Back to Overview

Film

Discover the history and development of film, a merging of science, technology, business, and art, and one of the most widely experienced mediums.

Tools & Tips:

Experimentation with Sound


Advent of Cinema

Scientists and inventors set photographs into motion—and make movies.


Experimentation with Sound

Sound technology breaks the silence of the movies and revolutionizes filmmaking.


Documentary and Propaganda

Filmmakers turn their cameras onto real life to make documentaries, or attempt to mold real life to an ideology through propaganda.


Experimentation in Film / The Avant-Garde

Seeing untapped artistic and, sometimes, revolutionary potential in film, artists and filmmakers take motion pictures into entirely new territory.


On October 6, 1927, Warner Bros. released The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length film to incorporate synchronized sound for sequences of dialogue. Though these sequences were limited and brief, hearing the voices of the film’s stars was a revelation for audiences. The following year, Warner Bros. pushed the possibilities of sound further with The Lights of New York, the first feature-length film with its entire dialogue recorded. From here, there was no going back: the era of silent films had come to an end and a revolutionized industry embraced sound.

Before the advent of viable sound technology, silent films were accompanied by live music. In even the humblest American and European movie theaters, there would have been a pianist employed to provide a soundtrack for the films, while the more opulent theaters could afford to house organs or employ full orchestras. In Japan, live performers voiced the dialogue. From the beginning of cinema, then, there was a relationship between sound and motion pictures and ambition among scientists and inventors to merge them into a single, unified entity.

Two effective methods emerged from experiments begun in the early 20th century: sound-on-disc and sound-on-film. In the sound-on-disc system—used for The Jazz Singer and The Lights of New York—music and dialogue were recorded on waxed records that played in sync with the film. By 1931, this system was supplanted by sound-on-film, in which sound waves were converted into light waves photographically inscribed onto the film itself, such that a single strip could carry both images and, synced reliably to them, the accompanying soundtrack.

With sound-on-film technology both stabilized and improving by 1932, movies with a soundtrack—called “talkies,” in reference to the increasingly robust dialogue between the characters—swept much of the globe. As a major generator of talkies, Hollywood rose to become the cultural-commercial powerhouse we know today. Sound vastly expanded the potential of film. It gave filmmakers a whole new medium, one as deeply affective and expressive as images, with which to craft their stories. Accordingly, films became longer, increasingly experimental and complex, and embedded deeply into popular culture as more and more people spent their time outside of work at the movies.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

A sound technology that began to be developed in the early twentieth century and became commercially viable by the late 1920s, eventually supplanting the sound-on-disc system. In sound-on-film, sound waves were converted into light waves that were then photographically inscribed onto the film itself. This allowed for a single strip of film to carry both pictures and the soundtrack, which was imprinted alongside the pictures and read by special image-and-audio-pattern-reading projectors.

A sound technology that began to be developed in the early twentieth century and became commercially viable by the late 1920s. In this system, music and dialogue were recorded on waxed records that were played in sync with the film via a turntable connected to a film projector through an interlock.

A person who directs or produces movies.

1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).