Re: Film firsts / earliest human voice in feature film

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films,alt.movies.silent
Date: Thursday, March 12, 1998 7:13 AM

Marvin Jones wrote in message
<2CFE2FE60074DBA6.9CAEB763B696BD9C.88493F9787A7B9DE@librar t>…
>>Sometimes there can be no debate. Vast contemporary publicity makes clear
>>that the first feature-length film with synchronized speech was "The Jazz
>>Singer." You might have meant that NOTHING that goes unpublicized can ever
>>be (certain of having been) first, yet that's not so, either.
>Actually, I believe there WAS an earlier feature with dialog, sometime
>around 1921. And of course there were many, many talking shorts before
>The Jazz Singer.

You may be thinking of the lecture-type prologue to the silent feature "Dream Street." D.W. Griffith delivers what he states are "a few words about the play you are about to see." This scarcely qualifies as being integral to the movie, and typically was excluded from showings. It might be more accurate to say that the footage took the place of a theater manager telling you about the film before it was shown; it did not replace dialogue-intertitles with the human voice.

We can narrow our examination of films that could have been the first feature film to have synchronized speech by considering when it was that the equipment was available that could exhibit such films. Although we know that among Edison's earliest film inventions were devices that played sound from a phonograph while the picture moved, such devices were confined to use by single patrons standing at a peepbox, or to small groups in a backroom-size area. Amplification was a largely-undeveloped science. Not until the early 1920s did equipment exist which could fill a picture-palace-size auditorium with sound, so not until then should we look to find a feature-length film with recorded sound (either with or without speech).

David Hayes


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