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Audio-Visual Effects in the Silent Era Films and the Contemporary Films Name: Instructor: History of Narrative Film December 10, 2012

Audio-Visual Audio-Visual Effects in the Silent Era Films and the Contemporary Films Stories have always fascinated the listeners including the children, the youth, and the elderly. When these stories are told with visuals, they become more interesting and appealing to

the audience. Developing the art of storytelling further, people created moving pictures to narrate stories, and these became movies. From the bedtime stories told by mothers to the modern day hi-tech movies that enthrall the audience, attempts have been made by the creative directors from the filmmaking industry to make storytelling more and more entertaining as well as engrossing. The kind and quality of movies have changed greatly over the times from the silent movies to the hi-tech movies; from the first Don Juan to the latest James Bond characters. The short silent episodes of Charlie Chaplin are still admired by the contemporary audience (Liebman, 1998). Movies are all about storytelling through audio-visual effects, and these effects have seen a sea change from the times of the silent era to the modern day. This paper looks into the development of audio-visual effects in silent movies and the talkies. How did it all begin? Philosophers and scientists in the ancient times noticed that there was a slight imperfection in the ability of perception of the human eye. The reason behind this fact is that the retina retains an image till a fraction of a second longer after the image has actually disappeared. Thus, if the eye sees a continuous set of images of something depicted in individual frames, the retina does not register the dividers that separate the frames (Goucher College, n.d.). This interesting phenomenon is known as the persistence of vision and forms the basis of the concept of motion picture. Motion picture is created by inducing a quick succession of individual images that merge into an illusion of continuous motion. This concept of illusion of motion was initially used to

Audio-Visual create simple toys for children and other forms of entertainment. The flipbook was also developed on this concept. The book contains a picture drawn in minutely different positions on different pages. When the book is flipped through, the images give an illusion of movement. After the development of the art of photography, photographs were used to create the illusion of continuous motion. This heralded the beginning of the movie era. Etienne-Jules Marey was the first person to take pictures of motion with a single camera (University of Houston, 2012). Later, Thomas Edison and William K. L. Dickson devised an apparatus for displaying moving films, which became very popular (University of Houston, 2012). In the meantime, Thomas Armat had designed a workable projector. Edison and Armat got together and created the Vitascope to present motion pictures to the public. They screened the first motion picture in 1896 in the United States of America (University of Houston, 2012). The silent movie era lasted between the late 1890s and the early 1930s (Sorianao, 2012).

Silent movies were in black and white and carried a musical soundtrack in the background. They also carried text frames with lines that were supposed to be spoken, as the technology for recording dialogue and sound effects was not available. One of the highest grossing films of the silent era was the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse produced by Metro Pictures Corporation (San Francisco Silent Film Festival, 2012). The technology behind silent films was simple, and the screening featured live music, which added enchantment to the atmosphere of the film and was used to give emotional cues in the movie. Large city theaters had huge organs that gave a wide range of special effects to the movies at that time. These effects ranged from birdcalls to chugging engines to galloping horses and rolling thunder.

Audio-Visual Film scores, also known as the background music of silent films, were compiled from existing classical music and theatrical music (The Film Music Museum, n.d.). They provided soundtracks for the films and carried instrumental cues to increase dramatic effects of the visuals. Film scores were mostly improvised or compiled, and rarely composed from scratch. Improvised scores were played on the organ or piano. Compiled scores were listed on a cue sheet, which generally comprised three or four pages of music taken from classical and popular tracks. Original scores were few in number and were created in the studio by the musicians. Some famous original scores include compositions by Gottfried Huppertz for the Nibelungen films (The Film Music Museum, n.d.). Filmmakers faced problems when using original scores. These were expensive to create, and musicians found little time to rehearse them. In most cases, musicians had to read and play their parts on the spot without rehearsal. With the invention of the Vitaphone disk, film scores were recorded on the disk, and these disks were distributed with the films (Oscars, n.d.). Film scores or photoplay music died out with the silent movies and the advancement of audio technology. Some of the photoplay music has been resurrected in current times through home videos. They come along with cue sheet scores that have been recorded for future generations.

Film critics like Mark Kermode have studied the relationship between sight and sound in the silent movies. Kermode has highlighted the impact that sound has on viewers when they are watching a silent movie. He has analyzed what viewers hear, how they hear, and how they relate to what they hear. Kermode has taken the example of the film Blackmail by Alfred Hitchcock and analyzed how the nuances of the movie the tense, the comic can be brought out by music alone, in the absence of dialogue (Kermode, 2012).

Audio-Visual The study of the silent movies of the bygone era is being revived for the younger generation so that it can understand the qualitative interaction between sight and sound. Such studies are important for developing a deeper understanding of vision and sound, and for subsequent development of technologies relating to audio-visual expression. It can be said that

the silent movie is still alive through films like Wall E, in which the first half is pretty much like a silent movie with no dialogue. With the introduction of talkies, the history of movie making took an interesting turn. The shift to talkies was made by the production of movies like The Jazz Singer (Oscars, n.d.). This movie was 90 minutes long, had synchronized songs, and lines of dialogue. This film by Warner Brothers won an academy award as a pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry (Oscars, n.d.). Warner Brothers released the first all-talking feature film, Lights of New York; the first British talkie, Blackmail, was released in the theaters in 1929 (Oscars, n.d.). The introduction of talkies saw the advancement of filming technology, and this came with a few problems for the filmmakers and actors. The silent film actors used to over act on screen due to the absence of the dialogue. This form of acting did not suit the talkies. Also, when these actors started speaking, their accents and voices did not sound attractive on the screen. Thus, many silent movie actors had to quit acting and new actors emerged. Taking note of the initial technology used for filming talkies, one finds the use of noisy cameras that were locked up in soundproof boxes. Also, the actors were forced to stay close to the hidden microphones placed at various corners of the sets. Thus, movement of actors was restricted and emphasis was placed on witty dialogue and exaggerated comedy. Then came in devices, such as the blimp, which is a sound proof mobile camera. With this camera, the actors

Audio-Visual could move about freely on stage. A microphone on a long pole was used by the actors. Films utilized sound-on-disk systems, such as the Vitaphone, even though this had the disadvantage

of non-synchronicity (Oscars, n.d.). Often the viewers would hear voices and dialogues before or after the scene. Slowly, filmmakers developed the sound-on-film technology, whereby sound could be directly transferred on film print. This technology ensured that sound and print remained synchronized. Many movie directors did not advocate synchronous sound for the movies. They favored non-synchronous sound that could be added after production. Sound brought realism into the movie, and this forced acting styles to alter. Actors had to add more nuances to their voice and expressions. French Director, Rene Clair, believed that the use of sound should be selective; so Rene began dubbing films. This is to say he started the concept of adding dialogue and sound after filming. Adding dialogue to visuals was the best thing that could have happened to movie making. Based on Renes concept, cinematic sound, today, is a constructed experience. So sound and dialogue are added to the visuals after mixing them in a studio, post filming. Filmmakers started composing sound effects in the studio and started using them repeatedly in the movies, much like the film scores of the silent movies. It is interesting to see how sound and visuals are blended together. Sound is easily added to the visuals with the help of a sound-editing machine. Sound and visuals act together to take the movie to its peak performance. While watching a movie, the viewers are as much affected by the visuals as by the sound. For instance, a sound with a raised pitch creates suspense in the mind of the viewer. Similarly, low frequency, heavy sounds are used to create anxiety in an audience. Lack of sound or silence is also significant in the movies. Silence has a feeling and depth of its own and can enhance scenes of suspense or death. Off-screen or external sounds expand the

Audio-Visual visual and give a 3D effect; sound effects can also be symbolic.

Sounds are also used to highlight the emotions of actors. Sound amplified into music also plays a very important part in enhancing the visuals in a movie. Since the beginning of film history, music has been an accompaniment to films. Music gives more meaning to the visuals. Filmmakers have various approaches when it comes to the application of music in movies. Some of them insist that music should have its own identity. Others opine that music must be allowed to dominate the visuals on occasions. Some filmmakers insist on purely descriptive music. The question is, How is the music chosen and who decides on what music to use for a particular movie? It is the job of the film director to decide the kind of dramatics required for the music; it is the job of the composer to create the music that can express these dramatics. The music of a movie sets the mood for the movie, starting from the opening scene. The viewers get a sense of the characteristic of the movie. This takes the discussion to another type of movies called the musicals. One of the most popular musicals ever made was The Sound of Music. In some countries, most of the movies made are musicals. With the integration of sound, music, and dialogue in movies, the technology used to deliver the sound and visuals has also advanced. One of the latest technologies in the audiovisual deliveries is the Dolby Digital Cinema. This technology delivers vibrant sounds with rich colors and vivid visuals. It takes cinematic experience to another level. Such advanced technology ensures that the viewers experience the movie as reality surrounding them. Also, the contemporary movies are further glorified through special audio-visual effects including pyrotechnics (McCarthy, 1992).

Audio-Visual This paper has given a glimpse of how audio and visual effects have been applied through technology to the movies of the silent era and the talkies of the contemporary times. It has also shown how, with time, the audio and visual technologies of movies have developed. Of

late, the effects brought about by technology in movies have been breathtaking. The expectations of the audience are ever increasing and pushing for more audio-visual technological advancement. The delivery systems of sound and moving images are also getting finer by the day. It is difficult to imagine to which level this continuous advancement of technology will take the experience of movie watching to. The evolution of music in the films has provided more life to the scenes and enhanced the experience of the viewers. Songs are being used in casting as well as at regular intervals of a movie, thereby creating a memorable impact on the ears and eyes of the audience. Movies makers are spending millions on making digitally advanced audio-visual effects to make movie viewing truly fantastic experience for their audience. This has been successful in making movie viewing a foremost form of entertainment. Both forms of films, the silent era movies and the talkies of the contemporary period, have catered to the interests of a global audience with contrasting belief systems, languages, nationalities, and age groups. These films have depicted the social problems of humanity and awakened the masses, and these films have also become an integral part of homes by providing entertainment as well as uniting the family members through scintillating audio-visual effects.

Audio-Visual References Goucher College. (n.d.). A Brief Glossary of Film Terms. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from Kermode, M. (2012). Sound and Vision. BBC. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from Liebman, R. (1998). From Silents to Sound. Michigan: McFarland. McCarthy, R.E. (1992). Special Effects Sourcebook. California: Focal Press. Oscars. (n.d.). Sound and Vision: The Power to Enhance the Story. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from San Francisco Silent Film Festival. (2012). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1921. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from Sorianao, R. H. (2012). Making Silent Movies. eHow. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from The Film Music Museum. (n.d.). Gottfried Huppertz. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from

Audio-Visual University of Houston. (2012). Hollywood as History. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from