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 colour sound movie

1. The technology

2. The human subject

First 2-colour sound movie

La Chauve souris, 1925

Franco-Russian ballet company La Chauve Souris performed excerpts of their Broadway revue La Chauve souris (The Bat) by Nikita Balieff in this film produced in two-strip Technicolor and the De Forest Phonofilm sound-on-film process, 35mm spherical format. Directed by Kenneth S. Webb (1892–1966), a test negative was made in Boston on 20 March, but the film was never publicly exhibited. The film was apparently 'thrown out', as Balieff was unhappy with the way his voice was reproduced (the sound had to be reproduced in red or green, so the resolution was inadequate). [Layton and Pierce; Geduld, Silent Era]



The earliest surviving 2-colour sound movie was The Viking, directed by Roy William Neill (1887–1946) and initially released silent on 28 November 1928. A musical score was recorded in December, and a new version was released in 1929 with the soundtrack, but as one of the last productions without audible dialogue. The sound was provided by an optical Movietone track and the colour was by Technicolor in their two-component dye transfer process. Although the original camera negative was destroyed in the 1970s, a new print was made in 2012 from one of the two preservation colour reversal internegatives. [Layton and Pierce; Basten]

The earlier The Cavalier, which premiered on 30 October 1928 with synchronised sound discs (probably), no longer exists in colour or with sound. [Layton and Pierce]



First 3-colour sound feature film

Becky Sharp, 1935

The first feature filmed in 3-strip Technicolor, Becky Sharp premiered on 28 June 1935 at Radio City Music Hall. The producers were Kenneth Macgowan and Rouben Mamoulian; the director was Rouben Mamoulian (1897–1987). [Basten; Layton and Pierce] The 84-minute film was restored in 1992 by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.


First colour stereo sound movie

Distant Thames, 1951

For London's Festival of Britain, in 1951, a futuristic cinema was constructed—the Telecinema—at which four stereoscopic films were presented in stereophonic sound. Two of these were animations, so not considered here. Of the others, one was in colour. This was the 9½ minute International Realist documentary Distant Thames, released by the British Film Institute on 30 April 1951. It was later retitled Royal River (possibly in a slightly expanded version).

Director: Brian Smith; cameraman: Stanley W. Sayer; Stereo Techniques technology: Raymond and Nigel L. Spottiswood; stereo sound: Ken Cameron. [Zone; Hayes]



First colour stereo sound feature film

The first colour sound feature film experienced in stereo by contemporaries was This is Cinerama, which premiered on 30 September 1952, at the New York Broadway theatre. It was essentially a 115 minute travelogue, designed to showcase the new 3-projector widescreen format. It was directed by Merian C. Cooper (1893–1973) and Gunther von Fritsch (1906–1988). The film is available on Blu-ray, with a Smilebox simulated curved screen.

The first colour stereo sound feature film, not experienced in stereo when originally shown, but—thanks to the survival of the original microphone tapes—now available with remastered stereo, was the celebrated The Wizard of Oz, of 1939 (director Victor Fleming, 1889–1949). The stereo version has been available since 1999. The 2009 Blu-ray version features a lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track.



Earliest surviving colour and sound videotape recording

Eisenhower WRC-TV, 1958


This is sample footage of the earliest surviving colour videotape recording, showing US President Eisenhower's inaugural address to WRC-TV on 22 May 1958. The first 15 minutes of the event were shot in black and white, then Robert Sarnoff, RCA Chairman, switches on the colour. For the remaining 15 minutes Robert Sarnoff, Dwight Eisenhower and David Sarnoff speak about the station and the colour television technology while themselves being recorded in colour. The whole program is available on Veoh. This sample shows the B&W portion where the president arrives, and the colour portion in which Robert Sarnoff and Dwight Eisenhower speak.

The first sound and picture colour film recordings from TV had been made in Washington, DC, from a CBS colour TV receiver, on 6, 7, and 8 February 1950. [Albert Abramson, in Fielding]


First DVD

The DVD Consortium (later the DVD Forum), including ten principal players in the industry, was founded in 1995, and adopted a Universal Disk Format for all optical media. The format for DVD-Video discs was adopted as UDF Revision 1.02 on 30 August 1996.

The DVD format was publicly launched in Japan in November 1996, at which time a handful of DVD titles, mostly music videos, are said to have been available. The first feature films on DVD appeared in Japan on 20 December that year (The Assassin, Blade Runner, Eraser, and The Fugitive, from Warner Home Video). [DVD FAQ]



First multimedia CD-ROM

The first multimedia CD-ROM encyclopaedia was Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia, released in early 1990; this DOS version was replaced by a Windows version the following year. The Windows version was the first to permit simultaneous display of text, stills, video, and music. [Compute!, WorldCat, Compton's by Britannica]

Produced around the same time as Compton's was the Guinness Disk of World Records, produced by Compact Solutions for the Macintosh computer. [InfoWorld]

But there are earlier contenders for the first multimedia CD-ROM. A strong contender is National Geographic's Mammals. A Multimedia Encyclopedia, also first published in 1990 (selling at $49.95); a news item introducing it may be seen on YouTube. In an article in Technology and Learning, 1 January 1991, it was described as a


CD-ROM program based on the National Geographic Society's two-volume Book of Mammals. Using the disc, students can read information about more than 200 animals, clicking on highlighted words in the text to call up a glossary definition if needed. But the mammals really come alive through the photographs and, in some cases, short film clips of an animal in its natural environment, which the CD-ROM can display on screen. Students can also hear many animals' voices as recorded in the field, as well as the correct pronunciation of animal names.

[Billboard, InfoWorld]

Another strong contender is the CD Companion for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (Voyager Co., Macintosh), published in January 1990, and described as the program that "changed the face of computer multimedia." [ArtsInteractive, InfoWorld]



Full references for printed works

Fred E. Basten (2005) Glorious Technicolor. The Movies' Magic Rainbow

Raymond Fielding, ed. (1967) A Technological History of Motion Pictures. Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press

James Layton and David Pierce (2015) The Dawn of Technicolor 1915–1935. Rochester, NY: George Eastman House


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This page was last revised on 2019-03-30.