Moving Pictures That Talk - Part 3:
How You Gonna' Keep 'Em Down On The Farm After They've Seen Paree?
By Mark Ulano, C.A.S....To me the most remarkable thing about this union [of talking machines and cinematography] is the speed and completeness with which it has been accomplished. Until two or three years ago the high contracting parties were completely aloof from one another, and although from time to time there were rumours of an engagement, it was not until quite recently that the mating took place. Moreover, it would seem that although the marriage appears to have been arranged in America, there is not the remotest likelihood of a divorce...
Cecil M. Hepworth - British Cinema Pioneer 1_Who was really first to create motion pictures with sync sound? It depends on where you look, who you believe and what you consider to be successful sound for film.
By the end of the 1890's, developments in motion picture business structures and technology had started to escalate geometrically. This was especially true in America. Split-, One- and Two-Reelers were the rule. The time of storytelling and film stars was being born and the love affair with the movies was beginning to transition from a novelty into a habit.
During this period (1899 to 1912), most of the film industry's growing pains had to do with the software-centric second generation of corporate leadership (the showmen) taking over from the hardware-centric first generation (the machine age industrialists). A patent holding monopoly had been formed in 1908, composed of the Edison and competing Biograph interests and their eight or ten licensees. These pioneering businesses laid aside their legal battles and pooled their patents so that all involved could go about the business of making money. However, if you wanted to legally produce, distribute or exhibit a motion picture in the United States, you had to pray that the trust would let you pay them the tariff for their permission, a permission which you probably couldn't get anyway. It was a very unruly time as independents would constantly evade The Trust and their private army of strong armed detectives and lawyers. The conflict was violent and expensive for all concerned as the vast ocean of unlimited profits began to wash ashore. They were fighting over what would soon be the third largest industry in the United States. Very few could imagine the size of the motherlode they had all tapped into.
The generational change of the industry's leadership began with breaking the "range war" mentality and iron fist control of the Motion Picture Patent Trust. Adolph Zukor began the thaw by getting his partner, Daniel Frohman, to convince Thomas Edison to break ranks with the other members of The Trust and to convince his colleagues to license Zukor for "Famous Players in Famous Plays", starting with the 4-reeler, THE Plays", starting with the 4-reeler, The Prisoner of Zenda (1912) produced for the enormous sum of seven thousand dollars and directed by Edwin S. Porter of The Great Train Robbery fame.2 By 1915, The Trust was essentially gone, Griffith had made The Birth of a Nation and the race was on to show feature films and build the studio system of the twenties through the fifties. "...in the heyday of the Talking Picture Play, about 1908 to 1912, troupes, generally consisting of two men and a woman, would tour theater circuits with several films for which they had rehearsed dialogue for all the roles...Mogul-to-be Adolph Zukor at one time managed no fewer than twenty-two such talking trios, which he called Humanuva Troupes."3 George Donald Pasquella
Zukor & his contemporaries, Laemmle, Goldwyn, Lasky, The Warners, etc. built the system brick by brick. Along the way they each flirted with the potential for sound motion pictures but like the technology itself, synchronization was a problem. The sound film was not mature enough at the time of their preliminary interests, and those who had dived in, including the great Edison, had lost a lot of money. By the time the technology was dependable, the moguls had become gun-shy and were no longer interested as the following quote expresses.
"What is the future for phono-motion-pictures? If the truth be told it is not very promising. The phono-moving-picture will narrow the market for the products of a studio to a degree which apparently has not yet been appreciated. The popularity of a picture-play is world-wide because it recognizes no frontier of language; it appeals to the eye, and the message of vision is universal. Directly the spoken word is harnessed to movement the lingual barrier arises, case of the drama, to those conversant with the tongue in which it is rendered. To obtain the world-wide sale of a talking moving-picture it will be imperative to reproduce the subject in the language of each market-an impossible, uneconomic undertaking. For this reason it would appear as if this development of fertile thought is doomed to severely restricted application." 4 _
It wasn't until they stood atop the mountain high and noticed that their boundless profits were slipping (1927-28) that they again turned towards the commercially novel technology of sound films with their backs to the wall and their teeth bared. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Getting back to 1899, the story moves for a while (although not exclusively) to the European continent where a whole lotta talk about talking pictures was going on.
At the turn of the century, other than live accompaniment of dialogue, music and effects (see sidebar), the quest for solving the challenge of sound for film traveled along 2 parallel paths: 1. Linking film motion to the phonograph. 2. Sound on film (subject for a later article).
The use of the phonograph, as the first technology aggressively applied to the problem, lands broadly in one of three methods, i.e., post-sync dubbing, mouthing and miming to playback of a pre-recorded phonograph record or simultaneous live recording of image and sound.All of these methods shared the same technical obstacles of short recording times available, insufficient amplification and the problem of synchronization during both recording and playback.
In the long run, amplification proved to be the most difficult challenge. So while De Forest and his brethren stewed in the primordial soup of light bulbs and the "Edison Effect", our other inventor friends pursued synchronization with the phonograph. This was done in three areas: 1. Unitary Machines - synchronous motors with common mains power or mechanically linked shafts. 2. Dependent Machines - cameras & projectors slaving to constant speed phonographs). 3. Dial-Regulated - this involved rheostats, clutches and indicators.5
Our story picks up with a gentleman named Auguste Baron. A tragic figure really, Baron was to take the first of his 3 French film sound patents in 1896 although his reduction to practice at this date is un-substantiated. He was so inspired by the Lumiere's success with the cinèmatographe that he sank his personal fortune of 200,000 Francs in to a series of attempts to make sound pictures work. Baron's soon-to-be assistant, Félix Mesguisch (formerly of the Lumiere's employ), published his own memoirs in 1933 called Tour de Manivvelle, and in them he clearly articulates their joint accomplishments. By 1897-98 when the second of Baron's 3 French patents were granted, Mesguisch describes several films of singing, dancing and talking produced by him and his former boss. These were produced with a device slaving the camera and the projector, electrically, to the phonograph. The tragedy was that along with his quickly dissolving personal fortune, Baron+s eyesight began to fail and at the end of 1899, while working on creating stereoscopic (3-D) sync sound motion pictures, Baron went completely blind. He died penniless and unrecognized in 1938 in an institution for the aged (he was 83). The irony of this being the same year that the much honored Mssr. Mèlies also passes away.6
Baron's work potentially lays fair claim to the first reduction to practice of the art of live recorded synchronous film sound. Unfortunately his activity occurred before the knowledge of how to identically mold duplicates of a master wax cylinder recording, severely inhibiting the commercial potential of his process because only the fragile, original recording would play back synchronously. This duplication technology wouldn't arrive until 1902 7, too late for Baron.
Jacques Ducom gives extensive testimony to the voluminous activity in France at this time. He describes a talking picture presentation at the Olympia Theatre in Paris around 1898 using "individual telephone receivers" for each of the audience members.8 Ducom and French film historian George Sadoul9 both comment on Charles Pathé's and Ferdinand Zecca's film sound experiments in 1899. A man named Gariel obtains a French patent on March 31, 1900, for "combining in the same cinematagraphic apparatus the mechanisms for recording and reproducing the words used in the phonograph".10 Little more is known about Gariel.
An association of three important inventors, C.F. Dussaud, G.E. Jaubert and L.A. Berton begins in 1897. Prior to 1897 Dussaud had devised a way to link twelve discreet phonographs, a prehistoric multitrack that went by the name Macrophonograph. Dussaud then hooked up, figuratively and literally with Jaubert and Berton and their motion picture device, resulting in the Cinemacrophonograph, patented on January 1, 1898. Looking for further financing this trio connect with an industrialist, Mssr. Eugène Pereire, who becomes entranced with Dussaud's 13-headed beast and believes it will become a financial success. He puts up the money for a booth at the Paris Exposition of 1900 and thus the Phonorama was born.11 Our friend Fèlix Mesguisch, freshly unemployed from the now blind Auguste Baron and formerly of the Lumières, is hired to shoot 3 films for the Phonorama. He makes them on maritime life of Marseilles, a Paris street scene and a singer performing with an orchestral accompaniment. One electrical driven shaft was the motive power for the Camera and 12 phonographs(!) to guarantee synchronization. Mesguisch described the audience viewing the films while listening to the combined synchronous sounds of 12 phonographs through individual sets of earphones.
"In filming the singer's performance, some of the phonographs were placed on stage, while others were located in the orchestra. Subsequently, the films were colored by hand at the Gaumont studios, so that Phonorama was actually a presentation of [discreet multitrack] sound films in color!"12 Just down the aisle, also at the Paris Exposition, The Phono-Cinema Theatre was having its wildly successful debut.13
In our next article we will visit the British and American efforts with a highlight on the Cameraphone of Norton, Whitman and Fitch.
4. See Moving Pictures: How They are Made and Worked by Frederick A. Talbot 1923 second edition Philadelphia and London. The first edition of this work was published in 1912 and shows no hint of this pessimism. The change of attitude reflects the industry-wide conventional wisdom.
Part 4 -->
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