The History of Film: Part 4 - The Sound Era



Clark Gable & Vivien Leigh.


In this four part series, The History of Film, we have already looked at early film, however, up till now we have missed one giant element of any movie, sound. If you remember back from part two, early films used live musicians to play instrumental music over the film, sometimes employing people to make sound effects throughout the movie. This obviously left much to be desired, but it wasn't until 1926 when Warner Brothers Studios made history by use synchronized sound within film plates of some of their features. The following year, dialogue was added to portions of the movie "The Jazz Singer". Finally, in 1928, the Warner Brothers released "The Lights of New York," the first full all-synchronized feature length film. By 1930 the American film industry was almost entirely "talkie", giving birth to the next twenty years of movie production, widely considered the "Golden Age" of American film.

With the introduction of full-length synchronized movies the film industry was a hit, and the star-status of people such as Clark Gable and Shirley Temple began to take form. In fact, the film industry was growing so quickly, and becoming such a core element of people's lives that it was able to survive during the Great Depression. It was during this period that "studio systems" were created. Studio systems are where movies are shot primarily on studio lots, with the studio having control of all aspects of creation and distribution of the film, as well as which theatres would be allowed to show it.

Although North America was quick to adopt synchronized sound, European productions moved much more slowly in the adoption of this new technology as a result of economic hardships felt in the aftermath of World War One.

The early 1940s saw, for obvious reasons, a surge of war-related movies, many of which to this day are considered some of the greatest movies of all time. However, by the late 1940s, the movie industry was threatened by the birth of a new entertainment vehicle, the television. Some theatres saw their attendance plummet and were forced to close. By the mid 1950s the studios' control over distribution as well as the theatres themselves drastically declined, along with movie attendance. But the productions, while declining in numbers, did not decline in bombastics. The late 1950s saw a surge in big budget, huge cast movies, such as Ben-Hur and other historical or biblical pieces.

The 1960s saw a further decline in the old Hollywood studio systems. Movies began to be made on location, including overseas, which resuscitated the European film industry as the demand for foreign made content grew.

With the start of the 1970s began what is commonly considered the "Modern Era" of film-making, or the "New Hollywood Era." Although used by European studios for over a decade, American movies began to include greater amounts of "adult" content, including graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and profanity. In addition, the 1970s saw the beginnings of technological advances in special effects and computer generated images in products.

These technological advances further developed in the 1980s giving rise to the "blockbuster" as well as increased use of sequels. As well, the advent of the VCR meant that watching movies at home was now possible, an idea that the film industry initially rejected, trying in vain to have home video use seen as copyright infringement. Eventually, however, they gave way and used the releases of videos as a second financial stream, much as they are beginning to do today with the internet. In today's age of globalism, not only has the documentary become a viable commercial option, but so too has independent and low budget films.

Its anybody's guess where the film industry will head next, but if the last century has been any indication, amazing creations of technology and film are waiting just around the corner.

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