form; Alfred Hitchcock, though he directed the first commercially successful talkie produced in Europe, held that "the silent pictures were the purest form of cinema" and scoffed at many early sound films as delivering little beside "photographs of people talking". In Germany, Max Reinhardt
Max Reinhardt
----Max Reinhardt was an Austrian theater and film director and actor.-Biography:...

, stage producer and movie director, expressed the belief that the talkies, "bringing to the screen stage plays ... tend to make this independent art a subsidiary of the theater and really make it only a substitute for the theater instead of an art in itself ... like reproductions of paintings."

In the opinion of many film historians and aficionados, both at the time and subsequently, silent film had reached an aesthetic peak by the late 1920s and the early years of sound cinema delivered little that was comparable to the best of the silents. For instance, despite fading into relative obscurity once its era had passed, silent cinema is represented by eleven films in Time Outs Centenary of Cinema Top One Hundred poll, held in 1995. The first year in which sound film production predominated over silent film—not only in the United States, but also in the West as a whole—was 1929; yet the years 1929 through 1933 are represented by three dialogueless pictures (Pandora's Box
Pandora's Box (film)
Pandora's Box is a 1929 German silent melodrama film based on Frank Wedekind's plays Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora . Directed by Austrian filmmaker Georg Wilhelm Pabst, the film stars Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, and Francis Lederer...

[1929], Zemlya
Earth (1930 film)
Earth is a 1930 Soviet film by Ukrainian director Alexander Dovzhenko, concerning an insurrection by a community of farmers, following a hostile takeover by Kulak landowners...

[1930], City Lights
City Lights
City Lights is a 1931 American silent film and romantic comedy-drama written by, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin. It also has the leads Virginia Cherrill and Harry Myers. Although "talking" pictures were on the rise since 1928, City Lights was immediately popular. Today, it is thought of...

[1931]) and zero talkies in the Time Out poll. (City Lights, like Sunrise, was released with a recorded score and sound effects, but is now customarily referred to by historians and industry professionals as a "silent"—spoken dialogue regarded as the crucial distinguishing factor between silent and sound dramatic cinema.) The earliest sound film to place is the French L'Atalante
L'Atalante is a 1934 French film directed by Jean Vigo and starring Jean Dasté, Dita Parlo and Michel Simon. It has been hailed by many critics as one of the greatest films of all time.-Plot summary:...

(1934), directed by Jean Vigo
Jean Vigo
Jean Vigo was a French film director, who helped establish poetic realism in film in the 1930s and was a posthumous influence on the French New Wave of the late 1950s and early 1960s.-Biography:...

; the earliest Hollywood sound film to qualify is Bringing Up Baby
Bringing up Baby
Bringing Up Baby is an American screwball comedy film directed by Howard Hawks, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and released by RKO Radio Pictures....

(1938), directed by Howard Hawks
Howard Hawks
Howard Winchester Hawks was an American film director, producer and screenwriter of the classic Hollywood era...


The first sound feature film to receive near-universal critical approbation was Der Blaue Engel
Der blaue Engel
The Blue Angel is a film directed by Josef von Sternberg in 1930, based on Heinrich Mann's novel Professor Unrat. The film is considered to be the first major German sound film and it brought world fame to actress Marlene Dietrich...

(The Blue Angel); premiering on April 1, 1930, it was directed by Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg — born Jonas Sternberg — was an Austrian-American film director. He is particularly noted for his distinctive mise en scène, use of lighting and soft lens, and seven-film collaboration with actress Marlene Dietrich.-Youth:Von Sternberg was born Jonas Sternberg to a Jewish...

 in both German and English versions for Berlin's UFA
Universum Film AG
Universum Film AG, better known as UFA or Ufa, is a film company that was the principal film studio in Germany, home of the German film industry during the Weimar Republic and through World War II, and a major force in world cinema from 1917 to 1945...

 studio. The first American talkie to be widely honored was All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Lewis Milestone
Lewis Milestone
Lewis Milestone was a Russian-American motion picture director. He is known for directing Two Arabian Knights and All Quiet on the Western Front , both of which received Academy Awards for Best Director...

, which premiered April 21. The other internationally acclaimed sound drama of the year was Westfront 1918
Westfront 1918
Westfront 1918 is a German film, set mostly in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I. It was directed in 1930 by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, from the novel Vier von der Infanterie by Ernst Johannsen, and deals with the impact of the war on a group of infantrymen...

, directed by G. W. Pabst for Nero-Film of Berlin. Historian Anton Kaes points to it as an example of "the new verisimilitude [that] rendered silent cinema's former emphasis on the hypnotic gaze and the symbolism of light and shadow, as well as its preference for allegorical characters, anachronistic." Cultural historians consider the French L'Âge d'Or
L'Âge d'Or
L'Âge d'or is a 1930 surrealist film directed by Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel and written by him and Salvador Dalí.The film began as a second collaboration with Dalí, but, by the time the film went into production, Buñuel and Dalí had had a falling-out, and so Dalí actually had nothing to do with...

, directed by Luis Buñuel
Luis Buñuel
Luis Buñuel Portolés was a Spanish-born filmmaker — later a naturalized citizen of Mexico — who worked in Spain, Mexico, France and the US..-Early years:...

, which appeared late in 1930, to be of great aesthetic import; at the time, its erotic, blasphemous, anti-bourgeois content caused a scandal. Swiftly banned by Paris police chief Jean Chiappe
Jean Chiappe
Jean Baptiste Pascal Eugène Chiappe was a high-ranking French civil servant.Chiappe was director of the Sûreté générale in the 1920s. He was subsequently given the post of Préfet de police in the 1930s, in which role he was very popular...

, it was unavailable for fifty years. The earliest sound movie now acknowledged by most film historians as a masterpiece is Nero-Film's M
M (1931 film)
M is a 1931 German drama-thriller directed by Fritz Lang and written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou. It was Lang's first sound film, although he had directed more than a dozen films previously....

, directed by Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

, which premiered May 11, 1931. As described by Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.Ebert is known for his film review column and for the television programs Sneak Previews, At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert and The...

, "Many early talkies felt they had to talk all the time, but Lang allows his camera to prowl through the streets and dives, providing a rat's-eye view."

Cinematic form

"Talking film is as little needed as a singing book." Such was the blunt proclamation of critic Viktor Shklovsky
Viktor Shklovsky
Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky was a Russian and Soviet critic, writer, and pamphleteer.-Life:...

, one of the leaders of the Russian formalist
Russian formalism
Russian formalism was an influential school of literary criticism in Russia from the 1910s to the 1930s. It includes the work of a number of highly influential Russian and Soviet scholars such as Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Grigory Vinokur who...

 movement, in 1927. While some regarded sound as irreconcilable with film art, others saw it as opening a new field of creative opportunity. The following year, a group of Soviet filmmakers, including Sergei Eisenstein
Sergei Eisenstein
Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein , né Eizenshtein, was a pioneering Soviet Russian film director and film theorist, often considered to be the "Father of Montage"...

, proclaimed that the use of image and sound in juxtaposition, the so-called contrapuntal method, would raise the cinema to "unprecedented power and cultural height. Such a method for constructing the sound-film will not confine it to a national market, as must happen with the photographing of plays, but will give a greater possibility than ever before for the circulation throughout the world of a filmically expressed idea." So far as one segment of the audience was concerned, however, the introduction of sound brought a virtual end to such circulation: Elizabeth C. Hamilton writes, "Silent films offered people who were deaf a rare opportunity to participate in a public discourse, cinema, on equal terms with hearing people. The emergence of sound film effectively separated deaf from hearing audience members once again."
On March 12, 1929, the first feature-length talking picture made in Germany had its premiere. The inaugural Tobis Filmkunst production, it was not a drama, but a documentary sponsored by a shipping line: Melodie der Welt (Melody of the World), directed by Walter Ruttmann
Walter Ruttmann
Walter Ruttmann was a German film director and along with Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling was an early German practitioner of experimental film....

. This was also perhaps the first feature film anywhere to significantly explore the artistic possibilities of joining the motion picture with recorded sound. As described by scholar William Moritz, the movie is "intricate, dynamic, fast-paced ... juxtapos[ing] similar cultural habits from countries around the world, with a superb orchestral score ... and many synchronized sound effects." Composer Lou Lichtveld
Lou Lichtveld
Lodewijk 'Lou' Lichtveld was a Surinamese politician, playwright, and poet who wrote under the pseudonym "Albert Helman" in the Netherlands....

 was among a number of contemporary artists struck by the film: "Melodie der Welt became the first important sound documentary, the first in which musical and unmusical sounds were composed into a single unit and in which image and sound are controlled by one and the same impulse." Melodie der Welt was a direct influence on the industrial film
Sponsored film
Sponsored film, or ephemeral film, as defined by film archivist Rick Prelinger, is film made by a particular sponsor for a specific purpose other than as a work of art: the films were designed to serve a specific pragmatic purpose for a limited time...

 Philips Radio (1931), directed by Dutch avant-garde filmmaker Joris Ivens
Joris Ivens
Joris Ivens was a Dutch documentary filmmaker and committed communist.-Early life and career:...

 and scored by Lichtveld, who described its audiovisual aims:

To render the half-musical impressions of factory sounds in a complex audio world that moved from absolute music to the purely documentary noises of nature. In this film every intermediate stage can be found: such as the movement of the machine interpreted by the music, the noises of the machine dominating the musical background, the music itself is the documentary, and those scenes where the pure sound of the machine goes solo.

Many similar experiments were pursued by Dziga Vertov in his 1931 Entuziazm and by Chaplin in Modern Times, a half-decade later.

A few innovative commercial directors immediately saw the ways in which sound could be employed as an integral part of cinematic storytelling, beyond the obvious function of recording speech. In Blackmail, Hitchcock manipulated the reproduction of a character's monologue so the word "knife" would leap out from a blurry stream of sound, reflecting the subjective impression of the protagonist, who is desperate to conceal her involvement in a fatal stabbing. In his first film, the Paramount Applause
Applause (film)
Applause is a 1929 black-and-white backstage musical film, shot during the early years of sound films. It is very notable as one of the few films of its time to break free from the restrictions of sound technology. Based on a novel by Beth Brown, the film was staged and directed by Rouben...

(1929), Rouben Mamoulian
Rouben Mamoulian
Rouben Mamoulian was an Armenian-American film and theatre director.-Biography:Born in Tbilisi, Georgia to an Armenian family, Rouben relocated to England and started directing plays in London in 1922...

 created the illusion of acoustic depth by varying the volume of ambient sound in proportion to the distance of shots. At a certain point, Mamoulian wanted the audience to hear one character singing at the same time as another prays; according to the director, "They said we couldn't record the two things—the song and the prayer—on one mike and one channel. So I said to the sound man, 'Why not use two mikes and two channels and combine the two tracks in printing?'" Such methods would eventually become standard procedure in popular filmmaking.

One of the first commercial films to take full advantage of the new opportunities provided by recorded sound was Le Million
Le Million
Le Million is a 1931 French musical comedy film directed by René Clair. The story was adapted by Clair from a play by Georges Berr and Marcel Guillemand.-Plot:...

, directed by René Clair
René Clair
René Clair born René-Lucien Chomette, was a French filmmaker.-Biography:He was born in Paris and grew up in the Les Halles quarter. He attended the Lycée Montaigne and the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. During World War I, he served as an ambulance driver. After the war, he started a career as a journalist...

 and produced by Tobis's French division. Premiering in Paris in April 1931 and New York a month later, the picture was both a critical and popular success. A musical comedy with a barebones plot, it is memorable for its formal accomplishments, in particular, its emphatically artificial treatment of sound. As described by scholar Donald Crafton,

Le Million never lets us forget that the acoustic component is as much a construction as the whitewashed sets. [It] replaced dialogue with actors singing and talking in rhyming couplets. Clair created teasing confusions between on- and off-screen sound. He also experimented with asynchronous audio tricks, as in the famous scene in which a chase after a coat is synched to the cheers of an invisible football (or rugby) crowd.

These and similar techniques became part of the vocabulary of the sound comedy film, though as special effects and "color", not as the basis for the kind of comprehensive, non-naturalistic
Naturalism (literature)
Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from the 1880s to 1940s that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character...

 design achieved by Clair. Outside of the comedic field, the sort of bold play with sound exemplified by Melodie der Welt and Le Million would be pursued very rarely in commercial production. Hollywood, in particular, incorporated sound into a reliable system of genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

-based moviemaking, in which the formal possibilities of the new medium were subordinated to the traditional goals of star affirmation and straightforward storytelling. As accurately predicted in 1928 by Frank Woods
Frank E. Woods
Frank E. Woods was an American screenwriter of the silent era. He wrote for 90 films between 1908 and 1925. Woods was also a pioneering film reviewer. His contributions to film criticism are discussed in the documentary, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. He was also...

, secretary of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures...

, "The talking pictures of the future will follow the general line of treatment heretofore developed by the silent drama.... The talking scenes will require different handling, but the general construction of the story will be much the same."

See also

  • History of film
    History of film
    The history of film is the historical development of the medium known variously as cinema, motion pictures, film, or the movies.The history of film spans over 100 years, from the latter part of the 19th century to the present day...

  • Sound stage
    Sound stage
    In common usage, a sound stage is a soundproof, hangar-like structure, building, or room, used for the production of theatrical filmmaking and television production, usually located on a secure movie studio property.-Overview:...

  • Film soundtrack

:Category:Film sound production for articles concerning the development of cinematic sound recording
  • Part-talkie
    A part-talkie is a partly, and most often primarily, silent film which includes one or more synchronous sound sequences with audible dialog or singing. During the silent portions lines of dialog are presented as "titles" -- printed text briefly filling the screen -- and the soundtrack is used only...

  • List of film sound systems


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    The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is a reference book written by film critic David Thomson and originally published by Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd in 1975 under the title "Biographical Dictionary of Cinema." Organized by personality, it's an exhaustive inventory of those involved in...

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External links

Historical writings

Historical films

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