Book Title: The Sounds of Early Cinema
Author: James Lastra
Format: Hardback | 344 pages
Publication Date: 03 Oct 2001
This is the first book devoted exclusively to a little known, yet absolutely crucial phenomenon: the ubiquitous presence of sound in early cinema. 'Silent cinema' may rarely have been silent, but the sheer diversity of sound(s) and sound/image relations characterising the first twenty years of moving picture exhibition still can astonish us: barkers and ballyhoos, pianists and 'traps' or 'effects' players, effects machines and sync-sound apparatuses, lecturers and actors speaking beside or behind the screen, illustrated song performers, small or even large orchestras.Whether instrumental, vocal, or mechanical, sound ranged from the improvised to the pre-planned (as in scripts, scores, and cue sheets). Moreover, the practice of mixing sounds with images differed widely depending on the venue (the nickelodeon in Chicago versus the summer Chautauqua in rural Iowa, the music hall in London or Paris versus the newest palace cinema in New York City) as well as on the historical moment (a single venue might change radically, and multiple times, from 1906 to 1910).As the book's contributors attest, this diversity requires a multiplicity of theoretical and methodological perspectives.
Some argue that we can draw lessons from historians of prior or contemporaneous cultural forms and practices that deployed sound, such as staged dramas, vaudeville programs, magic lantern shows, popular song sheet music, and phonographic cylinders and records. Others insist that we pay attention to the insights of theorists and historians of mass culture about the cultural, social, and ideological expectations of the new audiences for entertainment at the turn of the last century, especially within a framework of heightened nationalism.Still others suggest that we explore more specific questions and issues: for instance, sound cues as a neglected historical determinant in the development of film as a story-telling medium, the 'reality effect' or 'dreamwork' of sound in the synesthetic experience of 'cheap amusements', the relative appeal and value of effects, music, and dialogue as an accompaniment to films. If all in their own way demonstrate yet again the distinctive otherness of early cinema, they also compound early cinema's configuration as an unusually complex hybrid medium-in what several productively describe as a unique historical moment of intense intermediality.Selected from among nearly fifty papers presented at the Fifth International Domitor conference (hosted by the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress in early June 1998), these twenty-five essays cover a broad range of subjects: general theory as applied to film sound, sound practices in production, sound-related exhibition practices (in moving picture shows as well as in other similar cultural venues), film music, and the politics of sound reception.
Together they argue that in order to understand cinema's emergence, especially as a cultural practice at the turn of the last century, we have to recognise that the experience of sound and hearing was no less significant than that of images and seeing. Six of the essays were originally presented in French.These have been translated, and the original French texts are included as appendices. The authors include Richard Abel, Rick Altman, Edouard Arnoldy, Mats Bjorkin, Stephen Bottomore, Marta Braun, Jean Ch teauvert, Ian Christie, Richard Crangle, John Fullerton, Jane Gaines, Andre Gaudreault, Tom Gunning, Francois Jost, Charlie Keil, Jeff Klenotic, Germain Lacasse, Neil Lerner, Patrick Loughney, David Mayer, Helen Day-Mayer, Dominique Nasta, Bernard Perron, Jacques Polet, Lauren Rabinovitz, Isabelle Raynauld, Herbert Reynolds, Gregory A. Waller, and Rashit M. Yangirov.