First sound movie First stereo sound movie First colour sound movie First colour stereo sound movie
First 3D sound movie First 3D stereo sound movie First 3D colour sound movie First 3D colour stereo sound movie

First sound movie

1. The technology

2. The human subject


First sound movie including the human voice

 

The first successful live recording and synchronous playback of sound and film were probably achieved by the Frenchman Auguste Baron (1855–1938) who, with his assistant Félix Mesguich (1871–1949), is said to have produced several such films by 1897/8, in a specially arranged Graphophonoscope studio in Alma Street, Asnières-sur-Seine (although Mannoni says the studio was built in 1899). According to Mesguich the films included a number of song and dance scenes, using stars from the Opéra Comique and the Eldorado, as well as one in which Mme Baron supplied a spoken commentary. Baron appears to have supervised the sound recording, while Mesguich took the moving pictures. [Geduld]

At that date it was impossible to produce identical duplicates of phonograph cylinders, so only the original cylinder played back synchronously. [Ulano]. An electrical device on the motor-driven camera regulated the cylinder recorder to maintain synchronisation. The system was able to record a 4-minute sequence, with four carbon microphones controlling the electro-magnetic cutting needle. [Geduld, Who's Who of Victorian Cinema]

Baron gave a projection demonstration to l'Academie des Sciences in 1899, with a film of Miss Duval of the Lyric Gaiety Theatre singing a popular song, and one of the magician Félicien Trewey (friend of the Lumières), giving a shadow show. [Geduld, Who's Who of Victorian Cinema]

Financial support was not forthcoming, however, and Baron discontinued development. [Geduld]

 

Although not a sound film, mention should be made of the short chronophotographic recording made in 1891 by Georges Demeny (1850–1917), depicting himself in close-up very clearly enunciating the words "Je vous aime". Although Demeny's initial thinking had been that the technique might be useful in teaching deaf students, his ambitions for the 'phonoscope' that he patented the following year focused on its potential use for portraiture. [Tosi]

animated gif of Georges Demeny speaking

 

Earliest surviving sound movie including the human voice

Buschmann (Kalahari) spricht in den Phonographen (1908)

The Austrian ethnologist Rudolf Pöch (1870–1921) made this as a 3½ minute 35mm film, with simultaneous sound recording on an Edison cylinder. It depicts a Bushman named Kubi speaking in the Tsu-khwe language, and gesturing directly into the phonograph horn. After the rediscovery of the cylinder, sound and image were synchronised by Dietrich Schüller in 1984, and released in 1987 by the Österreichisches Bundesinstut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film. [Tosi, Poech, Parsons] Part of this film is included in the Origins of Scientific Cinematography DVD.

It is conceivable that earlier examples exist, as Pöch was certainly employing both cinematograph and phonograph in New Guinea by December 1907. [Moving Picture World]

Although there are a few spoken words at the start of the Dickson Experimental Sound Movie, they are spoken off camera.

 


 

First surviving stereo sound movie including the human voice

'Stick Trick', 1935

Blumlein's second experimental film, dated 12 July 1935, and known as 'Stick Trick', runs for 116 feet, a total of 1 minute 15 seconds. Three men are shown—Albert Westlake, Philip Vanderlyn and Felix Trott—playing tricks with a short pole which they hold and then try to climb over without removing their hands from the ends. Frank 'Felix' Runcorn Trott (1911–2002) is the only participant who speaks on camera. [Alexander]

The Archive of the Alexandra Palace Television Society has a copy of this film.

 


 

First stereo sound movie including a female voice

The first sound feature film experienced in stereo by contemporaries was 1952's This is Cinerama, which premiered on 30 September 1952, at the New York Broadway theatre. It was essentially a 115 minute travelogue, and included women's voices, but only en masse.

The first stereo sound feature film, not experienced in stereo when originally shown, but now available with remastered stereo, was The Wizard of Oz, of 1939. This, of course, features the voice of Judy Garland (1922–1969). The stereo version has been available since 1999. The 2009 Blu-ray version features a lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track.

Earlier examples of stereo sound feature films that included the female voice were Love Finds Andy Hardy and One Hundred Men and a Girl, but it is doubtful whether the stereo soundtracks (if they still exist) are ever likely to be reconstructed.

 


 

Earliest-born human whose voice was recorded in a surviving sound film

 

Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931) is the earliest candidate so far identified. This sequence was recorded by a Fox Movietone newsreel camera at Edison's Glenmount home in West Orange, New Jersey, USA, on 12 August 1927. Edison re-enacted his historic invention of the phonograph for the Golden Jubilee of the Phonograph ceremony fifty years after the original words were first recorded.

According to IWF Wissen und Medien, Kubi, the Bushman of the above-mentioned 1908 film, was in his 60s at the time he was filmed. If so, he could well have been born earlier than Edison.

 


 

Earliest-born human whose voice was recorded in a stereo sound film

Probably Charley Grapewin (1869–1956), who played Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz.

 


 

Earliest-born woman whose voice was recorded in a surviving sound film

Firm information not yet located.

According to Welch & Burt, Marjorie Ellison, Laura Dean and Nellie Grant were among those who made trial Kinetophone recordings; if this was Nellie Grant (1855–1922), daughter to President Ulysses S. Grant, she may have been the earliest-born woman to be recorded this way, but there is no suggestion that the recording survives. [Birth years have not been located for the other two women.]

The earliest-born woman to appear in a De Forest Phonofilm picture made in or before 1923 was Helen Lowell (1866–1937), who appeared in Love's Old Sweet Song (1923).

 


Earliest-born woman whose voice was recorded in a stereo sound film

Possibly Sybil Thorndike (1882–1976), who played Queen Victoria in the 1953 Melba.

 

Full references for printed works

Scott Eyman (1997) The Speed of Sound. Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926–1930. New York: Simon & Schuster

Harry M. Geduld (1975) The Birth of the Talkies. From Edison to Jolson. Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press

Laurent Mannoni (2005, 2010) 'Baron, Auguste', in Richard Abel, ed. (2005, 2010) Encyclopedia of Early Cinema. London and New York: Routledge

Rosalind Rogoff (Spring 1976) "Edison's Dream: A Brief History of the Kinetophone", Cinema Journal, 15.2, American Film History, pp58-68

Virgilio Tosi (2005) Cinema before Cinema. The Origins of Scientific Cinematography, 2nd edn. London: British Universities Film and Video Council.

Walter L. Welch & Leah Brodbeck Stenzel Burt (1994) From Tinfoil to Stereo. The Acoustic Years of the Recording Industry 1877–1929. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida

 

© 2010–2016 Benjamin S. Beck

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This page was last revised on 2016-09-14.