Sunday, January 31, 2010

Illustrated Song: "Goodbye, Girlie, and Remember Me"

I see that Wikipedia now has a short, but acceptably accurate article on the illustrated song. The three most important secondary sources are listed in the reference section of the article: Rick Altman's discussion in Silent Film Sound and Richard Abel's two essays, one in Early American Cinema, the other in his book Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad Audiences, 1910-1914. For some source documents, see the link to the illustrated song tag in the sidebar. Also see this page outlining the tradition of the illustrated song from the "Going to the Show" website sponsored by the State Library of North Carolina. The embedded performance of Irving Berlin and George Meyer's "Good Bye, Girlie, and Remember Me" (1909) comes from that project. (A PDF of the music is available here.)

Chapter 2 Examples

Here's a list of the examples I used in class to illustrate chapter 2. I have two meetings a week, each for 75 minutes.

  • Big Sleep—The introduction of Casino scene to illustrate footsteps. They increase in volume and then decrease as Bogart moves by camera. Crickets start out loud and decrease in volume, while the music from the casino starts out soft and increases in volume.

  • The Matrix—beginning of the Lobby Shootout sequence. I played this up through the very beginning of shootout, so students can hear and comment on the change of music. Initially, a recurring metallic clank is synchronized with Neo's footdrops. As the sequence progresses, the clank is treated as music, and it begins to drift out of synchronization. In addition, a more naturalistic sounding footstep can be heard under the clank.

  • Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse—The titles and opening sequence offer a good example of sound effects being treated musically, with an incessant, triple meter machine sound being used much like a silent film sound track. The titles open with highly dissonant music that prepare the machine noise for the sequence proper. The music is carried over into the scene briefly, where the machine noise seems to pick up the rhythm of the music. (This example is also discussed in chapter 3, pp. 67-68.)

  • Shall We Dance—"Slap That Bass" begins with the metrical sound of the ship's engines, which the black engine room crew interprets musically, much to the amusement of Pete Peters aka Petrov (Fred Astaire), who soon joins in. Part of Astaire's extended solo dance sequence involves him tapping in counterpoint to various engine sounds. The opening of Love Me Tonight, which is a beautiful sequence of city sounds that come together as an extended prelude to "That's the Song of Paree," and the prison camp sequence from Captain Blood are two other excellent examples that explore the relationship of rhythm, meter, sound and music. (The sequences from Shall We Dance and Love Me Tonight are also discussed in chapter 3, p. 67.)

  • Das Boot—The submarine crew attempts to evade a destroyer that is in pursuit. This sequence is good for illustrating the use of the crescendo on the sound track to build suspense. The destroyer passes over numerous times dropping depth charge, and each time we can hear the ship get gradually closer, generally culminating in the detonation of the depth charges.

  • There's Something About Mary—I used the transition to the first date to illustrate the fade in and fade out. In both cases the fade is somewhat awkward, which is pedagogically useful because the relative clumsiness makes it easy for the students to recognize.

  • Sleepless in Seattle—The introduction to the first botched meeting (discussed in chapter 1), where Annie talks to Becky on the phone, makes prominent use of a filter to give Becky's voice the impression of coming over the phone. For specifically musical timbre, I contrasted the difference between the sound of the solo trumpet (NB: it may actually be a bugle) in the opening of Glory to that of the orchestral trumpet section in theme to Star Wars.
Those examples, along with lectures on the various associated topics, took up the first meeting of the week.
* * *

The second meeting was devoted primarily to texture, with time reserved at the end of class for showing the two scene analyses (White, the Shooting; Atonement, Main Title and first sequence). After a quick review of the material from the first meeting of the week, I introduced and defined the various textures. I then showed the following clips as examples:
  • Catch Me If You Can—I find the main title sequence to be an excellent example for illustrating all of the textures. It has extended passages using each texture except a-melodic.

  • Patton—The opening speech shows speech used as monophony. Once Patton starts speaking, we hear no other sound, particularly no sound from the crowd, which had been reasonably prominent before Patton appeared. As a second example, I used the telephone conversation from Bleu discussed in the text.

  • Star Wars: A New Hope IV—The opening sequence features a barrage of sound effects placed in sharp counterpoint to the music. I selected the initial portion of the boarding through Leia giving the plans to R2D2. In the first part the sound effects dominant, often completely drowning out the music, particularly in the 2-channel stereo mix that is available in my class room. The second part of the sequence (with Leia and R2), by contrast, foregrounds the music, with sound effects more distant. In addition, I also used the example of the overlapping dialogue by Radar and Colonel Blake from M*A*S*H and the opening prologue from Fellowship of the Ring, with Galadriel's overlapping Elvish and English, against the backdrop of the score.

  • The example from Fellowship of the Ring also served as an effective introduction to the Melody and Accompaniment texture, as it shows how even thematically rich music can serve the function of accompaniment to the voice at the level of the sound track as a whole. I used the title sequence from The Magnificent Seven as a musical example of melody and accompaniment. Pretty much any broad theme could serve just as well. The opening sequence of Rashômon, discussed in the text, is particularly good for showing that a melody and accompaniment texture does not require the presence of music at all. Here rain serves as the accompaniment to the dialogue.

  • For a-melodic texture, I used the prison camp scene from Captain Blood, which I had also used to illustrate the rhythm of the machine earlier in the week, the opening sequence from Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, and the beginning of the New York City sequence from Brigadoon, the latter two of which are discussed in the text.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Tidbit on Vaudeville Music

This item on vaudeville music for "silent artists" (also known in the vaudeville business as "dumb acts") comes from the end of a 1910 New York Times' article that ponders certain peculiarities of the vaudeville aesthetic, in particular the frequent, unmotivated changes of clothing by female headliners. Like cinema musicians, vaudeville musicians, at least according to this report, accompanied silent acts in a subdued fashion.

The music accompanying the silent artist, the juggler, the wrestler and the acrobat, is one of the artistic features of vaudeville. Just as the black background best brings out the living white models of statuary, so the modesty of the orchestra or piano player caters to sound only to the degree of a slightly audible background. This detracts not a particle from the performance but throws it more in evidence where absolute quiet would cause the most marvelous feats to become tiresome after a while.
Source: “Some Reasons for Vaudeville,” NY Times 30 January 1910, SM6.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Nursery Favorites (1913)

Here is a YouTube copy of "Nursery Favorites," a Kinetophone film released in 1913. You can see that the aesthetic very much follows that of recorded theater. This particular film lacks a strong narrative thread and is structured instead as a series of thematically related songs. It would have been right at home on a vaudeville show, which was in fact the primary exhibition venue for the Kinetophone.

Kinetophone and Opera

This is an excerpt from a short front page article in the New York Times on Edison's work improving the submarine. Edison in fact seemed more interested in talking about the state of his Kinetophone, and the possibility of bringing opera to the masses, than improvements in submarine technology. This article comes at a point, November 1914, where the novelty of the device had worn off. In addition, the beginning of the First World War had cut international demand for the device. Edison's statement here suggests that he was thinking of marketing the Kinetophone to moving picture theaters. (The Kinetophone had previously been controlled by vaudeville interests.) Edison's shift in strategy was never able to bear fruit: in December, the Edison plant would burn down and the company would decide not to rebuild the Kinetophone facilities.
The Wizard is still devoting attention to the new “talking movies,” which he calls the kinetophone, and he indicated today that something new in this line would soon be forthcoming.

“I told the people when the kinetophone was first put on the market that sooner or later they would be able to see and hear opera by the best artists for a nickel,” he said. “The workingman has popularized the ‘movie,’ and now we are going to give the poor man and his family something more for a nickel.”
Source: “Edison Submarine Coming,” New York Times 9 November 1914, 1.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Edison, Motion Pictures and Opera

This is an excerpt of a short article covering the 1913 Motion Picture Exhibitors' League of America convention in New York. The end of the article is taken up by a short interview with Thomas Edison on the future of moving pictures, especially its potential for recording "perfect opera" for the masses, a theme Edison returns to again and again.
Thomas A. Edison last night attended the International Moving Picture Exposition in the Grand Central Palace. Mrs. Edison accompanied him. Mr. Edison, to a reporter of The New York Times, said:

“The educational value of the moving picture is, and will be, enormous. Both the speaking and moving picture will be improved and developed, but it takes time. Through these mediums the great masses of the people can have the advantages of the rich man. There has already been some improvement, and this will increase.

“What will be the future of the moving picture?” Mr. Edison was asked.

“Perfect opera,” answered Mr. Edison. “All delusions will be perfect and probably the actual color will be produced.”

“Will this be your work?”

“Unless some one gets ahead of me.”

“Will the talking pictures displace the silent drama?” was then asked.

“No; both the speaking and silent moving pictures will continue to exist. Both will be improved. Both as they stand are just samples. Now we will go on to perfection. Both have been shown just to exhibit the possibilities.”
“Picture Men At Odds,” New York Times 12 July 1913, 3.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clever Ruse

This short notice provides revealing information of some of the limitations of the Kinetophone. The sound recordings, though longer (and louder) than commercial recordings, were still only about half the length than a reel of film. Consequently, most talking pictures were kept shorter than the length of the sound recording, about 6 minutes. Longer subjects, such as a scene from Gounod's Faust, required some way to change recordings. Many competing talking picture systems at the time addressed this problem by adopting a dual phonograph; but the Edison system, which was mechanically more complicated, did not. Instead, the Edison company solved the problem by introducing actions, such as a curtain call, that could "naturally" appear without sound, allowing a break in the sound track where the recordings could be changed.
Clever Ruse

Mr. Edison recently demonstrated his newly invented talking pictures to an association of mechanical engineers, who were much interested in learning some of the difficulties that had been overcome.

One feature of the programme Mr. Edison had arranged for his guests was a scene from [Gounod's] “Faust,” acted and sung. The gentlemen present showed their appreciation of this wonderful achievement by frequent and lavish applause.

To their astonishment, Mephistopheles appeared upon the curtain and bowed as if in response to their encore. This bit of acting was so simply and naturally done that none of the men present realized its importance. As a matter of fact, it was absolutely necessary in order to synchronize the future action and sound of the performance.

One of Mr. Edison’s assistants explained to his eager listeners the fact that it was impossible to get enough music on one record to accompany the film to the end. The problem they had been working on for weeks was to find a way of changing the record while the pictures were before the audience. This change would require a fraction of a minute.

At last one morning about 3 o’clock, after puzzling over the matter all night, some one thought of a curtain call. That would provide that necessary moment when there was action without sound. When Mephistopheles was bowing the operator changed the record and the performance continued.
Source: “Clever Ruse,” New York Times 8 June 1913, SM10.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First Week's Examples

I used the following examples for my first week of lectures, which were keyed to Ch. 1 of Hearing the Movies:  [Update 2 FEB 2018: location unchanged in the second edition]

I started with the scene from Catch Me If You Can (2002), discussed in the introduction to Part 1 (pp. 1-3) and again in Ch. 1 (pp. 7-8). I played the scene twice, with class discussion after each viewing. We then did a masking exercise, using the Second Botched Meeting sequence from Sleepless in Seattle, discussed on pp. 20-25. We first watched the sequence with no sound, and I had the students talk about what sort of sound they expected and why. We then watched the sequence with sound.

The second class—my class meets twice a week, 75 minutes for each class—we started with a masking exercise using the same scene from Sleepless, this time reversing the procedure, beginning by masking the image and then watching the sequence with image and sound. I led the class in discussion after each.

We then worked with part of the Waterloo Station sequence from The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), starting again with a masking exercise: first, no image (we did this twice); then, no sound track; then both together. In this case I divided the students into three groups and had the first group concentrate on the dialogue, the second group on the music, and the third on the effects. I instructed the first group to note the number and type of voices as well as tempo and dynamic of delivery; the second group to note the basic mood, tempo, dynamic and instrumentation for major points of change; and the third group to identify sound source or to describe sound as best as they could. I thought this example worked exceptionally well, and I would recommend the example.

The third example came from The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), discussed on pp. 11-12. Here, I had the students discuss the five types of music in the sequence and how they differed in narrative function: 1. the atmospheric music as Frodo awakens (this music also appears at the very beginning of the film over the New Line Cinema logo); 2. the "mythic" music accompanying Gandalf's flashback; 3. pastoral music accompanying the appearance of Sam; 4. enchanted vocal music for Rivendell; 5. pastoral music accompanying appearance of Bilbo.

The final example was simply a viewing of Boston Common Scene from Good Will Hunting (1997), pp. 25-30.

Neil Brand—Silent Film Music Archive

Neil Brand, a London-based pianist, composer and writer who performs regularly as an accompanist for silent film, has opened up a new portion of his website, The Originals, devoted specifically to making available archival materials from the silent era. At this point, the site includes a number of interviews as well as 3 cue sheets, 17 pages of extracts from The Flag Lieutenant, a program from the Tivoli Strand for Rex Ingram's The Garden of Allah, and a number of "Music and Musicians" columns written by Albert Cazabon for the Bioscope Service Supplement in 1927.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Musical Suggestions; More Discussion of Effects

This week's "Music for the Picture" column covers a variety of topics. Besides, a number of musical suggestions, one correspondent asks for help finding "characteristic" music for orchestra, in particular music that follows the eastern and/or "oriental" style topic. Another correspondent adds to the debate Sinn had initiated on sound effects.
Edgar Ray, Musical director Grand Theater, Newark, Ohio, writes: “I am sending you the program with which I accompanied the two-reel Vitagraph, “The Chains of an Oath.” Used your cues for the “Cowboy Millionaire” with success. Give us some more.”

“The Chains of An Oath” (Vitagraph).
Part One.
  1. “Joyous Farmer” (Schumann). Repeat once, then segue.
  2. “Chants du Voyageur (Paderewski) until Donia enters house.
  3. “Sicilian Chimes” (Kerry Mills) until title: “First English Lesson.”
  4. “Pearls” (Novelette by Niel Moret) until Donia reads letter.
  5. “Farewell to the Piano” (Beethoven) until end of reel.

Part Two.
  1. Agitato p. until Svan enters apartment with Donia.
  2. “A Summer’s Dream” (By P. Hans Flath) until title: “Svan Decides to Follow.”
  3. Short light Hurry until title: “The Land of Bondage.”
  4. “Sans La Feuille” (F. Thome) until Gregory appears with knife.
  5. Agitato pp. and ff., following action until Gregory turns to leave apartment first time.
  6. “Sans La Feuille” until end of reel.
“If entre d’acte is desired, “Romanze” by Schumann will hold the “color” until part two is projected.”

A dignified program which follows the motive of the picture very well. Our constituents will be glad to hear from you again Mr. Ray.

* * *

From the Broadway Theater, Salt Lake City, Utah: “This is the first time I have taken the liberty of communicating with the music section though I have contributed many other articles and suggestions to various departments of the Moving Picture World. We are using first run pictures and of course all your accompanying music and suggestions for the various pictures come too late to be of much assistance to us, though from the program you selected for Reincarnation of Karma, I picked many numbers which we will be able to use in future pictures of this nature.

“In making up a recent order list of orchestra music I found the catalog’s particularly short of Oriental and Eastern music; at least they were hard to select from the titles. Also the Mexican music we have on hand is well worn since the long run of these pictures we have had. I think it would be of great value and assistance to exhibitors and orchestra leaders if you would from time to time publish lists of various classes of music, giving when possible the composers’ and publishers’ names. In our new house we will use an orchestra of ten pieces. Yours, Dean R. Daynes.”

I can appreciate Mr. Daynes’ difficulty in selecting music with nothing to guide him but the titles in the publisher’s catalog. The music suggested in this department is usually accompanied by the name of the composer and frequently the name of the publisher is given, but it would not be expedient to publish lists from their catalogs here. Such advertising would be too valuable to the publishers to give them free gratis. When these gentlemen awaken to the fact that over 16,000 moving picture theaters in this country alone are constantly on the lookout for appropriate music, and that the Moving Picture World is read in every one of them, they will arrange assorted lists of their music and publish them in the advertising pages of this paper. They might be surprised to learn that moving picture musicians desire something else than “rags” and popular songs. In the meantime the suggestions for musical accompaniments will give the composers’ names and occasionally, the publishers; but I am sorry to say, no catalogs or lists.

* * *

From C. H. Snow, Middletown, Del.: “It is doubtlessly seldom that you hear from this part of the country. I want to congratulate you on the excellent work you are doing in the music suggestions in your department, especially your ‘tips on improvising.’ Am working in the opera house here running the cream of licensed pictures and two 2- or 3-reel features per week. Speaking of the art of picture playing in general, it would benefit all photo-pianists to keep in close touch with each other and exchange views and compare their ideas as to the conception of music for the picture.” (That is what this department is for.—Ed.)

“Only recently a friend sent me a good suggestion and since that time I gave a few pointers to another friend because one had done me a good turn and I passed it along.”

Our correspondent has the right idea, but if he will watch the Moving Picture World closely he will find many friends busily engaged in “passing along” their ideas and suggestions. Not so many as I should like to see, perhaps, but compared to the apathy of a few years ago, it is encouraging to observe the number of thoughtful musicians who are willing to share their experience; in proof of this, witness the growing number of “musical suggestions” sent in from various parts of the country and given this page. They are “passing it along.” Some time ago a correspondent sent us a set of rules for the guidance of picture players. One of his maxims was: “go and hear other pianists play the pictures.” This is broadening. It gets you out of the rut and stimulates your ideas. Studying the other fellows “dope-sheet” is of great help too. In both cases you are bound to criticise or approve; if the latter, you may get some new ideas. If you criticise you will naturally try to think how his work might be improved—if it is wrong, where and why it is wrong, and what will make it right. We develop by sharing our ideas and comparing our efforts.

* * *

H. R. Seeman, La Fayette Theater, Saint Louis, Mo., says: “In the issue of the Moving Picture World, March 1st, I notice a letter from Albany, Oregon, in reference to effects from Oregon. If I get him right he thinks a drummer with a first class air-cabinet in the orchestra with the pianist can make the pictures more realistic, and (if I understand him right), is of the opinion that such a combination can accomplish more. Quoting his words, ‘You have got to show me.’

“I grant that the effects are quite essential for making the picture realistic, but I must say that effects and music are two different things, and when a drummer of an orchestra attempts to make all the effects for the picture with his $1800 air cabinet he then and there becomes an effect man, and that orchestra is sadly in need of a drummer that can make effects—I mean effects that are characteristic to the music his leader is playing—and let the effect man take his place behind the screen where he belongs. My idea of a drummer and his traps is to make effects incidental to the music the orchestra is playing. For instance, I am playing this week for the Pathe special release, “Mother”—a western drama, and there is one scene where there is galloping horses and Indian fights. I am playing a good number for this scene entitled “Cowboy Capers” in the drum part of which there is lots of work for cymbals, tom-tom, etc. Is it right for the drummer to sacrifice these effects that are characteristic to the music in order to catch shots, horses hoofs, etc.? In other words, the effect drummer must play his effects according to his picture whereas the orchestra drummer who makes his effects characteristic to the music is helping his leader carry out his contract to play music suited to the picture. I must say again that the drummer who attempts to do both not only sacrifices his work a drummer, but is also doing an injustice to the music. Both good effects and good music are essential, but cannot be worked together in the orchestra pit. The drummer using bells, chimes, xylophone, tympani, etc., is doing more to help the cause of “better music for the picture” than the drummer with his $1800 air cabinet. Yours very truly, H. R. Seeman.”

These gentlemen are evidently looking at the proposition from different angles. Without taking sides one way or the other at present, I wish to point out that the majority [1326] of picture houses employ but one effect man, viz.: the drummer in the orchestra pit. With the larger houses using an orchestra it is often differently arranged, but in the smaller places employing but two or three musicians (usually two—piano and drums), the sound effects incidental to the picture are the most important part of the drummer’s work.

Mr. Seeman kindly encloses his musical program for two pictures.

“Mother” (Pathe).
Part One.
  1. Waltz “Blush of the Rose” until title: “Their Boy;” then:
  2. Intermezzo “Starland” until he writes home; then:
  3. Song “Mother” (from play of that name) until title “Bob Gambles, etc.”
  4. Same intermezzo (“Starland”) softening for fireside scene, continuing until mother gets letter. Then waltz (No. 1) until scene out west.
  5. March “Local Pride” (fast) until title: “Bob’s Mother Prepares, etc.”
  6. Waltz “Asphodel” (Hildreth) until end of reel.
Part Two.
  1. At title: “Bob Sells the Stolen Horses” Bright characteristic march “Cowboy Capers” (new—by Allen), until title: “Believing Her Son the Sheriff.”
  2. Waltz “Asphodel” until sheriff sends for Bob.
  3. Tosti’s “Goodbye” until title: “Their Dreams—and the Reality.”
  4. “Mother” song till end.

“A Chance Deception” (Biograph).
  1. 16 bars Spanish dance (Bolero) then:
  2. “Il Bacio” (The “Kiss Waltz”) until title “Am I Too Old?”
  3. “In the Shadows” (Finck) play second part quasi mysterioso at title “His Suspicions Confirmed.” Continue until husband enters house; then:
  4. “The Romance of a Rose” (new) 2d movement agitato until title: “Asphadia” then take up “Romance of a Rose” at introduction, play through—then:
  5. “Titl’s Serenade” (or any serenade) until finish.

Source: Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 29 March 1913, 1325-26.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Suffragettes Pose

Below is an interesting short item on the filming of a short suffragette meeting. What is particular noteworthy here is the description of the shoot, which included, it seems, the use of the coconut shells as a rudimentary clapperboard to establish the initial points of synchronization.
Suffragettes Pose
Photographs and Speeches Taken for Talking-Picture Records.

In the year 2013 the world will know that the suffragists of 1913 could make five good suffrage speeches in five minutes. Suffragists went to the Edison Studios yesterday morning to act and talk before the moving and talking picture machine. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, the National President and champion suffrage speechmaker, was prevented by illness from attending the meeting.

Miss Harriet May Mills presided at the meeting and Mrs. Raymond Brown, Miss Elizabeth Freeman, Mrs. James Lees Laidlaw, and Mrs. John Rogers, Jr., made the speeches. With the introductions of the Miss Mills, the whole session was over in five and three-quarter minutes. The women, when they found what they had to do, held three rehearsals of their speeches, then they talked to the phonograph, which gave their speeches back to them, and then came two genuine acts, as they were actually to be reproduced—the words and motions together.

The meeting began at the sound of the cocoanut—a couple of cocoanut shells clapped together—and each time the women came out on time in their minute speeches. What interested the moving picture men in charge of the work was that, while the women kept to the time limit, their speeches were so far impromptu that they never gave them twice alike.

Source: “Suffragettes Pose,” New York Times 20 March 1913, 9.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New York Applauds the Talking Picture

This is the New York Times' review of the Kinetophone, which as noted yesterday was intended for use on the vaudeville circuit rather than in the regular moving picture theaters. Though synchronization was generally no more an issue for the Kinetophone than for the later Vitaphone, mishaps did occur (see the parody in Singin' in the Rain) and evidently it happened the night the reviewer saw the show.

The ad on the right ran in the New York Times the week of 17 February 1913; the one below ran on Sunday, 23 February 1913.

New York Applauds the Talking Picture
Only Drawback Is When the Talk Falls Behind the Picture.
Much Depends on Operator
Edison Kinetophone Proves to be a Valuable Accession as a Vaudeville Attraction.

After Thomas A. Edison had invented the motion picture and the talking machine he dreamed of talking pictures, and the next morning he went to work again. For several years hints came from the Edison laboratory that the kinetophone was in process of development. Finally Edison spoke of his invention as a thing accomplished, and yesterday, for the first time on any stage, the “Kinetophone” was on the bill at four of the Keith Theatres, the Colonial, the Alhambra, the Union Square, and the Fifth Avenue. To judge from the little gasps of astonishment and the chorus of “Ain’t that something wonderful?” that could be heard on all sides the Kinetophone is a success.

The problem involved was fairly simple. Mr. Edison was looking for perfect synchronization of record and film. The difficulty was to have a record sufficiently sensitive to receive the sounds from the lips of actors who would still be free to move about in front of the camera instead of being obliged to roar into the horn of a phonograph. But the difficulties have been overcome and the kinetophone is actually in vaudeville and highly regarded there.

The first number of the exhibit was a descriptive lecture. The screen showed a man in one of those terribly stuffy, early eighties rooms that motion-picture folk seem to affect. He talked enthusiastically about the invention, and as his lips moved the words sounded from the big machine behind the screen. Gesture and speech made the thing startlingly real. He broke a plate, blew a whistle, dropped a weight. The sounds were perfect. Then he brought on a pianist, violinist, and soprano, and "The Last Rose of Summer" was never listened to with more fascinated attention. Finally the scope of kinetophonic powers was further illustrated by a burglar's apoplectic efforts, and the barking of some perfect collies.

The second number was a minstrel show with orchestra, soloists, end men, and interlocutor, large as life and quite as noisy. It brought down the respective houses but the real sensation of the day was scored quite unintentionally by the operator of the machine at the Union Square Theatre last evening. He inadvertently set his pictures some ten or twelve seconds ahead of his sounds, and the result was amazing. The interlocutor, who, by a coincidence, wore a peculiarly defiant and offended expression, would rise pompously, his lips would move, he would bow and sit down. Then his speech would float out over the audience. It would be an announcement of the next song, and before it was all spoken the singer would be on his feet with his mouth expanded in fervent but soundless song.

This diverted the audience vastly, but the outbursts of laughter would come when the singer would close his lips, smile in a contented manner, bow, and retire while his highest and best notes were still ringing clear. The audience, however, knew what had happened, and the mishap did not serve to lessen their tribute of real wonder at Edison's latest.

Source: “New York Applauds the Talking Picture,” New York Times 18 February 1913, 3.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Book Talking Pictures

This short item from mid-January outlines some of the financial dealings of the kinetophone, noting in particular the prominent place vaudeville would play in its distribution. In fact, the device would be exhibited almost exclusively on the vaudeville circuit. American Talking Picture Company was in fact an arm of the United Booking Offices, which was in turn controlled by the Keith and Albee vaudeville circuit.
Book Talking Pictures

Edison Invention to be Installed in 100 Vaudeville Houses.

It was announced yesterday by the United Booking Offices that arrangements had been made with Thomas A. Edison whereby his latest invention, the kinetophone, or talking pictures, would be installed in more than 100 vaudeville theaters under its control.

Contracts signed with the American Talking Picture Company, which will distribute the invention, are expected to net more than $500,000 in royalties within the year. One day last week an exhibition of the kinetophone was held at the Edison laboratories in West Orange, at which the vaudeville men were present. Among them were E. F. Albee, representing B. F. Keith; A. Paul Keith; Martin Beck, head of the Orpheum Circuit; J. J. Murdock, executive manager of the United Booking Offices; F. F. Proctor, Sr. and F. F. Proctor, Jr.; M. Shea of Buffalo and Toronto, Jake Wells of Wells’s Southern Circuit, Harvey Watkins of Montreal, Carl Lothrop of Detroit and Rochester, and Mr. Shenberger of Baltimore.

In discussing the matter yesterday, Carl H. Wilson, Vice President of Thomas A. Edison, Inc., said that there would not be any contract made whereby any manager could get exclusive use of the invention. He said that while the selling arrangements had not yet been perfected it was certain that any one who wanted could buy one of the machines.

Source: “Book Talking Pictures,” New York Times 13 January 1913, 11.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Kinetophone

This is a short publicity notice for the Kinetophone, which, at the beginning of January 1913, Edison was gearing up for release to the vaudeville circuit. As was typical of his statements on moving pictures (see the previous two entries), Edison here emphasizes the democratic potential of the device, which had the capacity, he claimed, to cross barriers of both distance and income. Nevertheless, Edison had no real plans to put this device into the moving picture theaters. He sold the distribution rights to the B.F. Keith circuit, which thus ensured that the device stayed in the (relatively expensive) vaudeville theaters or, at any rate, would not be in a position to challenge vaudeville.
The Kinetophone

Mr. Edison has devoted four years of his useful life to making it “possible for the poorest families in Squeedunk to see the same operas and plays that are produced in New York City.” He thinks his attempt is successful in the production of the kinetophone, which produces motion pictures that are very literally “speaking likenesses” of their originals. If he can in this way bring to the consciousness of the masses in the cities and rural districts, at a ridiculously low price, the best performances of opera, comedy, serious drama, and oratory, Mr. Edison will have made a genuine contribution to the advance of democracy.

The talking-picture-machine promises to be of great educational value. The promoters of university extension, for example, will not need the presence of their lecturers, who may be the most eminent at home and abroad, to give the best that they have to audiences in the district schoolhouses of the Nation. The machine will exercise its powerful influence in the revolution of conditions in the country living. Sons and daughters would not troop to the city, the city in all its aspects of instruction and entertainment might be brought to them by the adaptions of this invention. The realization of its promise seems almost too good to be true. We hope it is true.

“The Kinetophone,” New York Times 5 January 1913, 16.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Talking Pictures

The following summary article appeared in the Times the next day. It is shorter and much more general, adding little new information. What it does illustrate, however, is the extent to which Edison could drive the news coverage. Cameraphone, a company that had made a big splash with talking pictures a couple of years past, had gone bankrupt the previous year and been dissolved in the spring. For Edison to be speaking so optimistically of the talking picture now when the major talking picture firm in the U.S. had just failed seems a bit surprising. For the press not to have hinted at the previous failures seems very remarkable indeed.

The Talking Pictures

Mr. Edison, having solved the problem of congestion in cities and cheap but wholesome living for the poor, by inventing a new kind of dwelling house, which can be poured in liquid form out of a pitcher wherever there happens to be a vacant space for it to occupy, has lately turned his attention to the combination of the phonograph and the moving picture. Thus far, his kinetophone is in an experimental stage, but the experiment, according to good judges who have seen and heard it, works well. The voice of the moving figure on the screen is heard at the right instant. Phonograph and picture work in unison, in control of electrical appliances invented by Edison. The records for the eye and the ear are made simultaneously.

By means of this machine Mr. Edison intends to make the personality and voice of Col. Rossevelt, John Drew, and the great opera singers familiar in the remoter parts of the earth. Probably he will not neglect Mr. Pinchot, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Marie Dressler. “Broadway productions” are to be made accessible in the deserts and frontier towns. The educational possibilities of the new invention or undeniable. Already the moving picture has measurably helped in the development of human intelligence, and the singing and talking machines have done much for the increase of musical knowledge and taste. But with all the improvements Mr. Edison’s inventive genius can supply, moving and talking pictures will never supplant opera and drama in its natural form. They may greatly increase the demand for musical and dramatic art by cultivating the taste of the multitude. That is something worth doing.

Source: “The Talking Pictures,” New York Times 28 August 1910, 8.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Motion Pictures Are Made To Talk

The surge in the talking pictures around 1908 seems to have rekindled Edison's interest in the problem of synchronizing phonograph and moving pictures, and by August 1910 he had a machine ready to demonstrate for reporters. The following is a report of this demonstration published in the New York Times. The Kinetophone would not, in fact, be commercially released until early 1913—though the lecture film described by the reporter seems very similar to the one that was shown when the device would be inaugurated at a theater.

It is important to recognize what Edison presented as the novel aspects of his machine: that the picture and sound recording would be taken simultaneously. Because at the time phonograph recording was done mechanically through a horn (rather than electrically through a microphone) and for best results a recording horn needed to be located fairly close to the sound source, talking pictures before the kinetograph were usually made by first recording the sound and then having actors synchronize to playback. Such filming to playback (or lipsynching) would in fact remain common in the sound era, particularly for musical numbers. Edison, however, devised a method of recording while being able to keep the recording apparatus out of the line of the camera.

Motion Pictures Are Made To Talk
Edison Invents a Machine that Combines the Kinetoscope and Phonograph.
Records Taken Together
When the Pictured Man Acts the Voice in the Box Speaks, and Illusion is Perfect.

Thomas A. Edison gave to an audience of not more than a dozen men last night the first exhibition of his talking pictures, the product of the new Edison kinetophone, which combines in one machine the wizardrly of the phonograph with that of the kinetoscope. The brief glimpse offered in the laboratory in West Orange was enough to show that Mr. Edison has achieved what he and a host of other inventors have long striven for—the perfect synchronization of sound and action for the moving picture screen.

Into the scene thrown upon the screen last night a man walked, and as his lips moved the sound of his voice issued from the concealed phonograph, effecting an illusion that was perfect. This was all that Mr. Edison would show, but he has more in preparation, and his plans for the future of his kinetoscope are boundless.

“We’ll be ready for the moving-picture shows in a couple of months,” he said, “but I am not satisfied with that. I want to give grand opera. I want to have people in far stranded towns able to hear and see John Drew. And,” he added in a birth of confidence, “I want to have ‘Teddy’ [Roosevelt] addressing a meeting.”

But these things are not yet. A year or more Mr. Edison allows for their achievement. Already he has an ambitious drama reproduced on a long film, but there are flaws in one or two places, and he is unwilling to show the play. The kinetophone as it now stands is the product of two years’ labor, which Mr. Edison has shared with his assistant, Mr. Hyams.

One Operator Does It All.

It is one machine, part phonograph, part kinetoscope, and it requires one operator. From the projecting machine behind the audience, wires run along the ceiling to the screen behind which stands the phonograph. The two parts are operated by the turning of the handle beside the kinetoscope portion.

In the newly perfected process the records and pictures are taken at the same time, a sufficiently sensitive record having been devised to catch and retain the slightest sound accompanying the portrayed action. Here has been the stumbling block in the effort to accomplish this result. Hitherto the pictures and records had to be taken separately, in the fact of the difficulty of receiving in the horn the voices of the actors, and at the same time, having them move freely and, as far as possible, dramatically around in an unobstructed range of the camera. The special recorder used for the kinetophone permits of the speaker being twenty feet away.

A little platform with a lecturer’s table and back screen was the picture last night. On the screen was flashed a fairly impressive man in a frock coat, who explained the points of the kinetoscope. There was o flaw in the illusion. He seemed to be talking. The sound of the working of the concealed phonograph could not be detected four feet away. To demonstrate its possibilities the gentleman on the screen bounded an iron ball on the floor. There was an accompanying noise. He carelessly dropped a plate with a resounding smash. He pounded with a mallet, and finally tooted an automobile horn with uncanny effect.

There is another feature of the combination which the inventor has been working as a side issue. He hopes soon to have the pictures reproduce the natural color of the originals.

In honor of his audience made up largely of newspaper men, the first picture shown last night, of the old and silent type, was entitled “The Big Scoop, a drama of a metropolitan newspaper.” It was all about a young and handsome reporter, who had been discharged, regaining his prestige by overhearing some prominent bank officials discussing highly important matters in a restaurant. The bank was going to close its doors in the morning, and the paper made an unpleasant point of it all over the front page. No one enjoyed it half so much as Mr. Edison himself. He fairly beamed as the handsome young reporter went home and told his wife about it.

The inventor takes immense satisfaction in watching moving pictures and never sees to tire of them.

Source: “Motion Pictures Are Made To Talk,” New York Times 27 August 1910, 8.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Playing the General Mood and Song Accompaniment

This week, Clarence Sinn gives his column over to two letters from readers. The first discusses the practice of accompanying films with an orchestra and the writer recommends playing for the general mood rather than the details. He also notes that one reel of the feature—Satan—was omitted at his theater due to time—a common occurrence throughout the silent era.

The second letter responds to Kenneth Aiken's article. The writer makes a case for using popular songs to play films with contemporary settings.

Mr. M. E. Schwarzwald, Bijou Dream, Chicago, sends the following: "As I promised you I am sending my program to the picture 'Satan.' Am sorry to say that owing to the length of this we were obliged to omit the second reel ('Satan in the Life of Christ'), but am told that it requires practically all sacred music. I wish to state that there parts of this picture I have not followed in detail—for example, the beginning of Part Three. I have made it a point rather, to get the longest selections I could which would keep to the general theme of the picture. I believe that I can make my music just as effective in this way as by always following the picture scene by scene, and therefore try to make as few changes as possible in order to keep from diverting attention from the picture. I think if one changes the music too often he is not playing enough of any one number to convey the theme of it to the audience, and by this appropriates a large part of their attention which should be given to the picture.

"From remarks overheard I gather that the orchestra most appreciated is the one that can bring out and accent the characteristic points of the picture without diverting the attention of the audience, rather than the one that constantly attracts attention by its noisy blare, quick changes of music and stopping too suddenly at times instead of trying to ‘weave’ their numbers gradually. Another thing I do not believe in, is that incessant grind heard in some theaters. I visited a house recently which has a three-piece orchestra and runs five vaudeville acts and two reels of pictures. The musicians instead of following the picture with appropriate music played a program of popular stuff. I noticed that the leader (pianist) never stopped from the time the picture started until it stopped—turning the music with one hand and playing the other. Being acquainted with the manager I mentioned this. 'Why,' said he, 'those are my orders; what is wrong. I want that music going all the time.'

"Very good, Mr. Manager, but one of a party sitting behind me from whose conversation I judged to be a regular patron, said: 'Good Lord! Won’t they ever quit. This is worse than having to listen to one of those piano machines.'

"Our manager gives us ten minutes' rest at the opening of each show and we find that with this small lay-off we can do more justice to our music than these 'on forever' orchestras, and no complaints from our patrons. What do you think of this?"

I shall offer no comments beyond stating that the Bijou Dream, like all downtown houses in this city (and most other large places), runs a continuous show from nine o’clock a. m. until eleven p.m. Regarding the long selections played, Mr. S. "humors" them more or less to fit the scenes, and in this way he often plays to details without chaging numbers.—[Ed.]

"Satan, or the Drama of Humanity" (Amrosio)
Part One.
  1. “Damnation of Faust” (can use storm scene from “William Tell”) until title: “The First Sin.”
  2. “Devil’s Call Galop” once, then:
  3. “Ghost Dance” (pub. by Will Rossiter) until end of reel.

Part Two.
(Sacred Music throughout.)
Part Three.
  1. Overture, "King Mydas" (Jacobs) once through.
  2. “Faust” Overture (Cundy-Bettany Co.—Carl Fischer’s Selection fits better, but is more difficult for small combinations) until monk falls asleep at table.
  3. Mysterious music; until monk and Satan leave monastery.
  4. Sumurun Intermezzo (pub. by Stern) until monk is shown behind curtain.
  5. Mysterious (37 Orpheum Collection) until Satan puts dagger in his hand.
  6. Agitato (43 Orpheum Collection) until man is stabbed.
  7. Semi-mysterious (51 Orpheum Coll.) until fight.
  8. Hutty (19 Orph. Coll.) until change.
  9. Mysterious-heavy (20 Orph. Coll.) until end of reel.

Part Four.
  1. Bright lively novelette until iron merchant falls asleep.
  2. Mysterious until devil appears in full dress.
  3. Waltz, “Druids Prayer” (Stern), until title: “Later Engrossed With Mary’s Love, etc.”
  4. “Perfume” (from suite “My Lady’s Boudoir,” Witmark), until end of scene.
  5. Waltz, “The Devil” (pub. By Emil Ascher), until end.
  6. (Last part of Part Four.)
  7. Waltz, “The Devil, until Frank shoots at carriage.
  8. Agitato (soft) until police auto enter and shots fired.
  9. Hurry until chase.
  10. Presto until Frank and Satan arrive at ruined castle.
  11. Agitato (soft) until title: “You Can Get Revenge, etc.”
  12. Plaintive until Mary arrives at the castle.
  13. Agitato (33 Bendix-Fischer melodramatic music), p. and f. until title: “Mary Has Lied to You! Destroy.”
  14. Prison Scene from “Faust” (Leo Feist-Reckers arrangement) until close.

Thomas Bruce, of the Majestic Theater, North Yakima Wash, whose letterhead reads, “Musical Interpreter of Pictures, Pipe Organ and Piano,” writes: “In the February 1st issue of Moving Picture World, under the heading, ‘Thoughts for Pianists,’ in your department, Mr. Aiken says: 'Picture playing does not consist as some suppose of merely fitting song titles to the scenes.' I fully agree with him, for to play a modern song to some pictures would be out of place and inartistic, on the other hand, it would be worse to play Grieg’s ‘Ich Liebe Dich’ to some light modern drama when ‘I’d Love to Live in Loveland’ would be more suitable.

“Then, of course, there are pictures when no songs can be used. One I have in mind is ‘At Napoleon’s Command’ (Cines), which I improvised through entirely with the exception of ‘Marseilles.’ To have played ‘Just Before the Battle, Mother’ at the title, ‘The Even Before the Battle,’ would have been comedy. The summary of all this is that the picture player must have ingenuity and artistic judgment and an unlimited repertoire. I am sending a program to illustrate my point, and criticism from the editor or any one who has seen the picture, ‘When Love Leads,’ will be greatly appreciated, as I wish to know what other musicians think about the very important subject of popular music for modern pictures.”

“When Love Leads” (Lubin).
  1. “Stein Song” from “Prince of Pilsen” (Witmark, pub.), or, better still, Alma Mater song from nearest college, until title: “David Meets Josephine..”
  2. “Beautiful Lady” valse (Remick, pub.) until title: “One Month later.”
  3. “Cuddle Up a Little Closer” (from “Three Twins”).
  4. Agitato while Josephine reads letter and through scene between David and father.
  5. Pathetic for scene between David and mother.
  6. “Goodbye Sweetheart, Goodbye until title: “David in City.”
  7. “Give My Regards to Broadway” (from “Little Johnny Jones”) until title: “Married.”
  8. “Honeymoon” (from “Time, Place and Girl”—pub. by Harris).
  9. Agitato for scene between father and mother.
  10. “Gee, But This is a Lonesome Town.”
  11. Agitato and pathetic through five scenes until title: “David Loses Reason.”
  12. Tosti’s “Goodbye” until title: “Scrubwoman Finds Child.”
  13. “If I Only Had a Home, Sweet Home” until title: “David Regains Reason.”
  14. Pathetic until David enters home, then:
  15. Grandioso waltz until end.


["]The first number should be played more as an introduction to the picture to give a college atmosphere, and if “Prince of Pilsen Stein Song” is used should be timed so that “Oh! Heidelberg, Dear Heidelberg” comes for first scene.["]

I do not remember accurately the details of the picture above mentioned, but Brother Bruce has furnished us an excellent illustration of the method of applying songs, whose suggestiveness lies largely in the fitness of their titles, to certain pictures. Discriminating performers would not need the reminder that modern songs should be used only in modern pictures, but I am sorry to say there are many who are not so thoughtful as our correspondent. Come again, Mister Bruce—you are always welcome.—Ed.

Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” Moving Picture World 8 March 1913, 985-86.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Talking Pictures, c. 1908

Here is a nice drawing from the NY Times documenting the first big push of talking pictures during 1908. The Cameraphone was especially prominent during this period, with the improved Gaumont Chronophone also attracting attention.

Source: New York Times 7 June 1908.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rumors of Edison's Kinetophone

"Observations By Our Man About Town" is a column that had been appearing regularly in Moving Picture World since before 1910. The topics of the columns varied considerably, from reviews of theaters (especially in the early years) to trafficking in industry rumors and gossip, as in the excerpt below. This week, "Our Man" spends much of his column on the Edison Kinetophone, which had recently been demonstrated for the press. Surprisingly, "Our Man" thinks the rumors of the imminent distribution of the Kinetophone to be rash speculation: "it is extremely doubtful that the great event will take place in the near future." In fact, the very next issue of the paper will carry an ad from Edison soliciting bids from exhibitors to install the device.

Although poor in pronostication, this excerpt also contains some quotations from industry people that are highly revealing of attitudes toward the talking film.

For years people have been asking why talking motion pictures have not been successfully produced and every once in a while some inventor, including the esteemed wizard of Orange, has come forward with a promise to produce them in the near future. It is claimed now that Mr. Edison has the goods in the form of a machine he calls the kinetophone and this is supplemented by the statement that the apparatus will soon be in operation in about a dozen theaters in New York and Brooklyn. Mr. Edison has been industriously working on the problem of synchronizing sounds and pictures for a long time and those who know him well say that when the talking motion picture becomes a fact he will be the first to launch it; but it is extremely doubtful that the great event will take place in the near future. This is confirmed by a statement credited to Mr. Edison to the effect that “in the next year or two it will be no unusual thing to present an entire play or opera as we now are able to produce a playlet or scenes from the big plays.” This is taken as an intimation that the reporters who witnessed the recent tests are a little enthusiastic over them and that the great inventor must devote more time to the development of the talking motion picture as the public will expect to see it produced.

* * *

One of the most prominent men in the motion picture field when shown the report for Orange said: “It will come, but not for some time. The reports of such successful tests are important now only in so far as they keep the public informed that the strides toward perfection are steady and eventually we will have attained the long desired goal. I think Mr. Edison will be the first in the field with the talking pictures, but I do not look for it within the next year. When it does come it will be preceded by a blare of trumpets that will make the people sit up and take notice. It will completely revolutionize the motion picture industry and eventually make the regular theatrical productions look like ‘has beens.’ The majority of theatrical managers now look upon motion pictures as a competitor that has come to stay and a great many of them have become investors in one or more branches of the business. One of the most prominent and influential managers in New York said the other day that he stood ready to let the pictures into any house he owns where existing contracts would not interfere. He stated frankly that motion pictures are growing steadily in popularity with a class of people who heretofore have been disposed to discount their importance as a factor in the field of entertainments and when the talking motion picture has positively passed the point of theory and become a practical proposition what is now known as the legitimate theatrical field will become almost a discard.”

* * *

“That will be a severe blow to the members of the legitimate profession,” remarked a bystander.

“Not necessarily,” replied the manager. “It will affect just as many, if not more, the people who are now appearing the photoplays. I am inclined to think that they will be displaced in the motion picture studios by the regulars. Yes, I know that nearly all the picture producing companies now engage only professional people. From a pantomimic standpoint scores of people who worked on the stage for years without even attracting passing notice have become great favorites with the patrons of the picture houses. Now, as I understand it, one of the chief aims of the talking motion pictures will be to give the public an opportunity to both see and hear celebrated actors and those rising in the theatrical profession. To this end the perfection of the talking motion pictures must involve the reproduction of the voices so that they will be recognizable. This is second in importance only to the synchronizing of sounds and pictures. Motion picture actors and actresses will then become an entirely different class as compared with what they are to-day. They will be required to speak as well as act. Action will not be the sole test and those making up the supporting company will be obliged to handle their parts consistently with the leads. I fear many now playing in the studios will fall short of the mark and the regulars who have seen the photoplays gradually force them into the studios, or into minor positions on the regular stags, or out of the profession altogether, will find a new field. It is my opinion that the advent of the motion pictures will be a great blessing to them.”

“Observations By Our Man About Town,” Moving Picture World 18 January 1913, 270.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Musicians' Strike in Louisville (1913)

These excerpts come from the "Correspondence" section of Moving Picture World. In them, the correspondent from Louisville, G. D. Crain, reports on the response to a musicians' and operators' strike in the area's theaters. Crain gives the impression that the initial musicians' strike itself was a rather minor matter because they could easily be replaced by mechanical music (presumably player pianos and perhaps phonographs). But the situation was made more difficult by the decision by the operators' union to support the musicians. The show could not go on without projectionists. Crain applauds the exhibitors' decision to bring in non-union operators from out of town to break the strike and thoroughly approves of banning the union strikers from future employment in town. Indeed, he recommends that other exhibition associations follow the Louisville model closely. The second excerpt from the following week adds some details, confirming that the strike had been broken by firing all the union operators, while also noting the original demands of the musicians' union. The third excerpt, which is much shorter, comes from the third week and is more temperate in tone. The fourth excerpt, which follows two weeks after the third, marks Crain's full-throated return to the side of the exhibitors.

A second post will follow the developments of the strike.

The strike of union musicians, believed to be of comparatively little importance, has assumed serious proportions through the sympathy of union operator, and exhibitors are now facing a strike of the latter. It is stated, however, that little inconvenience will be suffered by the exhibitors, as operators have been gathered from nearby cities and are now waiting to take the places of the men who walk out. The manner in which the Louisville Photoplay Association has acted as a unit in handling the proposition has been an example to organizations in other sections of the country, and friends of the exhibitors are proud of their business-like handling of the situation. The operators’ strike was directed at the Broadway Amusement Company, controlling the East Broadway, West Broadway and Ideal Theaters. Those houses recently installed automatic musical instruments, following the walkout of union musicians. The operators announced that out of sympathy with the musicians the operators in the three moving picture houses would walk out on Saturday, December 14th. This ultimatum was submitted to the Louisville Photoplay Association, composed of owners of 18 theaters. The association replied that should the operators in the houses designated leave their work, the 15 employed by the other association members might also leave a week later. The operators at the three theaters obeyed the instructions of the Operators’ Union and went out on the date above mentioned. Accordingly the association gave due and formal notice to the operators employed in the other houses controlled by the association that they could leave on a date later in December. Preparations have been completed with non-union operators in other cities, and no delay is expected should the operators leave. The men coming into Louisville will be paid the union scale of wages, while the head operators will be allowed expense accounts to cover living costs. It is believed that if the operators once leave, their services will never be required in Louisville motion picture theaters again. All of the theaters in Louisville, with four exceptions, are members of the Louisville Photoplay Association. Non-members are the Hopkins Theater, Norman Theater, Avenue and Palace. The operators’ difficulty followed that of the musicians, which was caused over a disagreement in regard to the time clause in the contracts between exhibitors and musicians. The original trouble was one which might have been adjusted had the musicians kept their heads and refrained from dictation. Theaters which will be affected should the operators strike, which seems certain, are the following: East Broadway, West Broadway, Ideal, Majestic, Royal, Hippodrome, Olympic, Sun, Pastime, Novelty, Casino, Columbia, Crystal, Orpheum, Crown, Preston, Clifton and Empire. Non-union operators took the places of the regular men at the theaters deserted by the union employes [sic], and those houses have been operated as in the past.

G. D. Crain, Jr., “Correspondence: Louisville,” Moving Picture World 4 January 1913, 66.

The past week, as a matter of course, has been one of the most prosperous of he entire year with the moving picture exhibitors of Louisville and Kentucky. Christmas time invariably develops business to the fullest possible extent for all shows. All conditions affecting the development of patronage have been very favorable, and while the capability of the houses to handle any audiences coming to them was threatened for a time by the impending strike, this labor difficulty has been met without the least serious embarrassment. Local theater owners and managers are delighted that the insurgency of their operators, coming at the most inopportune moment as it did, was met in so capable a manager and proved to be of comparatively trivial nature. The difficulty in which the trade hereabouts has become involved may be termed trivial because the most vital matter at which it was directed—the operation or suspension of local houses—has not been affected. As was anticipated, twenty-three operators employed by members of the Louisville Photoplay Association and belonging to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local No. 168, were dismissed last Saturday night and non-union men were put into their places. The trouble began some time ago, when the exhibitors and their musicians could not agree as to a new form of contract which was proposed for 1912-13 by the Musicians’ Mutual Protective Association, Local No. 11, specifying that the orchestra members in local picture shows shall be given at least three months’ notice by their employers before termination of the contract. The new form provides that an incompetent man, or one who does not meet the requirements of his employer by reason of a personal failing, may be dismissed in short and accustomed order.

The exhibitors have felt that they cannot meet the demand of the musicians in this connection, and the rupture between the employing trade and the unionized branches has resulted. When a few union men walked out in sympathy with the musicians a short time ago, notice was served that the remaining unionists would be dismissed immediately and this has been done.

Since the strike has actually been broken, and non-union operators have been taken on by the house owners and managers, the situation is strained but easier. One or two attempts of discharged employees to remove fuses and otherwise incapacitate picture machines have been reported, but the exhibitors are on guard, employing experts from other cities to take charge of their operating-rooms, and the general attitude of the two parties is one of friendship. Harry Hughes, business agent of the local operators’ organization, and Oscar Shreck, of Cleveland, O., third vice-president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, have charge of the situation from the operators’ end, and declare that a firm stand will be maintained, while the members of the Louisville Photoplay Association are equally confident of being able to hold their own. The present chance of a compromise or of one side or the other winning is very vague, inasmuch as the business of not a single house has been interrupted, and the exhibitors declare that they are doing admirably with men from other cities at their machines.

G. D. Crain, Jr., “Correspondence: Louisville,” Moving Picture World 11 January 1913, 169.

There is little to be said regarding the strike which is on in Louisville moving picture circles. The union operators have left their posts quietly, barring incidental happenings of an undesirable nature which arose when the trouble first developed, and both this contingent and the exhibitors are maintaining a dignified, conservative stand. Neither side evidences any disposition to capitulate. The employers say that they are willing to accept union labor without a murmur if certain concessions touching the employment of musicians are made them. The operators and musicians, who have allied forces, declare that this will never be done. This is the situation. The positions of all operators who have left active service have been filled with men from other cities, and no trouble between the strikers and their successors has been experienced, while every show has been given according to schedule and the day’s business has not been embarrassed in the least. The exhibitors have handled the operators’ strike in the manner in which they dealt with the walk-out of the musicians three months ago, not the least trouble having been encountered in either instance.

[. . .]

A. L. Ward, an expert union moving picture operator, who is on strike with his colleagues as the result of the disagreement in this city, has cooperated with C. F. Dunn, a photoplay musician, to organize a company of eight union theatrical employees who will prove that the unionist locked out of a position is fully able to take care of himself. The company has secured a couple of up-to-date machines and a number of good reels, with which it will tour Kentucky and neighboring states during the next three months, showing in town after town and staging a moving picture performance which will undoubtedly deliver the goods for the peripatetic exhibitors.

G. D. Crain, Jr. “Correspondence: Louisville,” Moving Picture World 18 January 1913, 277.

Despite the walkout or “lockout” of union operators by members of the Louisville Photoplay Association, attendance at the eighteen theaters in the organization is suffering to no extent. The association has decided to continue its policy of showing high grade films, ignoring the subject of the strike. Despite the efforts of the union operators and musicians to keep the subject alive, the public is fast forgetting that a strike is in progress, and the situation is regaining its former status. The new operators are filling the gap satisfactorily, and no damage is being sustained from poor work in the booths. The exhibitors expect to die a natural death in the near future. The operators and musicians recently shot their last bolt when they issued several thousand cards and distributed them among the crowds on Fourth Street. “The Avenue is the only picture theater on Fourth Avenue employing Union musicians and operators,” read the placards. The public was evidently too busy to listen to the strikers’ woes, as was attested by a huge pile of cards which were thrown in the gutter at Fourth and Green Streets.

G. D. Crain, “Correspondence: Louisville,” Moving Picture World 1 February 1913, 480.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Growth of Motion Pictures

Edison's announcement of the Kinetophone prompted this manifesto of technological progress from Robert Grau, who would publish The Theatre of Science, one of the first attempts to write a comprehensive history of the film industry, the following year. In this short essay, Grau sees a bright future for the synchronized sound film, especially as a means of bringing opera (and the symphony) to the masses. In terms of the symphony, one imagines that Grau might have had something like the following in mind as well as filmed (and recorded) concerts:

A remarkable novelty in motion pictures is reported from Vienna. The musical society Urania has arranged to exhibit biographical films of famous composers and have the pauses between the reels filled in with the best known efforts of such composers. The first evening was devoted to the illustration of the life of Haydn. The press of Vienna speaks in terms of high praise of the educational value of such exhibitions (“Foreign Trade Notes,” Moving Picture World 18 January 1913, 271).

Interestingly, Grau almost entirely abandons the dream of the photo-opera and the talking picture by the time he publishes Theatre of Science the next year, where he (rightly) sees prestige, multireel features playing in "palatial temples of science" (i.e, movie theaters) at (relatively) high prices ($1.00) as the immediate future of the industry. (His less optimistic discussion of the Kinetophone begins on p. 349, which you can access in the Google Books window below.)

In 1913, however, though the shift to multireel features was already well advanced, its future dominance was not yet certain—especially when Edison was basically placing a heavy bet against it with the Kinetophone. In this brief 1913 essay, then, Grau imagines a somewhat different future than he will see the next year.

Growth of Motion Pictures.
1913 To Witness Second Stage of Development in the Theater of Science.
By Robert Grau.

The year 1913 as it casts its outlines on the horizon presents every indication that a the third year of the second decade of the twentieth century spends itself, progress and innovation will become rampant in the field of public entertaining.

Vast changes in the mode of catering to the amusement of our 90 millions of people are certain to develop as a result of the amazing conditions that now confront the men who seek to sole the very intricate problem of holding fast the patronage of a public never so inclined as now to bestow its favor where it can obtain the greatest measure of entertainment. The new year should be particularly notable in the efforts made by the various factors in the film industry to maintain the tenability of the position of the moving picture as a prime factor in the lives of the people, and the writer, while not wishing to assume the role of a prophet, is inclined to believe that the photoplay is destined to give way to something more vital—something that the theater of science alone can embrace. Just what this is to be may not be clearly stated, but the year 1913 will record an amazing evolution in what is portrayed on the screen no one can doubt.

Two phases of the year’s development already have reached the positive stage. Firstly, the photo-opera; the writer has always insisted that the Victor Herberts, the De Kovens and the Franz Lehars were due to capitulate to the camera man, and now that Mr. Edison has demonstrated that synchronization of the two greatest simulative devices the world has ever known is possible, the year 1913 should witness the advent of the musician—the greatest force as an entity we have—as an asset of the staff of the modern film studio.

At last the several important musical periodicals of the nation are devoting columns, even pages, to the momentous significance of the photo-opera, but only one of the editorial contingent has as yet realized that the photo-symphony is as great a possibility—nay probability—of the new year and who shall say, that with the masses at last to see and hear the great music dramas of the masters that the camera man is not marching on.

I use the term “camera man” advisedly, for after all no matter what progress may do in other directions, the great vogue of the theater of science to-morrow will be primarily due to the survival of the moving picture which has already made fifty millions of people (to whom the inside of a play-house was an unknown sight) confirmed photoplay patrons, and despite all that may be said by pessimistically inclined persons, the fact remains that the ultimate salvation of the speaking stage will be revealed only when a portion of these 50 millions having formed the photoplay habit are enticed into the play-house to see the players in the flesh; but this will not happen while the said 50 millions are held fast by such progressive procedure as the year 1913 seems likely to reveal in picturedom.

After all, it is only a battle between what was and what is. The laws of science and evolution as we see them in this vital age of enlightenment indicate beyond any shadow of doubt that man is to be utilized only in the original development of simulation of his greatest endeavor, and each year is bringing us nearer to the spectacle of man’s retirement from every line of endeavor that science and invention can duplicate and multiply.

Therefore the photo opera, the photo symphony, and the talking picture are merely indicative of the infancy of the second stage of development in what I hope will soon be called the theater of science, where the workingman will lay down his dime (as the Wizard of Menlo Park predicted) and in return hear and see grand opera, spectacle, drama, and even the circus, all revealed to him the artistic verity and unerring mastery of sound, action, color and constituting as a whole a veritable conquest by science of the arts of music and the drama.

Source: Robert Grau, “Growth of Motion Pictures,” Moving Picture World 25 January 1913, 366.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Excelsior Sound Effects Cabinet

Here is an ad for a sound effects cabinet that appeared in the 25 January 1913 issue of Moving Picture World. From the image, you can see that the cabinet was operated through a series of knobs and levers, with the sound effect traps hidden within the cabinet itself. The ad also emphasizes the ease with which the cabinet could be operated—implying that it did not require an expert and so could be used to trim labor costs, a most important consideration especially for small exhibitors.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Drummers and Sound Effects, Cont.

In response to a challenge from a reader, Sinn in this column backs off a bit from his criticisms of sound effects he made previously. Uncharacteristically testy in his response, Sinn here admits that sound effects can contribute productively to a show, so long as they are done well. Interestingly, Sinn still fixates on correctly rendering the sound of the horse: "Do you uphold the fellow who imitates a hose 'trotting on asphalt pavement when it is plain the horses are on soft or sandy soil?'"

The second part of the column is given over to musical suggestions, which is becoming a regular feature.

From Albany, Oregon: “In the issue of Jan. 25th, of the Moving Picture World I read your opinion of drummers and their effects for the picture. You seem to regard them as of not much consequence in the making of a picture realistic.

“I have seen photo-plays in the Eastern houses, and the way they are worked—usually with an orchestra; also in the West where they are worked with a picture pianist and a good drummer with an air cabinet costing all the way from three hundred to two thousand dollars.

“Until recently the West was far ahead of the East even in regard to photo-play houses devoted exclusively to pictures. Here in the West the pianist plays to and with the picture, improvising, “faking” and playing from memory. The drummer has a compressed air outfit that makes trains, auto’s, motor boats, in fact here they make any effect in the picture—not loud and blaring but modulated according to the size of the house. In Portland, Oregon, there is one air outfit that I know of owned (as they always are) by the drummer, which is insured for $1800. In this small town there are three houses, two of them using drummers and paying out (both houses for drummers and pianists) about one hundred dollars per week for their music and not working matinees.

“You may not think much of the drummer and his effects, but if you could step into the People’s Theater, Portland (Oregon) and hear one show played and compare it with an orchestra playing pictures I think you would agree with me.

“As for effects not making the picture, you’ve got to show me. I’ve been to Sadalia Missouri and acquired the habit. Thanking you for at least reading this I beg to remain,
Sincerely, A Drummer with an air cabinet.”

Well, I’ve read your letter; now honestly, did you read mine. You say you did, but did you? My comments were upon a letter from a Massachusetts correspondent criticising [sic] some Boston picture houses. You are evidently in favor of using correct sound effects. Are you finding fault with me for opposing those which are “noisy, silly and incorrect?” Do you uphold the fellow who imitates a hose “trotting on asphalt pavement when it is plain the horses are on soft or sandy soil?” I don’t believe you do, else why buy an expensive including and “air cabinet.” I still maintain that, generally speaking, the sound effect man has not advanced in the same ratio with his co-adjutor the picture pianist there are not so many good or even careful players among the drummers as among the pianists. If all the sound effect men in your part of the country are above criticism they are to be congratulated, but in the east and the middle west they are made up of good, bad and indifferent. I repeat “the sound effect idea, with many is practically the same now as it was in its crude beginning.” And so it is.

Speaking of the “air cabinet,” the first compressed air machine as applied to sound effects was invented and perfected by Wm. E. King of Chicago, some seven or eight years ago and has been in use at the Orpheum Theater (Chicago) since that house has been a picture theater. “Billy” King should have patented his ideal it would have brought him as much fame as has his popular “three-in-one” drum and bell rack.

There are a number of theaters in Chicago where the sound effects are rendered in a careful manner. Mr. King and Mr. Provan at the Orpheum have long made this branch a feature of the orchestral accompaniment to their pictures.

There are some pianists who are not yet out of the wilderness. One of them had “The Resurrection” to maltreat, slander and otherwise disfigure. For the two scenes of Russian Dancers he played “Every Body’s Doing It” and “Every body Two-step,” and at the meeting in the prison, “When You Waltz With Me.” Can you beat it?

(Courtesy W. E. King.)
First Reel.
  1. Allegretto “In Meadow Land (by Theo. Bendix), until: “Marion’s Foster Father” (when singer seen).
  2. A few bars of “The Rosary”; then back to No. 1 until she sits and sings. A few bars of “The Rosary again, then
  3. “Lilacs” (by Katheryn Roberts) until: “On the Eve of the Duel.”
  4. Plaintive until title: “At the Time Appointed.”
  5. Agitato pp. until shot. Stop a few seconds, then:
  6. “Walther’s Traumlied” (Wagner) until title: “Training His Child to Carry Out His Revenge.”
  7. “The Rosary” until title: “Ten Years Later.”
  8. “In the Shadows” (Finck) until end of reel.
Second Reel.
  1. ”Roses and Memories “ (Snyder) until scene at piano.
  2. “The Rosary” until end of scene: “Here He Comes Now. Don’t Forget Your Promise.”
  3. Schubert’s “Erl King” until Carl and Durand meet.
  4. “Evening Star” (Wagner) until struggle.
  5. Hurry (long) for fire scene until title: “Vengeance Is Mine.”
  6. Plaintive until title: “Memories.”
  7. “Roses and Memories” until she sits at piano.
  8. “The Rosary,” then back to “Roses and Memories” until close.

“THE LORELEI” (Edison).

  1. Waltz until page from book is shown.
  2. “Die Lorelei” (old German song), then back to waltz until: “A Conquest etc.”
  3. “Le Secret” (by Gautier) until title: “Neglected.”
  4. “Salut d’Amour” (Elgar) until title: “Song of the Lorelei.”
  5. “Die Lorelei” until she stops playing.
  6. “Salut d’Amour” again until title: “The Answer.”
  7. “Dreams, Just Dreams,” until title: “The Loveliest Maid is Sitting.”
  8. “Die Lorelei” until she awakes.
  9. “Au Mer” (By the Sea) until close.

(Courtesy of Milt. E. Schwarzwald, Bijou Dream Theater.)
First Reel.

Neutral all through—Novelettes, etc.

Second Reel.
  1. “Pirouette” (by Finck) until title: “When Greek Meets Greek.”
  2. “Lion du Bal” (valse) until: “The Plot Thickens.”
  3. “Avalon” once through, then “Fire Flies Dance” until: “At Once We Must Act.”
  4. Agitato p. and f. until end of reel.

Third Reel.
  1. Waltz until spies are seen approaching the house.
  2. Mysterious (“sneaky”) until: “The Night Attack.”
  3. Agitato pp. until girl signals flag ship. Swell to:
  4. Hurry (long number), until battle ship tender arrives at wharf.
  5. Presto gallop (for very fast hurry) until they blow up gasoline launch, then:
  6. Patriotic French song—“Le Chant du Depart,” or “Partant pour la Syrie” until end of picture.
Clarence E. Sinn, “Music for the Picture,” MPW 1 March 1913: 878.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Barton Piano Attachment

This ad comes from Moving Picture World 4 January 1913. The inventor, Daniel W. Barton, would patent several other attachments for the piano besides the one mentioned in the ad. The patents for the bell attachment and two other devices are given below. Clicking on the images should take you to a copy of the patent.

Patent number: 1050513
Filing date: Oct 25, 1911
Issue date: Jan 14, 1913

Patent number: 1174956
Filing date: Apr 21, 1913
Issue date: Mar 14, 1916

Patent number: 1174957
Filing date: May 7, 1913
Issue date: Mar 14, 1916