Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unspeakable! The Talkies Are Here To Stay

Throughout the run of The New Yorker magazine, starting in February 1925, I've been following the transition from silent films to talkies. At first the articles about "talking pictures" highlighted the unsuccessful technological advances, while movie reviewers continued to mention the title cards and orchestras of the still-popular silent films.

Then along came "The Jazz Singer," and The New Yorker started really adjusting to the idea that talking pictures were here to stay. Now, in June 1, 1929, the tone is one of complete resignation. This week's "A Reporter at Large" column, written by "Jean-Jacques," starts this way:
There persists a quaint notion amongst no small number of the populace that the talkies will soon pass. "I've never seen anybody yet who liked them," the expression goes, and with it the vague hope this will confute producers and bring back silent pictures. The hope is futile. That noble animal, the horse, is no more dead than silent pictures. Unspeakable as most of the talkies are, they are able to speak and they are here to stay. There's nothing left to do but make the best of it, no matter how unpalatable the superlative may seem in such connection.
The rest of the column describes the problems inherent with making a talking picture -- the placement of recording equipment, the construction of soundproof stages, the actors who need to actually learn their lines. It ends by suggesting that the people most disturbed by talking pictures were the producers, who suddenly found it VERY difficult to use editing and re-takes to totally change the film in post production; when film married sound it suddenly became much harder to edit it.

Poor producers.

1 comment:

Gary said...

“Singing In The Rain” made endless, merciless fun about how some silent actors’ careers came to an end when they were required to speak. And, yes, sometimes the microphones were hard to place (one scene made it seem like wearing an FBI wire).

My father remembered when silent movies were the only movies, and how the original “Jazz Singer” talkie changed everything. I guess Jean-Jacques is right; talkies are “hear” to stay!

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille…