- Written by Sandi Tracey
This year Warner Brothers celebrates 90 years of quality entertainment, and as part of that celebration they recently released The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, on BluRay in a really cool 3-disc booklet complete with pictures and all kinds of historical information about the movie.
The original release of The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, was a big thing as it promised to take the film industry to a whole new level with the synchronization of music, talking, and background sounds into the production . However, its production history is every bit as momentous as it's famous debut at the Warner Theater on October 6, 1927.
For years, Thomas Edison, inventor of the gramophone, had been trying to figure out a successful way to add sound to movies, and it just wasn't happening. Various studios had tinkered with the idea but nothing would come out right, as it was difficult to synchronize the sound with the script or to even get the sound right in the first place.
It is said that the first sounds recorded and synchronized to movies were in various shorts, and included aesthetic sounds - wheels turning, dishes clattering, that sort of thing. Apparently viewers weren't too impressed with this, so generating further public interested in movies with sound was seen as more of a challenge than production companies were willing to work with, so the idea was shelved by most.
Sam Warner, though, of Warner Brothers, had hooked up with Western Electric to work with Vitaphone, a disc player that was synchronized with film. It played a 16-inch disc at a speed of 33 1/3 RPM while the film was projected onto the screen, and both the film and the disc were cued so that the equipment operator would know where to start each, and they would run simultaneously. Each reel would have an accompanying disc, both lasting approximately 10 minutes or so apiece.
The birth of the talkies, of course, changed cinematic history forever. To even show the film, movie houses had to invest in new equipment, such as the Vitaphone in order to be equipped to show the movie in the first place. This turned out to be a worth while investment, though, as we can see an overall picture of a thriving film industry today.
Excitement for a feature length movie with sound grew, but it was difficult to find a star, because the popular performers at the time were afraid of killing off their careers if they participated. This gives us a wee bit of insight into the controversy of the production itself - back in those days, as today, one's career in the industry was largely set by their reputation and work.
High end performers aren't cast into low quality roles - nor should they allow themselves to be. Perhaps, then, in those days, there was concern for the quality of the production. There is no doubt whatsoever that this idea was a bit of a gamble, and many weren't willing to take the risk.
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