The Sound Era - Talking Pictures and Sound Film Technology

Ever since the invention of first film techniques, inventors from all around the world strived to create modern systems that could easily record, edit and playback video and audio recordings. Various types of sound devices were created during the first few decades of film emergence, but very few of them managed to reach the stage of maturity that would be acceptable by film industry or film enthusiasts. One of the most famous early designs of movie sound was created by American inventor and minister Charles Taze Russell who created lengthy film called “The Photo-Drama of Creation” that was first to successfully synchronize film scenes with music and dialog. He managed to achieve this by synchronizing movie playback with independent phonograph that was reproducing pre-recorded sound on wax cylinder.

Photograph demonstrating Vitaphone projection system

The era of sound films started with the introduction of Vitaphone, sound-on-disc system that was developed by Western Electric’ Bell Laboratories in New York City, and eventually bought by Warner Brothers in 1925. The first major success of this camera and sound system was “Don Juan”, which featured synchronized symphonic orchestra music score, sound effects, but it did not have voice track. Even though Don Juan was very popular, it did not manage to recoup its high production cost. However, Warner Bros. managed to find its success with their next feature.

First widespread success of sound movies happened with the late 1927 release of Warner’s “The Jazz Singer”, 89-minute long musical film that featured synchronized dialogue and music. It immediately broke the box-office records in United States, elevated Warner Bros. as one of the major US film studios in the New York, and started the revolution of “talkies” movies. Shortly after success of The Jazz Singer, Warner Bros and majority of other studios moved their bases of operation into West Coast, establishing the era of Hollywood.

Poster for movie Show Girl in Hollywood

After the success of initial Hollywood sound movies, entire world slowly started adopting this this new age of storytelling. By 1929 all Hollywood movies featured synchronized voice, effect and music tracks, but outside of America, “talkies” arrived few years of decades after. Because of the lead that Hollywood had over all other film industries, they managed to place firm hold over popular movie culture of the 1st half of 20th century. Stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, and Shirley Temple promoted sound movies and stylish Hollywood production all across the world. As years went on, filmmakers and actors started extracting more and more from their simple sound setups, enabling creation of fantastic movies that moved the limits of possible. This rise in sound quality and overall changes in the way movies were being produced can be seen in Alfred Hitchcock with Blackmail (first British sound film), Hollywood musicals of 1930s, rise of the Universal Pictures gothic horror films Frankenstein and Dracula, 1933 monster film King Kong, gangster movies, comedies, animated films and cult classics such as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with The Wind. All of them were created before the start of WW2, which moved filmmaking into the era of war propaganda, and new genres that were fueled by classics such as Citizen Kane (1941), Bambi (1942), Casablanca (1942), It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and others.

US Window Card for Blackmail featuring Anny Ondra
Publicity photograph for the film Alam Ara featuring star Zubeida
Phonofilm - Newspaper advertisement
Publicity photograph for movie
Poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt
Photoplay Cover featuring star Norma Talmadge
Don Juan Poster
Publicity photograph for the filmThe Barker