The Empires of Swing

The Jazz Singer (1927) was Hollywood’s first motion picture to include sound and spoken words.  Although movies prior to The Jazz Singer contained a soundtrack, none simultaneously synched the dialogue with its sequences.  For the first time, the actor’s voice was ‘heard’ in real time.  It has been questioned why, up to this point, all film were silent. Even with The Jazz Singer, the majority of the movie is constructed as a silent.  Most of the scenes have a classical underscore along with typed up dialogue and narration.  There are only a few instances where musical numbers and spoken words were recorded on set with the Vitaphone. The rest was added post-production.    So, if they had the ability to do this during a few sequences, why not create it throughout the entire film?

One reason was that this new technology was just that-new.  The recording capabilities at time were not advanced enough to handle an entire 90 minute film.  The Vitaphone use to record sound had to sit right beside the camera.  This hindered the creative direction that the storyline could take.  The actors had to remain centered, or staged, setting back to theater style productions.  It is almost as though the advancement of sound set the motion pictures back in time to early Edison shorts.  The audiences, at this time, were “used” to silents.  Many felt that the idea of syncopated sound in a motion picture was a fad and would die out. 

However, the conversion to sound was an expensive process, as mentioned in chapter 8 of Millard.  Not only did the have to re-build the studios, they also had to update the theaters as well.  Once the idea of talking pictures became more widely received, film producers moved into the music publishing business.  Most of the movies that were successful at this time were musicals.  The industry felt the need to cover both film and music together-in order to make more of a profit.  Films were becoming a successful way of promoting music because the viewers can watch performances by their favorite actor (theater) as well as hear them sing (radio). 

After the movie is put out, they can later publish the music on disks for the viewer to buy and later play in their own homes.  This was a brilliant marketing move that is still being used to this day.  Movies especially carefully construct a contract with certain musicians and songs in order to form a soundtrack.  During the credits at the end of the movie, you can see who the artist was, the title of the song, and what label they are on.  Some of the greatest CD’s that I own are soundtracks from my favorite movie. The music/motion picture business has moved a long way from the 1920 yet they still use the same concept in cross marketing to enhance profits.

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