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One may characterize current film industry as extremely profitable and based on different technological, artistic and cultural solutions, which impacted its formation. For over a hundred years, the specialists in different aspects of movie creation have been developing new approaches in order to produce revolutionary experiences on the audience. One of such aspects is sound, which is now an important part of the process of merging the viewer with the process performed on the screen. Modern movie theaters are full with cutting edge sound technology systems producing different sound effects, but the situation was drastically different in the past. At the same time, there were certain factors in the history of films, which were the result of the social trends stimulating the development of sound. This paper investigates the history and the development of the technical aspects of sound in the cinema industry and characterizes different trends present during the development of this technology. The performed investigation is important for understanding the critical points and the major trends of the history of the cinema and is useful for future professionals in this field.
The History of Sound in Motion Pictures
It may be a surprise for the majority of the public going to the movie theatres, but some century ago the situation with picture and sound in films was different. One of the major reasons for this difference is the technological progress, which turned silent and black-and-white movies of the 19th century into modern motion pictures filled with 3D and digital surround sound. The historical process of these changes took a significant amount of time starting from silent films, films accompanied with live music, the first pictures with synchronized sound dialogue and soundtrack.
The beginning of the history of sound in movies may be characterized in a fairly simple way as there was no sound recording and thus sound reproduction during the film exhibitions. Therefore, it all started with silent films, which allowed presenting the captured pictures in some cases provided with subtitles presenting the dialogues. At the same time, scholars claim that at that time there we specific problems of movie industries connected with sound and music because the owners of the theatres had to hire musicians for live simultaneous play. They were not skilled in the art of movie-making and music, but just owned the rights for reproduction, which is why often they spoiled the show by “engaging a musician who would not be tolerated in a third-rate taproom”. Therefore, the processes of film-making and sound reproduction during the shows were completely independent and lacked standardization or control from the side of film companies. Realizing the problem, film companies started issuing instructions for theater musicians assisting them in mastering the art of music in films at the developmental stage. At the same time, the actual solutions provided with the films differed. For instance, D. W. Griffin, a powerful figure in the industry in 1914, created impressive scores created in assistance with composers of that time. At the same time, it was often more simple for movie studios to release special cue sheets breaking the films in parts and associating specific music with them. Moreover, music publishers issued specific “musical selections”, which were variations of the suggested themes for each part of a movie making it easier for musicians to adapt to the changing plot of the story. One of the attempts of creating an automated process of sound score reproduction were special music machines, but they often lacked synchronization. In these cases, the movie exhibitors hired human operators for fixing the problems during the play. However, the overall period of silent movies can be characterized as a struggle for having the desired sound. This struggle was connected with the attempts of making live and suitable high-quality music reproduction and compensation of voiced dialogues with the written text.
Despite those, who showed movies, did not think about the adequate sound recording and reproduction, the inventors such as Edison were obsessed with this idea. One of the major problems at that time was insufficient loudness and synchronization of the picture and sound because sound and visuals were recorded separately using different machines. Surprisingly, there was also a social trend rejecting sounds in the movies of the early 20th century. For instance, Thompson claims that when the individuals working for a telephone company invented a new technology of sound recording, it was rejected in Hollywood for the reason “Who needs sound?” However, the owners of Warner Bros. Company decided that they can use the technology in order to introduce their individual sound score to the films of the studio. This was the starting point for the sound to enter the movie area as an organic element. Initially, such movies were called “Vitaphone”, which is “the sound of life”, with the first romantic picture Don Juan presented in 1926. Basically, this technology was a revolution of the 1920s allowing presenting a synchronized sound dialogue to the audience of movie theatres. As a result, companies that rejected the newly emerged sound technology faced with the need for change of their attitude to sound in motion pictures. Furthermore, some companies as RCA and Disney were interested in the creation of a stereo system capable of recording and reproducing stereo sound in their films. The technology reached its peak in 1952 when Fred Waller's Hi-Fidelity stereo sound Cinerama system was presented in New York. Therefore, one can see that public was gradually captivated by the perspective of having high-quality sound presenting not only the actor’s voices but using the music as an intensifier. Lastly, modern technological solutions allow recording and creating any type of the sound and music used in wide range of motion pictures. As a result, modern cinema audience can experience a tremendous variety of sounds ranging from ordinary voices and casual sound textures to music orchestras, space explosions and sounds of another universe. Consequently, despite initially the perspective of having sound in films was rejected and associated with different technical problems its further development was a huge benefit for the industry and audience.
Summarizing the presented information, the paper concludes that the history of sound in the film industry is associated with different issues leading from its rejection to worldwide acceptance. Initially, films were silent and despite the inventors wanted to have sounds in the movies the film studies rejected this perspective because of the social trends. Moreover, film exhibitors had problems when supplying their shows with poor-qualified musicians or technical appliances having problems with synchronization. However, there were some companies in Hollywood, which aimed at having sounds for presenting the music of their own studio in their films. This was the most critical factor for the initiative of the inventors to be accepted and widely introduced in the cinema industry. Gradually, the public wanted more sound and music, which made film studios researching sound technologies and introducing synchronized dialogues, stereo sound, and hi-fidelity sound and other. Lastly, the present time technical solutions allowed creating sound systems capable of setting the angle of sound attack at the viewer creating new experiences. Therefore, despite being initially rejected, the technology of sound in the movie industry allowed attracting and impressing large audiences and making the film studios more and more profitable.