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.