Monday, August 6, 2012

The birthday of movie sound

Posted By on August 6, 2012, 4:01 PM

Today marks a key cinematic anniversary: the premiere of the first sound movie feature. And it's probably not what you're thinking. ---

The October 1927 release of The Jazz Singer is hailed as the movie that forever shifted the course of movie history away from silent film to sound -- and while it was the first "talkie," it was not the first sound feature exhibited to the public. That recognition goes to another Warner Bros. feature from a year earlier: Don Juan, a tale of the legendary womanizer starring John Barrymore. Making use of the brand-new Vitaphone technology, Don Juan premiered in New York on Aug. 6, 1926 with synchronized sound effects and musical score by sound mixer George Groves, who later did the same work on The Jazz Singer. It was a huge production, with the cost a then-impressive $546,000 -- and as a result, something of a risk.

The program for the premiere did feature Vitaphone-synchronized filmed spoken remarks by Will Hays, president of the precursor to the MPAA. A New York Times review of the program by Mordaunt Hall the following day noted of the Hays remarks that "[t]here was no muffled utterance nor lisping in the course of the talk; it was the voice of Hays, and had any of his friends closed their eyes to his picture on the screen they would have immediately recognized the voice. Every syllable was audible and clear."

The review was particularly enthusiastic about the other short films that preceded the feature, including several operatic and symphonic performances. "Operatic favorites will be able to be seen and heard," gushed Hall, "and the genius of singers and musicians who have passed will still live."

The technical success of Don JuanĀ -- in addition to Warners' Vitaphone follow-up later in 1926, The Better 'OleĀ -- eventually gave Harry Warner enough confidence to finance the production of The Jazz Singer that would have sunk the studio if it had failed. So, happy birthday, movie sound. Look what Michael Bay has done to you.

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