Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Creeping Talkie

One of the interesting things about reading old New Yorker magazines is observing the slow approach of the talking film.

Film reviews from 1926 didn't mention sound-films at all, complaining mainly about the people who loudly repeat captions while in the theater (proving that some things never change). In 1927 the critic was thrilled with "The Jazz Singer," which relied on the Vitaphone for sound (which would soon be obsolete) but he was not happy with other films that used the same method: too loud and -- due to the problems with syncing sound to video -- usually used in unimportant scenes.

Now, in the June 23, 1928 issue, he admits that talkies just might not be a fad:
Movies are going more and more talkie and people who make statements about the infant industry say that in five years there will be no silent films at all. I recommend that gentlemen concerned with pictures take it easy. For about half its length "The Lion and The Mouse" indulges itself in dialogue and while it does, action is at a stand-still, as two characters stand woodenly by the camera and say things, or talk in close-up. Maybe the two mediums of the stage and screen can be combined, but there has been very little to point the way... We are now getting all the faults of the speaking film. Perhaps one of these days we will begin to see some advantages.
With the benefit of hindsight we know that the film critic doesn't have long to wait. A smash hit talkie will be along in July ("Lights of New York"). By 1929 the talking films will have become the norm, leaving critics to argue instead about colour, or Panavision, or HD.

It's nice to see a snarky critic get it wrong, now and then.


Anonymous said...

As men, we are extremely resistant to change. Witness what happened with mobile phones in our times!

Mahatma Gandhi's quote:
"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win", comes to mind. :-)

So how long did the great transformation take? 2 more years?

Anonymous said...

And after you win, EVERYONE treats it as self-evidently true. :-)

Adam Thornton said...

Of course we all know that blu-ray DVDs, web 2.0, and HD cinema never worked out, right?