Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Further Period Comments on Talking Pictures, 1908

The following notice, quoted by Russell Lack, Twenty-Four Frames Under (1999), pp. 23-24, seems to indicated a much more modest program of "talking pictures"—at least compared to that of Kleine cited previously.
The daring idea of having human beings imitate the various sounds which the moving pictures call for and the dialogue to portray each story has made an impression on Colombia [a local theater in Cincinnati] audiences and the new name of Advanced Pictorial Vaudeville has been coined for the summer shows. The company of demonstrators behind the scenes, but close enough to make the figures appear human, are all thoroughly trained in the work and they are all thoroughly acquainted with the pictures before they are presented. This work has injected new life into the picture show. The pictorial demonstrator must be a character artist and impersonator, a versatile vocalist and able to delineate all the sounds that are suppose to emanate from the action on the sheet. Under his magic spell the picture is no longer a picture for it becomes real life (Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 June 1908).
Often the actors in such troupes were not particularly well trained. Another notice, appearing a few days later in Moving Picture World, applauded one theater for employing trained actors:
The Grand Opera House, Indianapolis, Ind., is employing graduates from a local dramatic school to do the talking behind the screen, in conjunction with the pictures. This is a step in the right direction (“Trade Notes,” Moving Picture World 13 June 1908, 510).
Stock companies were evidently another source of talent.
Springfield, I.—The Fairbanks Theater, under the management of Lee M. Boda, has opened with pictures and songs. The pictures are further enhanced by talking parts behind the screen performed by members of the Valentine Stock Company (“Trade Notes,” Moving Picture World 13 June 1908, 510).
Much like pianists, many actors found it advantageous to spoof the films by introducing quips not necessarily sanctioned by the film.
Mr. Fred[ric]k Schneider is entertaining large audiences at the Knickerbocker Theater with his talking pictures.

From behind the sheet Mr. Schneider injects bits of comedy into the pictures, which brings forth shouts of laughter.

His advertisement appears elsewhere in this number (“Trade Notes,” Moving Picture World 13 June 1908, 514).
Such spoofing seems to have been enjoyed by the audience. Critics, too, were often amused, especially if the film was designed as a comedy.
A picture like “Oh, What Lungs!” has a distinct advantage through being shown at the Manhattan. The man behind the sheet there gives immeasurable aid to a comic film. Sometimes his jests are ill-judged for serious subjects, but he is a versatile chap, and anyone at the particular game of “talking” a moving picture who may be his equal is yet to be found. This “Lung” view is funny, without dialogue, although the impromptu remarks help it greatly (Sime [pseud.], “Oh, What Lungs!” [review], Variety 22 August 1908, 13).
As the novelty began to wear off, however, critics would grow tired of actors making fun of the films, and we can see an intimation of this in the critic's caution that the actor's "jests are ill-judged for serious subjects."

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Like Actologue and Humanovo, Talk-o-Photo attempted to establish a series of talking picture companies that could be put on a circuit. The Talk-o-Photo seems to have been envisioned as part of company that would be booked into legitimate theaters, as it would be included as part of an entire show, including operators, musicians and singers.

Mr. Hooley is about to join forces with the Toledo Film [65] Exchange and will superintend a new branch of the business which will be devoted to the supplying of picture theaters with operators, musicians, illustrated song singers and talking pictures. The talking pictures will be called the Talk-o-Photo and will consist of a number of companies, which will each carry two or more reels. Four companies are already rehearsing and others are now being organized. The dialogue for the various subjects will be written by Sydney Wire, a well-known writer and lecturer (“Caille & Kunsky Lose Their Best Man,” Moving Picture World 25 July 1908, 64-65).
Lyman H. Howe, a well-known film lecturer well known for charging legitimate theater prices for his performances, also adopted the talking pictures in 1908. At least, that's what the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported (quoted in Lack, Twenty-Four Frames Under, p. 24):
[Maude Anderson’s] appearance here with the Howe show is significant, since it shows recognition of the importance of having talented artists to carry on the dialogue and unseen acting behind the curtain. If the scene represented France, Miss Anderson has a sufficient smattering of the language to carry on the dialogue in that tongue, and so with other lands and their people. Her knowledge of the stage is helpful and often she makes up extemporaneous speeches to go with the pictures as they are shown on the sheet. However, most of the time these behind-the-curtain actors have daily rehearsals to become familiar with the pictures so that they can make them seem lifelike. ‘I really like the work,’ Miss Anderson siad yesterday, ‘for there is no jealousy in the company and I don’t have to bother with any make up' (Cleveland Plain Dealer 17 August 1908)
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The following notice seems like a press release, which means the information it contains needs to be treated somewhat cautiously, but it does indicate that TA-MO-PIC probably had numerous companies on a circuit (if not necessarily as many as ten).
Talking moving pictures seem to be the vogue in certain localities just at present and it is safe to assert that one of the most popular forms of this class of entertainment are the TA-MO-PIC moving and talking pictures as furnished by O. T. Crawford, of St. Louis. Aside from carefully selected moving pictures and well balanced companies of actors and actresses, Mr. Crawford pays a great deal of attention to details, which has played no small part in his success.

It was the detail work in “Sherlock Holmes” which made that play a wonderful success, and a similar comparison may be made with Mr. Crawford’s TA-MO-PIC moving and talking pictures. There are nine companies on the road at present and ten more companies are rehearsing this week to play circuits commencing next week (“Detail Spells Success,” Moving Picture World 24 October 1908, 321).
With eight members, the Swanson company mentioned below is quite a lot more elaborate than most, but since they traveled with an operator, it means they could be booked into legitimate theaters who might not have a full-time operator available.
Streator, Ill.—The Swanson talking pictures are bringing record-breaking crowds to the Plumb Opera House. The company consist of eight persons, including the machine operator, pianist, manager and actors to imitate the parts behind the screen. They will stay in Streator as long as patronage justifies, which tend to a long run, judging by the attendance (“Notes of the Trade,” Moving Picture World 21 November 1908, 400).