By Joseph Iemma
If you’re not moving forward, then you’re moving backward. Chances are, there is someone else out there developing the next “super product” that will revolutionize the movie industry. Just ask Hollywood; actually, just ask Warner Brothers Production Studios they’re the ones who brought sound to movies, and forever changed the world of cinema as we know it.
Before I begin, let me take you back to the ‘Roaring Twenties.’ The first World War had just ended, our boys were back home, and our women were out of the factories, no longer manufacturing ammunition, or any other kind of weapon for that matter. It was time to relax, or, as President Warren G. Harding would say, it was a “return to normalcy.”
During the 1920s, Americans would attend the theatre to see a movie “nearly three times a week,” according to Emily Thompson, a history professor at Princeton University. Compared to the types of movies that premiere today, there was one significant difference in the movies that premiered in 1927; they were silent. Charlie Chaplin was the premier actor in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, and he did not speak in most of his movies. In fact, a majority of his movies lasted no more than ten minutes.
For silent films, the only sounds heard while these movies ran, was the sound of the band that played in a pit in front of the screen. Oh, and the crowd. A crowd so naïve and new to movies, that “[it] would get up and run for cover when a train was coming their direction on the screen because they thought it was real!” said Dan Cox, a respected professor of the Media Arts department who has worked at WCWP radio for nearly thirty years.
The transition from silent film, to a movie with sound was seamless; a perfect fit, and one that revolutionized the movie industry. May I begin with Disney’s “Frozen”? Granted, “Frozen” is an animation-based film, however, would animation be as popular as it is today if there was no sound to this films?
Just to put things further into perspective, sound has opened the door for a totally different type of actor; one that does not require a physical onscreen appearance, just his or her voice. You no longer need to ‘look’ the part to be in a movie. Technically, you don’t need to act the part either (although some would disagree). All one needs in essence, is a very, very good voice over, and that’s it.
Just imagine Seth McFarlan’s “Ted 2” without sound; it’s unfathomable. The truth of the matter is, Hollywood calls upon a much more talented actor than they did nearly a century ago. Acting ‘in character’
in front of a camera has taken on a whole new meaning, partly because now, the storyline is in the words, not just the action.
Even soundtracks and special effects play a bigger role now than they ever have before. Perhaps 50 years ago sound still played a complementary role to a film. However, now you can win an award off it. The money doesn’t stop there in both a literal and figurative tense.
First off, the movie “Pitch Perfect” doesn’t exist without sound in cinema, and it’s because of sound in movies that ticket prices have skyrocketed since 1927. The price to view a silent movie was barely a nickel back then, and according to a National Research Poll, it costs about $10 to watch a movie. That’s an increase by two hundred fold!
So next time you see a movie and enjoy it, thank the Warner Brothers, not just for making the movie, but for investing sound in movies, when everyone else said sound “was not needed.” They thought otherwise and took the initiative.
On behalf of the Pioneer, and LIU Post, thank you Harry, Al, Sam, and Jack Warner. I think I’ll see a movie tonight.