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Motion Pictures

Sound Joins The Image

The ability to reproduce sound already existed in phonographs. Many tried unsuccessfully to link them to films. A workable system to join sound and motion pictures proved complex, and required a great deal of research money. American Telephone and Telegraph, the largest corporation in the U.S., worked on the problem through its Western Electric branch. A 1924 sound-on-a-disc system was at first rejected by the motion picture studios as too expensive. However, Warner Brothers, looking for an advantage over its rivals, finally accepted it anyway, investing millions of dollars in theaters and sound equipment.

The first motion picture with sound, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, became a huge hit. Warner Brothers instantly became one of the biggest forces in the motion picture industry. Its success forced rival studios to adapt sound. The cost of doing this, coming at the beginning of the Great Depression, left banks with a great deal of power in the film industry.

A rival sound system, developed by General Electric and the Radio Corporation of America, put the soundtrack on the film itself, running it in a track next to the images. Since the pictures and their soundtrack were linked on the film, they could never get out of synchronization. This system was also easier to set up. After intense competition and many lawsuits over patent rights, this system beat the sound-on-a-disc system.

Sound remained difficult to record during filming because the recording equipment was large and noisy. In the late 1940s, new magnetic recording techniques allowed sound to be recorded onto tape. This smaller, quieter system allowed sound to be recorded right on the film set.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Molecular distillation to My station and its duties:Motion Pictures - The Invention Of Motion Pictures, Sound Joins The Image, Color Comes To Film, Later Film History - Equipment