Film Technologies and The Star System

Film Technologies

As I reflected on all the film technology we have learned about throughout the course, I realized how extensively my knowledge about the film has increased. I can now explain and identify film technologies such as continuity cutting, parallel editing, reverse angle editing, intertitles, and many more we have seen in our class viewings. Being able to see the development of these technologies has allowed me to really understand the massive impact film technology continues to have on the viewer’s understanding and interpretation of the film. We were able to view films before the discovery of many of the technologies we studied. This allowed us to notice the importance of editing for establishing the plot of a film. We started our viewings by some of the very first films to have been produced. These films usually did not have sound and were composed of many pictures played after another to form motion. In the first film we watched, The Cabbage Fairy, it was nearly impossible to understand the plot, if there was one. However, as we progressed in our viewings in chronological order, the new developments in film technology made the films much more understandable and entertaining. We eventually made it to films like Bring Up Baby i that made us wonder how certain scenes were made possible without the use of animations. This buildup of viewings allowed us, the students, to see the significance of every film technology.

This photo shows a scene from Bring Up Baby in which it seems as if the two main actors are riding in a car with leopard. However, they shot two different scenes and put them over each other to make it seem as if the leopard and actors were there at the same time.

The star system

Of the many film technologies we discussed, I was most intrigued by the star system. The star system was creating, promoting, and exploiting of stars in Hollywood films. The reason why I picked this film technology over the others is because of the involvement of human emotions needed for the star system to be effective. The star system started with an actress called Florence Lawrence and continues on in almost every mainly streamed Hollywood films today. Florence Lawrence had parts in about 60 films directed by D.W. Griffith in 1908. She eventually gained so much popularity that her fans started writing to the studio asking for her name since the studio had never publicized her. The studio refused to publicize her and she became known as the “Biograph Girl.” As her fame grew she demanded much higher pay and started looking for work elsewhere. Carl Laemmle who was looking for a star tried to take in Lawrence. To officially make her a star, he spread a rumor that Lawrence had died by a streetcar. After he gained the attention of the media, he released in the newspapers that she is alive and well. The fans were then so excited to see Lawrence alive that popped the buttons off her coat. Laemmle falsely claimed that Lawrence’s fans rushed her and tore her clothes off to generate further attention! It was at this moment that the star system was born.

Wikipedia contributors. “Florence Lawrence.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 Nov. 2019. Web. 9 Nov. 2019.

Putting the Spotlight on The Star System

Peaking My Interest

I would consider the star system the most interesting technology I have learned about in this class. What’s drawn me to this technology the most is it feels like the most dynamic technology in its perception throughout time. Additionally, I feel like the history and stories behind the star system are some of the most unbelievable and contemporaneously revealing pieces of information I have ever heard. The story that first drew me to this concept is obviously the story of Florence Lawrence and her “revival” into “having her clothes torn off in a frenzy.” When I first heard this story in class I the absurdity caused me to chuckle a fair amount, then I thought about what this meant. This use of Florence Lawrence is what spawned the star system as its success caught the eye of various studios.  

Looking Into It

I learned that throughout the studio era, the star system was not exactly the most moral institution. Studios were more concerned with the presentation of the stars to the public more than anything else, and as a result had new personalities created for them. It was an extremely superficial system which is nicely representative of the time period which spawned it. The early 1900s were full of ridiculous innovation and invention, especially as it pertained to innovations for the common person. In 1908, the first Ford Model T was produced. In 1906, sound radio broadcasting was invented. Studios were just as anxious to get in on the invention trend, so they set their sights on inventing stars. The superficiality of the star system only draws more parallels to its time as it progressed. The 1920’s were years which the public only saw the surface of the nation through the flashy new art and technology, ignorant to imminent economic failure; just as the public only saw the personalities of stars that the studios wanted them to see, ignorant to the real lives and exploitation of the same stars. It is almost humorous that the economic downfall which the public’s eye was blind to by the technology and entertainment of the time led to the decline of the star system (as a consequence of the fall of the studio system). 

Picture of Bringing Up Baby‘s movie poster, which featured Cary Grant, a prominent figure in the star system.


I was able to see some of the famous results of the star system through the films we watched throughout the course.The most notable of these stars was Cary Grant in Bringing Up BabyLooking into the star system has given me a new perspective on the current “star system” and state of the film industry. It has also made me wonder how former star system stars would function in today’s industry. Film stars now are completely independent of studios and rather than an active effort being made to cover up their personal lives, people seem to feast on their personal struggles along with the content they star in. I understand what caused the change from the studio era to modern day, but what I have yet to comprehend is the shift in coverage of personal lives of these stars. Maybe the reason for the change is the inability to hide anything in this era of communication and information accessibility, or it is a change to an “any publicity is good publicity” mindset. Either way, this research process has left me much more skeptical of the film industry and actors.


“1900s (Decade).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Nov. 2019,
“Florence Lawrence.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Nov. 2019,
“Star System (Filmmaking).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Apr. 2019,

Spofford Topics

Film technology has followed an interesting development process, but one element has stood out more than the others. Censorship and the way that it influenced the development of the film industry and the perception of the film industry in the past has been my favorite topic that we have explored this semester. I know that this has no connection to my major, nor is it properly a technology, unless the definition of technology is anything that changes the perspective, however this is one of the most interesting parts of film technology for me as history is one of my favorite lenses to look through. There is a false sense that the film industry has established in modern society that in the past, not just the film industry, but also the entirety of society was much more conservative than it actually turned out to be. This was accomplished in the 1930’s when the Film Code was created, however, they were able to also erase the prior track record of the industry. 

When we first began to discuss early films that were created during the silent era, we learned that the actresses were seen as little better than prostitutes. There was no limit to the themes that could be portrayed on screen. Very little of this is remembered due to the loss of ninety percent of the films from the silent era which leaves most of the existing ‘old’ films to be from the timer period of censorship. Censorship was only highly active during a small portion of the film industry however since a greater percentage of those films survived into modern times and since they had sound, they were more popular and provided a highly skewed view of societal norms of the past and of the film industry and how it operated since its humble beginnings.

Censorship brought about many changes to film, however it was ultimately unable to remove all of the inappropriate themes from film that were deemed unsuitable for polite society to view. Writers and directors became adept at concealing innuendos and skirting the censorship regulations. Screwball comedy is one of the best examples of this. In the film Bringing Up Baby, the entire film is layered with innuendos such as the researcher’s bone which is just a reference to an erection. This is correlated with the girl in the film who is meant to represent pure and unadulterated want, with a specific focus on the sexual side.

Not only did censorship not accomplish its goal of getting rid of the unseemly content in the film industry and in society overall, but it also helped to establish a genre of film called screwball comedy that practically oozes inappropriate jokes and themes. Censorship can be thanked for the lovely film that is Bringing Up Baby and the way that films such as Laura portray the plot. It played a vital role in the development of the film industry, almost as much as technological advancements such as technicolor and stereophonic sound. Continue reading “Spofford Topics”

Transformational Technicolor: A Brief Overview of a Revolutionary Film Technology

Introduction to Technicolor

Three-Strip Technicolor Camera from the 1930s, via Wikipedia

The history of color film dates back to the early 20th century (1908) when the first successful color motion picture process, Kinemacolor, was invented by George Albert Smith in England. While the development of Kinemacolor was a major breakthrough and allowed for the production of films such as The Birth of a Nation (1915) directed by D. W. Griffith, it suffered a great decline due to its expensive and faulty nature (image halos) when displaying films.  Its successor, Technicolor, was introduced approximately a decade later in 1916 by Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation founders Herbert Kalmus and Daniel Comstock who were researchers at the highly-respected Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  After its commercial release, Technicolor became the most employed method of color processing in the film industry for three entire decades from 1922 to 1953.

A newspaper excerpt of Natalie Kalmus, via IMDB

The Technicolor color process involved a collection of dye-transfer techniques that utilized a beam-splitting optical cube and camera lens to reveal three black and white films. A light would then be distributed through the camera into three separated beams and concentrate the proper amount of red, green, and blue onto a separate black and white film. The three films would then be developed individually, printed, colored through dyes, then be laminated together to produce a single colored image. To project these images, a specific–and expensive–Technicolor Camera was rented out by film studios and often required a specialized technician on set to properly function. One of the most well known “Technicolor Directors” was Natalie Kalmus,  the previous wife of founder Herbert Kalmus, who supervised many major movie sets and applied strict regulations in film management.

Technicolor in Films

The movie poster of The Wizard of Oz (1939), via Wikipedia

As mentioned previously, the rise of Technicolor in color film production within Hollywood led to the development of a wide array of blockbuster hits that have even achieved the title of “movie classics” today. One of these hits is the famous musical, The Wizard of Oz (1939), which was directed by Victor Fleming and produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. The use of Technicolor grew exponentially into virtually every movie genre from costume pictures such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) to animated films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). The reach of Technicolor in Hollywood was immeasurable in the decades preceding and following World War II and became the most used method of color processing in that era. Early on in its commercial career, Technicolor usage was dominated by Walt Disney Studios through an exclusive contract that allowed only them to use the three-strip Technicolor process–leaving competing animation studios with sub-par color production technologies (two-color Technicolor/Cinecolor). Altogether, it is remarkably easy to say that Technicolor was unbeaten in its golden age and offered both cutting-edge technology and sustainable profits–two of the most decisive factors that led to its wide adoption in the film industry.

Impact of Technicolor

While the use of Technicolor has declined since its height in the mid-twentieth century due to technological advancements over time, it is still used today in the restoration of older films and development of modern movies (Toy Story 2, Godzilla). Without the discovery of the Technicolor color processing techniques, we may have never had the opportunity to appreciate the amazing classic movies we treasure today and further our scientific progress in the realms of physics and chemistry and their applications in film-making. I am truly intrigued by the science and engineering behind the chemical processes and mechanical composition of the Technicolor cameras and believe that they could have a special relationship with my personal field of study–Computer Science. As we move forward into the future, artificial intelligence, computer vision, and image detection are becoming one of the driving forces in basically everything from information security to digital archiving to machine learning in paintings.  Combining the creative science and patterns behind Technicolor with Computer Science principles may prove to be another research path in our ever-evolving world. All in all, Technicolor as a film technology has revolutionized film-making over the past century and will always be an integral part of our cultural history.



“Kinemacolor.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Sept. 2019,

“Technicolor.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Oct. 2019,

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Technicolor.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 Oct. 2013,

Giving the Stars Their Light

We only have the breathtaking feature films that we love today because of the many technological advancements made to push the quality of film further. While most people look to physical advancements such as digital cameras and microphones when they think of film technology, my mind immediately turns to a phenomenon much less concrete: the star system.

What is the Star System?

The star system can be loosely defined as the process of assigning actors personas and making them adhere to those personas in both their professional and personal lives. However, in order to truly understand the star system, one must first understand what came before it. In the early years of cinema, actors were looked down upon by society. This was even more so the case for female actors as they were seen by many as prostitutes. However, in 1910, the “Independent Moving Picture Company not only credited but advertised ‘stars’ [Florence] Lawrence, [William King] Baggot and other studio actors, a stroke that generated publicity and with it astronomical ticket sales (Hollywood Lexicon).” Other studios began to follow suit, placing emphasis on their actors and using them to drive sales. It was then that actors gained a significant boost in status and the concept of the “movie star” was born.

Marilyn Monroe, a highly idealized star portraying a dumb blonde
The star CRAZE

Today, movie stars are adored by millions around the world. These high profile actors have the ability turn almost any film into a box office success just by starring in it. It is because of this power that I find the star system so fascinating. In one of my earlier blogs, I talk about how this power was leveraged in the advertising of The Country Flapper (1922). Magazine adverts promoting the film contained the name of it’s star, Dorothy Gish, in bold letters far bigger than anything else on the page.

Advertisement for The Country Flapper

We saw several examples of stars in the movies assigned to the class  including Humphrey Bogart, the star of In a Lonely Place (1950). Due to his unique features and ruggedly handsome face, Bogart specialized in morally ambiguous characters and was thus associated with such types of roles by the public. However, one of the best examples of true actor of the star system is Marilyn Monroe, one of the most famous actors of all time. Monroe often played the role of an attractive and dumb blonde, but stole the hearts of people around the world. She was seen as the perfect woman by many, forcing her to dazzle the world even when not filming.

A bigger picture

The success of the star system point to a valuable business lesson: branding is everything. People naturally drift towards things that are comfortable and familiar to them. Just like people will see a movie with a star they already love, they will buy a product with a company they already trust. In some ways, companies create their own personas. For example, Google has become known as the place where quirky geniuses go to change the world. Apple has aimed to set itself apart with the slogan, “think different.” Ultimately, when a company creates a persona for itself, it wants consumers to idealize the company in same way that movie-goers idealize actors.


“Star System (Film).” Hollywood Lexicon,

Transition to Sound: A Pivotal Technology in the Film Industry


Soundtracks, sound effects, and dialogue have become such an integral part of films today that movies without these elements somehow seem incomplete. In the Silent Film era from the mid-1890s to the late 1920s, films relied on the usage of physical action and intertitles to convey plot and crucial dialogue. Silent films were usually accompanied by music, played live by a pianist or a small orchestra. Intertitles would also sometimes narrated to the audience by someone in the theatre. 

The idea of combining film and recorded sound was constructed since the beginning of the film era but was prevented due to technical challenges. The major challenges to adding sound to film were accurately synchronizing sound and getting sufficient amplification of sound. These two tasks were made possible by the invention of the Vitaphone and the Audion amplifier tube. The Vitaphone was a sound on disk system created by the Warner Bros to create synchronized musical accompaniments to their films. The soundtrack was issued separately on phonograph records which were then played on a turntable attached to the projector motor as the film was being projected. This led to the first widely-released sound film – The Jazz Singer (1927). 

Why I Find Sound Interesting

Sound as a technology intrigues me the most as it allowed films to be more complex and to evoke feelings that silent films could not. Not only did the development of sound in films allow for greater creative freedom and complexity in narrative but it also greatly altered existing film genres such as horror films and comedies and created new genres such as musicals and screwball comedy. 

 Emily Blunt  and Millicent Simmonds in A Quiet Place, from Paramount Pictures.

In horror movies, music and sound effects are crucial for creating an ominous and suspenseful atmosphere. The creaking floorboard, murmurs, and eerie music all combine to amp up the tension and induce fear. While sound can contribute to increasing tension in a film, so can the absence of sound. For example, in A Quiet Place (2018), a family is forced to live in silence in order to avoid creatures that hunt utilizing their ultra-sensitive hearing. The lack of sound creates an uncomfortable tension. The slightest sounds were then intended to make the audience anxious as it was a signal that the characters are in danger. While watching the film, I felt so immersed in the world that the directors of the film created that I was afraid to make noise as well. 

The genre of screwball comedy is characterized by its fast pace and humorous interactions between the main characters who are usually in an untraditional romantic relationship. In Bringing Up Baby (1938), David Huxley and Susan Vance’s dynamic were mainly characterized by their banter and bickering. The development of sound allowed for these fast-paced conversations that intertitles would not have been able to keep up with. 

Soundtracks also play a major role in the success and recognizability of a film. Many people today could identify the Star Wars soundtrack, the Jaws Theme, or Celine Dion’s Titanic theme without even seeing the movie before. Studying sound from a technological perspective has taught me that the production of a film is not only technical but very artistic in which every choice from sound effects to dialogue must be precise and has a specific purpose. 



“History of Film Technology.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Nov. 2019,

James, Daron. “How ‘A Quiet Place’ Sound Editors Scared Audience Sans Noise.” Variety, 15 Feb. 2019,

“Screwball Comedy.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Oct. 2019,

“Vitaphone.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Nov. 2019,

Zarrelli, Natalie. “How the Hidden Sounds of Horror Movie Soundtracks Freak You Out.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 31 Oct. 2016,

Boom!: A Revolutionary Way to Record Sound

a creative solution

When looking back on the numerous technologies we have covered this semester, there was one that stood out to me as a surprisingly creative solution to a common problem. Being a music producer and music technology major, I care a lot about sound, recording technology, and the recording process, so I found boom microphones to be absolutely fascinating. It is a technology that is used in nearly every form of video recording today, and I am only now understanding that it is such a clever, unique, and much needed solution to a common problem many film studios were struggling with when sound was becoming more prevalent.

History of the Boom Mic

Before boom mics, microphones were hidden within the set in order for them to not be seen. This was a great struggle for film producers, as scenes had to be based around the microphone placement and movement was severely limited. Actors were forced to always act and speak in the direction of the microphone because if they moved their head while speaking, the sound waves would travel away, preventing them from being picked up. Many actors had a difficult time adjusting to this new technology, as it hindered and restricted their ability to be expressive with movement. The invention of the boom mic was in response to these issues during the filming of the 1929 film The Wild Party. One of the stars, Clara Bow, was nervous about the new technology and had difficulty adjusting to microphones. In order to fix this problem and to allow Bow to move around more freely, director Dorothy Arzner devised a plan to attach a microphone to a fishing rod to hang over the scene out of shot. This allowed for sound to continuously be recorded as characters move, since a boom mic operator can follow characters as they move across a scene.

A New Love for the boom

As I learned more about boom mics while preparing this blog post, I gained a newfound appreciation for the amount of effort that went into and still goes into the sound of film, television, and other video media. While watching a film, I normally don’t think about how the sound is captured during chase sequences, walking or running scenes, or other dynamic scenes involving movement. Due to boom mic technology, these types of scenes can have high-quality audio at a consistent volume throughout the course of the scene. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been for both actors and sound engineers at the time to have to worry about microphone placement and speaking in the direction of a still microphone while also trying to act. I would have probably gone insane having to keep telling actors to speak into the microphone over and over again. People still don’t know how to properly talk into a mic even after the technology has been around for over a century, and it drives me crazy while running the sound for different events. The boom mic seems so obvious and practical today, but it is incredible to think there was a time when it was infinitely more frustrating to capture audio.

Image of a Modern Boom mic operator

Works Cited:

Barson, Michael. “Dorothy Arzner.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia
Britannica, Inc., 27 Sept. 2019,

“Boom Operator.” Media,

“Boom Operator (Media).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Sept. 2019,

“Dorothy Arzner.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Oct. 2019,

“The Wild Party (1929 Film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Aug. 2019,


Parallel Editing and the Art of Suspense

Parallel editing, or cross cutting, has played an indispensable role in the film business since its introduction in the early 1900’s. It became an integral part of all movie genres, but suspense, action, and thriller films made this piece of technology a staple in their stories. The exposition of two separate, although related, scenarios, typically converging into a climactic event, holds viewers glued to the screens, unable to turn away from the inevitable reveal or ensuing action.

I came to the realization of how much I enjoy this bit of technology as we began to study it in class, and how I gravitate towards films that use it in their climactic scenes. Parallel editing, also known as cross cutting, is the filming technique of cutting between multiple scenes happening at the same time, but in different locations, which many times will come together at a certain point. Being an appreciator of good films, I have come to notice how much I enjoy cross cutting in scenes of suspense and emotional trial. We saw from the earliest studies on film technology and its development that cross cutting has been used to build suspense, and really grip the audience, since its early beginnings. We saw parallel editing used in The Great Train Robbery, by Edwin Porter in 1903, establishing a new style of filming and breaking barriers in the use of technology. We saw this in Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Laura, in the closing scene of the film, we see the camera cut back and forth between Laura Hunt in her bedroom, Waldo Lydecker preparing the shotgun, and Mark McPherson and the other detectives trying to get back into the apartment. These cuts allow us to see the wave of emotions in each character, and tells the story of the scene from multiple perspectives, allowing the thrill and anticipation to build until the culmination of the different affairs. 

One of my personal favorite uses of the cross cutting technology is in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, in the scenes where Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes are locked away in two different warehouses, forcing Batman and the police to split up in order to save both characters. We see scenes of the police speeding down the highway, Batman in his cruiser, and Rachel and Harvey attempting to console each other, knowing that one of them is going to be blown up. The suspense of the scene continues to build as the police and Batman close in on the two locations. This use of parallel editing made this sequence of events an editing masterpiece within the film, and helped the film maintain and progress its suspenseful themes.

Learning about this technology has helped me view the editing of films in a new light. A simple change in the editing of scenes, and the placement of those scenes within the film, make all the difference in the film being either fluid and gripping, or choppy and unenjoyable. As I have dug deeper into the technological aspect of the film industry, I have developed both a newfound respect for film editors, and a new focus on the structure of films and the way they are presented.  



Works Cited

Paul, Johnathan. “Master the Hollywood Technique of Parallel Editing.” The Beat: A Blog by PremiumBeat, 28 Mar. 2016,



The Transition to Sound: A Rocky Path with Payoff

The emergence of sound in films completely transformed the film industry, previously solely defined by silent films; sound technology changed the path of the industry’s future, creating new possibilities and opportunities for growth within this form of art. This film technology intrigued me greatly, as I had never realized the impact that sound had on films; I knew the basic progression of films, going from silent to sound, but never considered the changes and challenges sound brought to the entire process of the creation of a film. 

The Jazz Singer, released in 1927, was the first widely released sound film, and its success led to the installation of sound systems behind screens in various movie theaters. As films incorporated sound, ticket sales skyrocketed, and though audiences reacted positively to many early sound films, some believed sound would destroy film’s uniqueness and many new challenges had to be overcome to create a sound film. One major change that this transition brought was the need to return to sound stages to avoid external noises. With the need for boom microphones and hidden microphones as well as multiple cameras rolling at once to avoid recording problems and many other new components, these sound stages became crowded even when filming a simple scene. The transition to the use of sound technologies also affected actors’ performances because the director could no longer speak to the actors as the camera rolled. Over time, studios adapted to these challenges and technologies were advanced to work around them in order for sound to become the new normal in the film industry.

The first sound film we watched in class, Dorothy Arzner’s Merrily We Go to Hell, released in 1932, implemented unique features of sound technologies that a silent film would not have been able to do. For example, one significant use of sound in the film occurs during the scene in which the two main characters, Joan and Jerry, kiss in the car and the horn honks loudly as the screen transitions to the next scene. This horn can be interpreted as a warning, suggesting that something bad will happen later in the film. This use of sound reveals more about the film to the audience than simply the dialogue, exemplifying the way in which sound technologies were able to allow for more creativity within a film.

Merrily We Go to Hell, released in 1932, incorporated many uses of sound technology.

After reflecting on Hollywood’s transition to sound in the film industry, I realized that with an emerging, breakthrough technology, the transition from the old to the new may not always be as smooth as expected. For example, the initial transition from silent to sound films brought new challenges that directors, actors, and producers did not have to consider with silent films, such as external noise, or something as simple as not making microphones visible in the shot. However, with an understanding of the potential of this new technology and a willingness to work through the challenges that the technology initially poses, the technology could lead to amazing breakthroughs. Furthermore, I realized that there will always exist people who initially oppose new technologies, believing that it ruins the “magic” of the old ways. However, those who are willing to adapt and incorporate these new technologies and take advantage of the new opportunities the technologies provide are those who will succeed.

Works Cited

Cousins, Mark. The Story of Film. Pavilion Books, 2012.

Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. “Merrily We Go To Hell.” Wikipedia. 7. Nov. 2019.

Sound Technology: How Microphones and Recording Devices Work Together

Sound – it’s a huge part of films, from the intense dialogue to the suspenseful music of thrillers. When watching silent films, I realized how much I take for granted the audio in films and the great impact it has on the overall quality and experience of the film. Even if I close my eyes during a horror movie, I can still hear the sound effects and creepy music and still feel the intended effect even without the visuals. While watching the films from class, I became acutely aware whenever a scene didn’t have music. Pauses between characters speaking became more noticeable, and the scene would overall seem less influential. 

What first made sound possible was the invention of the microphone, in 1827 and at a very early stage. The scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone had discovered that sound could be transmitted through waves and could be captured through a device or medium. This prompted others to figure out how to convert these waves into electrical signals, seen in the carbon microphone which is known as the first “true” microphone. Other versions of the microphone were developed after. However, these microphones were simply amplifiers and there was not a way to record the sound. Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877 revolutionized recording. (Read more about types of microphones here)


In a nutshell, this machine worked by taking in sound waves and vibrating and rotating, causing pressure and creating grooves in tinfoil. To playback this sound, a stylus was placed on the groove and the cylinder would move and recreate the sound recorded. Though revolutionary, this form of recording was not practical large scale and had many flaws within itself. A form a recording capable of mass production was the flat disc invented by Emil Berliner after 1887. Sound was etched onto a disc which could be easily reproduced, and a later and more popular improvement to the recording medium was wax.

Films had been silent up until the early 20th century, and the main barriers that prevented the introduction of sound were synchronization and amplification. At last, in 1926, Warner Bros. introduced a sound system called “Vitaphone,” which utilized the sound-on-disc process originally invented by Berliner. This system was seen in 1927 in Warner Bros,’ The Jazz Singer. This film is regarded as the first “widely-released” sound film and paved the way for other films to experiment with different techniques such as sound effects, music, overlapping dialogue, etc. The Vitaphone system operated by microphones suspended by cables just outside of the camera’s scope. The sound was transmitted to the recording machines that were typically located outside of the recording location. This system also utilized a system of editing in which a conductor would record music/sound effects to the film by projecting the film so that the audio could be properly synchronized. This seems like a hassle today, but it was optimal in the time period. 

from Wikipedia

Although these earlier technologies of sound and recording devices were revolutionary at the time, sound in cinema has come a long way and sound is now typically recorded directly onto the film(analog sound). Sound shaped not only the viewer’s experience but also genre. It is amazing to look back at the choppy and awkward start to sound on film and compare it to the modern surround sound and special sound effects of films today.


Works Cited: Transmitter