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When Cinema Gained Synchronised Sound Was Anything Lost?

History of Cinema

The history of cinema extends to over a hundred years where it started off as a carnival novelty in the 19th century. As time passed however it changed from being a novelty form of entertainment to one that serves the masses with resounding effects on arts, culture & politics

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Rudolf Arnheim’s philosophy on visual arts describes an image as, “A film image is definitely bounded by its margins. Only what appears within these margins is visible, and therefore the film artist is forced – has the opportunity – to make a selection from the infinity of life.” The frame permits artistic effects that have both dramatic/ narrative function and pictorial function. The dramatic/ narrative function brings out the significance and importance of detail and excludes unimportant things, it also helps create the possibility of surprise through changes in the frame. The pictorial function helps create a good balance relation between image, sound and other lines and directions.

“In a good film image, all lines and other directions stand in well-balanced relation to one another and to the margins…if the screen were infinitely large, there could be no appropriate organization of the surface”. (Chion, 1999, p.17)

André Bazin philosophy on the picture frame and the screen image suggests that the frame of a painting encloses a space, the orientation of this frame is inwards, and it is a contemplative area which opens solely onto the interior of the painting. What is shown on screen to the audience is something that appears to be indefinitely prolonged into the universe. A picture frame is centripetal whereas the screen is centrifugal.

Furthermore, the cinema itself is described as a photographic image which is existentially linked to reality, it includes historically evolving and emerging realist conventions and styles as its spectatorship is conceived as active seeking founded on the ambiguity of the realist image.

Initially cinema was largely silent i.e. moving pictures were not integrated with sound and hence until 1923 most films were “silent” films. It must be noted however that these silent films were usually associated with live bands (for sound effects) & narrative commentary. According to Abel and Altman “these illustrated songs were meant to promote sheet music sales & were very successful as illustrated songs for famous movies could sell millions of copies” (2001, pp. 143–15). Illustrated songs started to die out with the birth of film & were used as fillers during intervals before eventually being phased out completely.

The silent era of film had made the popularity of films grow exponentially as by 1894 the world’s first Kinescope parlor had been built for screening films to large audiences. Furthermore mushroom growth had been seen across the world with motion picture companies popping up in America (notably “Mutco-scope”), France (notably Lumière) and the UK. Film techniques of using artificial light, seamlessly going to new scenes and giving credit to actors (to create movie stars) had also been developed which played a significant role in the development of the industry.

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The transition from silent to sound cinema

There were various means devised of adding sound on film such as the sound on film but all had major problems that aggravated some film audiences.

Proper synchronization however was an issue and would take trial and error which made the system very costly; however De Forest worked for many years to perfect this system. His technology was called the Phonofilm.

The voice or sound in a movie is generally overlooked in studies related to cinema; the role of sound is hyper audible when considering the transition of cinema from silent to sound. As narrated in stories about actors with failed voices and movies like Singing’ in the Rain, the evolution was an era of turmoil and confusion, where the right voice could very easily make or break careers. As stated by Crafton:

“Over the years the story has been retold so many times that it has become a kind of urban legend with the emphasis often on the effects of sound on individual actors—the great lover whose career was wrecked by a squeaky voice.” (Crafton, 1997, p.1)

While often defined as an abrupt change, the modification between silent and sound cinema was indeed more of a progression than a strict division (Crafton, 1997).

The Yearbook of Film Daily 1929 traces the “commencement of the upheaval to August 7, 1926 in a special segment Sound Pictures: Revolutionizing an Industry, when a synchronized sound system (Vitaphone) was launched with the Don Juan film in New York at Warner Theater” (Film Daily, 1929, p.2).

This film had synchronization of sound and was depicted with a short talking film; it was not a talkie as such. It was expressed as electrical in Film Daily and it was suggested that “throughout the film industry the event was hailed as signifying a new period in entertainment” (1929, p.4). Thus far the beginning of the closing stage for silent films is dated one year after the release of the film The Jazz Singer (1927). This film starred Al Jolson, a stage performer, singing in blackface. The Singing Fool (1928) is Al Jolson’s second sound film which broke records in the box office. Approximately 1927 to 1930 were the transition years during which both silent films and talkies were being made. Talkies often incorporated a few segments of synchronized sound and dialogue. It was the 1930-1931 period that cinema completely switched to full sound features (Gomery, 2005, p.2). This change in technology touched the international film industry as well which was often arbitrated by American engineers and businesses. Their projects were termed as projects that brought about a modern American unification of image and sound to the entire world (Thompson, 2004).

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Eventually Movietone, a joint venture of Fox Films & Theodore Cannes caused the demise of Phonofilm as it recorded sound on a separate filmstrip making the issue of synchronization negligible. In essence Movietone was perhaps the first viable sound incorporating film technology but what is of interest is the fact that Theodore Cannes was actually of prime assistance to De Forest for his Phonofilm technology.

The Vitaphone system introduced by Warner Bros in 1926 was initially largely used for public speeches and screening of live performances. In 1927 the Vitaphone system was used for the film “The Jazz Singer” which to date is regarded as the first synchronized dialogue in a feature film – Thus giving birth to the sound era.

In the Jazz singers brought down barriers between silence & sound as although the movie was largely silent its sound sequences fused well to appeal to a massive audience as Carringer calls it the most successful genre in the studio’s history during the 1930s (1979, p.27). The Jazz singer’s immense popularity convinced film producers alike that “Talking movies” or “Talkies” were the way forward.

The major industry at the time was based in the United States of America and it was particularly fast in adapting to “talkies” as by 1929, just two years after the release of “The Jazz Singer” almost all films being made in Hollywood were “talkies”. Surprisingly though other parts of the world were slow to adapt to incorporating sound in movies largely due to lack of expertise & resources which gave Hollywood an edge over other parts of film industries that exist even today.

With the advent of the talkies many film makers, actors & motion picture companies who could not adapt to the changes soon found themselves out of work while on the other hand filmmakers like: William Wellman, Rouben Mamoulian and Alfred Hicthcock’s careers took off as they not only adapted to the new changes but experimented with existing technology pushing the envelope with each film.

There were various means devised of adding sound on film such as the sound on film but all had major problems that aggravated some film audiences.

Proper synchronization however was an issue and would take trial and error which made the system very costly; however De Forest worked for many years to perfect this system. His technology was called the Phonofilm.

The voice or sound in a movie is generally overlooked in studies related to cinema; the role of sound is hyper audible when considering the transition of cinema from silent to sound. As narrated in stories about actors with failed voices and movies like Singing’ in the Rain, the evolution was an era of turmoil and confusion, where the right voice could very easily make or break careers. As stated by Crafton:

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“Over the years the story has been retold so many times that it has become a kind of urban legend with the emphasis often on the effects of sound on individual actors—the great lover whose career was wrecked by a squeaky voice.” (Crafton, 1997, p.1)

While often defined as an abrupt change, the modification between silent and sound cinema was indeed more of a progression than a strict division (Crafton, 1997).

The Yearbook of Film Daily 1929 traces the “commencement of the upheaval to August 7, 1926 in a special segment Sound Pictures: Revolutionizing an Industry, when a synchronized sound system (Vitaphone) was launched with the Don Juan film in New York at Warner Theater” (Film Daily, 1929, p.2).

This film had synchronization of sound and was depicted with a short talking film; it was not a talkie as such. It was expressed as electrical in Film Daily and it was suggested that “throughout the film industry the event was hailed as signifying a new period in entertainment” (1929, p.4). Thus far the beginning of the closing stage for silent films is dated one year after the release of the film The Jazz Singer (1927). This film starred Al Jolson, a stage performer, singing in blackface. The Singing Fool (1928) is Al Jolson’s second sound film which broke records in the box office. Approximately 1927 to 1930 were the transition years during which both silent films and talkies were being made. Talkies often incorporated a few segments of synchronized sound and dialogue. It was the 1930-1931 period that cinema completely switched to full sound features (Gomery, 2005, p.2). This change in technology touched the international film industry as well which was often arbitrated by American engineers and businesses. Their projects were termed as projects that brought about a modern American unification of image and sound to the entire world (Thompson, 2004).

Eventually Movietone, a joint venture of Fox Films & Theodore Cannes caused the demise of Phonofilm as it recorded sound on a separate filmstrip making the issue of synchronization negligible. In essence Movietone was perhaps the first viable sound incorporating film technology but what is of interest is the fact that Theodore Cannes was actually of prime assistance to De Forest for his Phonofilm technology.

The Vitaphone system introduced by Warner Bros in 1926 was initially largely used for public speeches and screening of live performances. In 1927 the Vitaphone system was used for the film “The Jazz Singer” which to date is regarded as the first synchronized dialogue in a feature film – Thus giving birth to the sound era.

In the Jazz singers brought down barriers between silence & sound as although the movie was largely silent its sound sequences fused well to appeal to a massive audience as Carringer calls it the most successful genre in the studio’s history during the 1930s (1979, p.27). The Jazz singer’s immense popularity convinced film producers alike that “Talking movies” or “Talkies” were the way forward.

The major industry at the time was based in the United States of America and it was particularly fast in adapting to “talkies” as by 1929, just two years after the release of “The Jazz Singer” almost all films being made in Hollywood were “talkies”. Surprisingly though other parts of the world were slow to adapt to incorporating sound in movies largely due to lack of expertise & resources which gave Hollywood an edge over other parts film industries that exist even today.

With the advent of the talkies many film makers, actors & motion picture companies who could not adapt to the changes soon found themselves out of work while on the other hand filmmakers like: William Wellman, Rouben Mamoulian and Alfred Hicthcock’s careers took off as they not only adapted to the new changes but experimented with existing technology pushing the envelope with each film.

Conclusion

On March 20th, 2006, cyclone Larry devastated the banana industry in Australia. This was a cyclone with devastating effects which destroyed fruit worth of $300 million and approximately 4000 employers left without work. It was an event that took the producers by surprise because during a whole day they saw their work being wiped out, with farmers saying it may take years to recover (Douglas, 2005). According to the Australian Banana Growers Council the bulk of the industry’s production “would be in ruins for about a year, and shoppers could be paying hefty prices as the fruit becomes scarce” (Blanchard, 2006, p.4). The cyclone hit the region with the higher percentage of plants of bananas, Queensland, with 95 per cent of the nation’s growth. Because of this, now the nation is experiencing a lack of bananas and the price is expected to grow. Craig Allen, CEO of the Australian Banana Promotions Company said, “Not that loyal banana consumers want to hear it, the current pricing is simply a matter of supply and demand” (Blanchard, 2006).

“Banana prices have hit record levels of over $100 per carton, and we are unlikely to see any relief until production from the Innisfail and Tully areas of Far North Queensland return to some form of normality, which will not be until November at this stage (William, 1992).

Australians consume around 20 million cartons of bananas a year, which equates to one box per person per annum or 13kgs of bananas each. Production in the six months between now and November will be between 30,000 and 50,000 cartons per week, a shortfall of some 350,000 cartons per week compared with normal supply.

The impacts may be huge and somehow immediate. There were about 3000- 4000 people who were working in the plants and now, because of the devastating effects, will lose their job for a period of time. And with no bananas to pick there’s nothing to pack. There’s going to be a chain effect phenomenon which can affect other companies related to the banana plants.

Stakeholders that can be listed are many. And the effects of this disaster that can be listed are numerous. It is like a chain effect phenomenon that touches not only the closest stakeholders of the banana plants industry, but also other ones.

We can start from the companies or farms which possess the banana plants and now they see their land destroyed by the cyclone are going to have less or nothing business to run. This can affect not only in their economies, but that of the region, too.

The plants workers are another category which is going to find them without work for a period of time. This may lead to less ability to spend for some commodities, which means that many other businesses will be affected because people will have less money to spend.

But there can be mentioned others. There is the category of the close collaborations of the banana companies or plants. There can be mentioned the companies/ workers which packed the bananas that now have little or nothing work. There are the transportations companies that were used to deliver different orders of bananas in different stores or cities or regions. As was mentioned before it is a chain effect phenomenon that affects many parts of the industry.

It is hard to pick which of the above impacts may be the worst and which of the categories is affected the most. But I think that the main impact will be felt by the closest stakeholders of the banana plant, the owners and the workers. That is because in their case it is the only thing which they worked with which is going to be destroyed.

Many authors have described prices and quantities as “the most directly observable attributes of goods produced and exchanged in a market economy” (Brody, 1987). As Blanchard would summarize it:

“The theory of supply and demand is an organizing principle for explaining how prices coordinate the amounts produced and consumed. In microeconomics, it applies to price and output determination for a market with perfect competition, which includes the condition of no buyers or sellers large enough to have price-setting power. The demand-and-supply analysis is used to explain the behavior of perfectly competitive markets, but as a standard of comparison it can be extended to any type of market. It can also be generalized to explain variables across the economy, for example, total output (estimated as real GDP) and the general price level, as studied in macroeconomics”. (Blanchard, 2006)

Traditionally, demand is described as the quantity that buyers are able and willing to purchase with a specific given price and at a specific time.” (Jordan, 1982, p.34)

In our case, the cyclone has affected the demand curve. Because of the lack of the supply (bananas), the big demand for the product cannot be satisfied.

On the other hand, the supply theory is concerned about the quantity of goods and services that a manufacturer is capable of supplying to the market. These goods should be supplied at a given price and at a given moment in time. The basic law of this theory is that “as the price of commodity rises, producers expand their supply into the market.

This theory is also explained through a graph which shows the relationship between price and quantity a producer/firm/company/market is willing to offer”. (Besanko & Braeutigam, 2005, p.55)

In trying to define the terms, we should say that supply is the ratio between the quantity of a good which is available in the market and the price at which it is available. There are various visual representations of it, if forms of table or graphs. It is the basic axiom of business that it should be profit maximizing at any cost. This means that businesses have always attempted to increase production (and thus supply) of various goods. This in turn will bring them the highest profit possible from sales. In literature, supply is typically represented as a “directly-proportional relation between price and quantity supplied (other things unchanged). That is, the higher the price at which the good can be sold, the more of it producers will supply, as in the figure. The higher price makes it profitable to increase production. Just as on the demand side, the position of the supply can shift; say from a change in the price of a productive input or a technical improvement.” (Blanchard, 2006, p. 56)

On the market, there are some factors of production which are described as relatively variable for short periods of time. They are known to affect the cost of changing output levels. Among these factors we can mention electrical power needed to produce the products, raw-material which serves as the input for production and any related temporary work. There are other factors which are considered to be relatively fixed. Such factors include the factory building, all the equipment inside it and the key personnel needed to run it. These factors are constantly manipulated by the management of a business in order to bring the best results possible for it. These manipulations are represented in the changing of the supply curve in the short and long run. They also affect the change of the price-quantity ratio.

But demand and supply have also other applications in the market. Some of them include “the distribution of income among the factors of production, including labor and capital, through factor markets” (Blanchard, 2006, p.58). In a competitive labor market for example the quantity of labor employed and the price of labor (the wage rate) depends on the demand for labor (from employers for production) and supply of labor (from potential workers). Labor economics examines the “interaction of workers and employers through such markets to explain patterns and changes of wages and other labor income, labor mobility, and (un)employment, productivity through human capital, and related public-policy issues” (Freeman, 1987, p.8).

On the market, there are some factors of production which are described as relatively variable for short periods of time. They are known to affect the cost of changing output levels. Among these factors we can mention electrical power needed to produce the products, raw-material which serves as the input for production and any related temporary work. There are other factors that are considered to be relatively fixed. Such factors include the factory building, all the equipment inside it and the key personnel needed to run it. These factors are constantly manipulated by the management of a business in order to bring the best results possible for it. These manipulations are represented in the changing of the supply curve in the short and long run. They also affect the change of the price-quantity ratio.

But demand and supply have also other applications in the market. Some of them include “the distribution of income among the factors of production, including labor and capital, through factor markets” (Blanchard, 2006, p.58). In a competitive labor market for example the quantity of labor employed and the price of labor (the wage rate) depends on the demand for labor (from employers for production) and supply of labor (from potential workers). Labor economics examines the “interaction of workers and employers through such markets to explain patterns and changes of wages and other labor income, labor mobility, and (un)employment, productivity through human capital, and related public-policy issues” (Freeman, 1987, p.8). But demand and supply have also other applications in the market. Some of them include “the distribution of income among the factors of production, including labor and capital, through factor markets” (Blanchard, 2006, p.58). In a competitive labor market for example the quantity of labor employed and the price of labor (the wage rate) depends on the demand for labor (from employers for production) and supply of labor (from potential workers). Labor economics examines the “interaction of workers and employers through such markets to explain patterns and changes of wages and other labor income, labor mobility, and (un)employment, productivity through human capital, and related public-policy issues” (Freeman, 1987, p.8).

References

Abel, R. & Rick, A. (2001) That Most American of Attractions: The Illustrated Song. Indiana, Indiana University Press.

Besanko, D. and Braeutigam, R. (2005) Microeconomics. Toronto, Palgrave-Macmillan.

Blanchard, O. (2006) Macroeconomics (4th ed.), Ch. 7, “Putting All Markets Together: The AS–AD Model.” London, Prentice-Hall.

Brody, A. (1987) “Prices and quantities”. The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, v. 3, p. 957.

Crafton, D. (1997) History of the American Cinema: The Talkies (1926–1931). New York: Simon & Schuster.

Carringer, M. (1979) The Jazz Singer. New York, SUNY Press.

Chion, M. (1999) The Voice in Cinema: Claudia Gorbman (trans.) New York: Columbia University Press.

Douglas, M. (2005) The Coming of Sound: A History. New York: Routledge.

Film Daily. (1929) Sound Pictures: Revolutionizing an Industry Gomer. The 1929 Yearbook.

Freeman, R.B. (1987) “Labor economics”. The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, v. 3, pp. 72–76.

Jordan, J.S. (1982). “The Competitive Allocation Process Is Informational Efficient Uniquely”. Journal of Economic Theory, 28(1), p. 1–18.)

Williams, A. (1992) “Historical and Theoretical Issues in the Coming of Recorded Sound to the Cinema”. In, Sound Theory Sound Practice. Rick Altman, ed. P. 126 –137. New York: Routledge.

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