Film Sound: De Forests ends the era of silent movies
It was at the 1900 Paris Exposition that the first public demonstration of sound and vision in a movie theatre took place. However, projecting volume into a large auditorium was difficult at a time when amplified public address systems did not yet exist, furthermore, the crude synchronization of sound and vision was simply a case of starting the movie projector and audio playback cylinder at the same moment and hoping for the best.
Low-key experimentation continued over the next two decades until in 1919, electrical engineer Lee Forest (1873-1961) developed the first sound-on-film technology: a system where a soundtrack “strip” was added to the movie film. Four years later on April 23, 1923, De Forest’s Phonofilms studio was responsible for the first public screening of a fully synchronized talking picture. A year later he made the first commercial dramatic by H. Manning Haynes and starring John Stuart and Joan Wyndham.
There was anxiety within Hollywood, however, that this new technology would threaten their dominant position at the heart of what was now a multi-million-dollar industry. Furthermore, a number of major Hollywood studios began developing their own competing, incompatible technologies.
It took the success in 1927 of The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland to prove that talking pictures could yield great profitability-even if this success was more down to its star, Al Jolson being one of America’s biggest celebrities than any public desire to experience synchronized sound and image. Nonetheless, the major studios gradually began to back the idea and by 1930 the era of the silent movie was all but over.