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.