[ With the hurricane and the earthquake, I figured to cower this week rather than try being funny on purpose, which is the less unnerving way. So I'm reprinting an essay from 1927, when granduncle Chuck wrote this blog. Chuck worked as a movie theater projectionist, and slipped my grandmother extra dishes throughout the 30s, if I have the right granduncle in mind. I'm not sure because my family kept naming males 'Chuck' or 'Al', since they were never confident they had the hang of naming and stuck with what they knew worked. This increased the reusability of monogrammed items and worked out fine for everybody except the process servers. I have the right grandmother in mind. ]
There has been (there have been?) a lot of interest taken lately about the new sound motion pictures. A lot of interest. If much more interest is taken there won't be any interest left in the pictures at all, and we can safely nod off again at them.
The key to sound motion pictures is we aren't speaking of the sound meant by ``reliable''. We mean the sound that magazine articles ask whether is made by a tree falling in the forest you're not around for. I up-end the magazines by not being in the forest, which cuts down the trees falling on me, or doesn't cut them down, and saves my sound of ``ouch'' for my toes finding every piece of furniture each night. My sister claims it's the trees' revenge, but they started this. I don't even believe there's a forest.
The motion picture is the familiar part of the process: it's like a motion, only in pictures. These pictures are on strips of film themselves moved past a bright light to keep them from catching fire. There's not any sound made by them, except for cries of ``ouch'' from the actors if the film catches fire before the plot calls for it.
Someone (not me) had the idea to record the actors saying things while the pictures were photographed, and playing the pictures and record together. The experiment might have worked had he told the actors about it. Instead the actors demanded ``what are you doing?'' and ``who are you?'' and every scene, whether in a western biopic, a college serial melodrama, a period romance, or an Esquimaux comedy, ended with the actors chasing him off-stage using brooms. The most frequent sound was ``ouch''. This was forty years ago and they've just now dared try again.
Meanwhile people went to motion pictures without talking, because it was a splendid way to get out of the house and fall asleep. The stage pianist learned after enough audiences swiped the custodian's brooms and swatted him, and he'd just play soothing lullabyes. The theaters got their nickels, the customers got a good night's sleep, the pianist learned the celeste pedal, and the custodian got his broom back. All seemed happy, as they were.
The greatest surprise of sound pictures has been the discovery of what people sound like. In an ordinary conversation you might say, ``Hello, John, it's good to see you'' and be answered, ``I'm Carol; you're looking at a painting''. But on the new ``talkie'' system the dialogue comes out, nasally, as ``HASSO CHAne guffo ZEEyo'', with the answer, ``Umterkona, unyo nuffleta bano''.
This is a good thing for the cause of World Peace. An eavesdropper on your actual conversation can keep full notes to use against you. Hearing the motion picture he must lean forward and fully concentrate and still come out thinking you spoke for the Esperanto market. He has no time for mischief.
Now apply this to the next Disarmament Conference: instead of great men giving speeches to which all the delegates respectfully disagree by swatting at using brooms, give the speeches by talking pictures. The conferees will be of one mind, trying to work out when the Esperantists got so many battleoshipso, deciding it's not worth it, and sneaking out to a soundless motion picture for the sleep. We will have understanding at last.
[ Granduncle Chuck had better ideas, including wallpaper patterns that looked like paint so if you ran out nobody would know. ]
Trivia: A 1931 reissue of The Jazz Singer at the Warner Theater in New York City was pulled after three days. The Speed of Sound, Scott Eyman.
Currently Reading: The Struggle For Social Security, 1900 - 1935, Roy Lubove.