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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Silents Became Talkies Today in 1926 When Warner Bros Premiered "Vitaphone"

In 1926 the Warner Bros. Studio premiered the "Vitaphone" sound-on-disc movie system. It would be used for their first "talkie", The Jazz Singer in 1927. Although it wasn't the first film to bring sound to the movies (that was the animated Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie), nor was it even 100% all talkie (that was The Lights of New York in 1928), it was the film that captured the world's attention and made everyone sit up and listen.

The name "Vitaphone" derived from the Latin and Greek words for "living" and "sound". As it was originally known, Vitaphone was a sound system used for feature films and nearly 1,000 short subjects made by Warner Bros. (aka First National) from 1926 to 1931. It was the only analog sound-on-disc system which was widely used and commercially successful. The soundtrack was produced on phonograph records that played on a turntable physically coupled to the projector motor while the film was projected.

After the competing system of sound-on-film perfected its glitches, Vitaphone's disadvantages led to its demise. Everyone stopped recording directly to disc and switched to sound-on-film recording. As theaters around the world switched from one system to another, Warner Bros. was forced to change as well. Some theater owners who had invested in Vitaphone equipment were financially unable (or unwilling) to replace their sound-on-disc-only equipment. This caused many an independent theater to go out of business.

The film industry would continue to suffer from such growing pains from time to time whenever major innovations occurred, such as the transition to Technicolor, widescreen, Stereophonic Sound, and raw film stock to digital recording. Changes will continue to happen. The important point is that innovations lead to growth, which then leads to change, which itself always has an impact both good and bad. But without the innovation, the industry that we know as "film" will stagnate and die.

Sound may have been the greatest innovation that has ever happened to the movies (so far). But just you wait. The next major innovation may be a lot closer than you think. Just keep your eyes and ears, and minds open for the next mind blown innovation that will change everything. What other industry is this exciting?

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