Sound film

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A sound film is generally understood to mean a film that, unlike a silent film accompanied live, has a technically repeatable sound accompaniment. In the English-speaking world in particular, early sound films were also referred to as talkies (short for “talking pictures”).


The movie was never silent. In the cinemas, musical accompaniment was provided from the start, mostly piano players, also known as tappeurs. In many cinemas, a cinema organ also provided background music. At film premieres or in large cinemas, films were accompanied by entire orchestras with up to 50 or 60 members. Initial trials of the synchronization of phase images with the gramophone come from Wordsworth Donisthorpe from the year 1877. 1894 or 1895 then combined Thomas Alva Edison's chief engineer Dickson to Kinetographen with the phonograph and constructed various other combinations such Kameraphon and Kinemaphon . So-called sound images experienced a brief heyday between 1907 and 1909. However, the synchronous playback of records to the film (needle tone) could not prevail, especially since synchronicity could usually not be guaranteed.

It means according to:

Comopt = light tone on the film (rung or serrated writing)
Commag = magnetic sound on the screening copy
Sepmag = magnetic sound on a separate tape
Sepopt = light tone on a separate band
Magopt = both optical and magnetic sound on the film

Important stages in the development of the sound film:

  • 1908: Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) writes the first original score for the film The Assassination of the Duke of Guise .
  • Around 1920: Approx. 50–60 musicians play in special cinema orchestras. So-called “cue sheets” are played as background music for the film: arranged folk songs , opera excerpts and European symphonies from the 19th century that match the relevant film scenes.
  • 1921: First public synchronous sound film screening by Sven Berglund in Stockholm (35 mm, SEPOPT)
  • 1922: Demonstration of a sound film by Józef Tykociński-Tykociner
  • September 17, 1922: The first film with an integrated optical soundtrack by Hans Vogt , The Arsonist of the producer Erwin Baron , was shown in Germany in 1922 in the Alhambra-Lichtspiele in Berlin.
  • 1927: Premiere of the film The Jazz Singer . This work with some sound film passages (needle tone), especially the singing of the main actor Al Jolson , brought the sound film the commercial breakthrough and is generally regarded as the beginning of the sound film era.
  • The silent film was replaced worldwide by the sound film by around 1936. The film companies set up their own music departments. A new score was created for each new film . Image and sound recordings (speech, sounds, music) were made separately.

The largest European manufacturer of sound film recorders and players was the German-Dutch Küchenmeister-Tobis-Klangfilm-Gruppe , which began when the Swiss Tri-Ergon-Musik-AG reached an agreement with the Dutch-German Küchenmeister group in August 1928 other companies joined forces to unite the various sound film patents under one roof. Behind the struggle for its own patent was the intention to get rid of competition from the American company Warner Bros., which was using a Western Electric patent .

Western Electric and Küchenmeister-Tobis-Klangfilm were able to assert themselves as leading manufacturers of sound film equipment worldwide. Since the companies insisted that the films made with their devices should also be played on the playback devices of the same company, there were several lawsuits for license violations , but also for patent infringements . On July 22, 1930, the two companies agreed on a sound film patent agreement, the so-called " Paris sound film peace ". This agreement provided for an exclusive division of the world market among each other. A joint approach against unfair competition and patent infringements by third parties has been announced. This agreement meant a severe blow to all small sound film equipment manufacturers, especially since they were not provided for in this agreement. Only in individual cases were other companies subsequently included in the agreement. For example the Austrian Selenophon light and sound image company , which was able to continue to exist not least because of political interventions (see also: History of the early Austrian sound film ).


Needle tone process

The feature films of the late 1920s were presented on reels that had a screening length of a maximum of 16 minutes, after which a second projector had to be used. A long-playing record was developed for the setting , which initially had a playing time of twelve minutes. This media network is also known as the needle tone process. It was replaced by the light tone in the 1930s .

"The Jazzsänger" (USA, 1927) with Al Jolson and directed by Alan Crosland , considered by many critics to be the first full-fledged narration film, was, due to its prominent actor, also more of a music film and still in the Vitaphone process 33⅓ min −1 ). The monologues and dialogues were improvised. Warner Bros. had only intended to make a film in which the music and vocals were synchronized, which meant that no dialog manuscript was necessary. This also explains the content of Jolson's first monologue: “ Wait a moment, wait a moment! You haven't heard anything yet. Do you want to hear Toot-toot-tootsie? That's right, just a moment. "It was" You haven't heard anything up to now. “( You ain't heard nothin 'yet ) one of his most famous twists, which he also used in his usual stage appearances. The only other language sequence was significantly longer with at least 354 words and played between Jolson (340), Eugenie Besserer (13) and finally Warner Oland , who was only allowed to say a single word - and tellingly, "Stop".

The first film with consistently synchronized dialogue was " Lights of New York ", shot in 1928 under the direction of Bryan Foy . He had just under an hour of play.

Optical tone method

35 mm cinema film with a sound track consisting of two double jagged tracks

The Polish engineer Józef Tykociński-Tykociner (1877–1969) can be described as the inventor of the optical sound process. Another pioneer was the German engineer Hans Vogt (1890–1979), who worked with his colleagues Joseph Massolle (1889–1957) and Joseph Benedict Engl (1893–1942) in the Tri-Ergon company (Greek-Latin: “Werk of the three ") realized the sound film idea. The laboratory of the three, in which the development of the process also took place, was located in Berlin, Babelsberger Straße 49 (memorial plaque at the house entrance).

On September 17, 1922, the first German sound film was presented to the public in Berlin at the Alhambra cinema on Kurfürstendamm in front of 1,000 spectators. Vogt played a key role in this with his idea of ​​an integrated optical sound track. The screening copy was 42 mm wide film.

One of the films was the first dramatic dialogue film "The Arsonist". All the rest were purely orchestral films with vocal accompaniment, which were received mixed by the critics. Remarkably, the criticism of the press was directed not against the technical level, but against the content of the dialogues. Looking ahead, they realized that this would permanently destroy the actual art of silent film , pantomime .

In 1922/23 Lee de Forest produced his first commercially distributed sound films ("De Forest Phonofilms") Songs of Yesterday and Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake Sing Snappy Songs . Phonofilms were produced until 1927 when the system was sold to Fox Pictures and renamed Movietone.

In sound films , the sound track is applied to the film next to the images. This track is illuminated with a lamp and transmitted to an electric photocell . The different electrical voltages , which cause the different brightness, are converted into audible tones by means of an amplifier and loudspeaker .

By coupling sound and picture on the common strip, the synchronization between the two is maintained. ( technical: forced synchronous )

Because the film is moved offset between loops to show the sequence of images, the audio information cannot be placed next to its corresponding individual image. It would then always be at the height of the picture window, which would also stop and move the soundtrack jerkily. The result would be an incomprehensible rattle. Since the sound track has to be moved uniformly just like with the record or tape, the film is guided over a roller with a flywheel. This also mechanically eliminates the remains of the transport jolt. With an internationally standardized distance ( technically: offset ) between the picture window and the sound head of 20 pictures (+/- 0.5), which corresponds to the picture / sound offset on the film, the sound can then be heard without whining and picture- synchronized .

There are basically two methods of sound recording, serrated writing and sprout writing. In the document, the tine is achieved by modulation of different widths exposure in which sprout font by different degrees of exposure at a constant width of the sound track. The serrated script later prevailed . At the end of the 1930s, film producers and cinema owners agreed on a sound recording and playback standard. The optical sound process is still used today for sound reproduction.

Magnetic sound process

Attempts have been made since the 1930s to replace the optical tone with the magnetic sound method; however, these attempts have not been consistently successful. In 1948, sound recording on magnetic tape and magnetic film began at the wealthy studios in Hollywood. Today a combination is used: the original sound recording is transferred from magnetic tape to magnetic film. After synchronizing with the image and editing this sound copy, the classic three elements dialogues , effects (noises, “atmosphere”) and music are mixed and one or two sound negatives are made by the mixed master. Image negative and sound negative are “married” in one corridor, as the jargon goes, creating a so-called combined positive for the presentation.

Newer sound methods

In 1976 a groundbreaking sound system came into the cinemas: Dolby Stereo with 4 sound channels. The first film after the process was Tommy (1975) with the rock group The Who . In 1987, Dolby SR ( Spectral Recording ) significantly improved the sound quality, but it remained with four channels. With Dolby Digital , DTS and SDDS there have been high quality sound systems since 1992 , which even support five or seven sound channels and a subwoofer bass channel (channel scheme 5.1 or 7.1).


  • Harald Jossé: The making of the sound film. A contribution to a fact-based film historiography. Alber, Freiburg im Breisgau 1984, ISBN 3-495-47551-6 (reprint at Polzer, Potsdam, ISBN 3-934535-23-2 )
  • Wolfgang Mühl-Benninghaus: The struggle for the sound film. Strategies of the electrical and film industry in the 20s and 30s, Droste Verlag, Düsseldorf 1999, ISBN 978-3-7700-1608-2
  • Corinna Müller: From silent films to talkies. Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7705-3925-7
  • Karl Röwer: The technology for projectionists . VEB Wilhelm Knapp Verlag, Halle (Saale) 1953.
  • Michaela Krützen: Esperanto for the sound film. The production of language versions for the early sound film market. In: diskurs film (Munich), No. 8 (1995), pp. 119–154, ISSN  0931-1416
  • Cinematography Wonders of the World - Contributions to a Cultural History of Film Technology ISSN  1430-7987
    • Sound - The sound in the cinema , 1996 (3rd edition)
    • Rise and Fall of the Talkie , 2002 (6th edition)

Web links

Commons : Sound film  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Sound film  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ William KL Dickson experimental sound film
  2. Reto Kromer: Film Conservation and Restoration. Support, formats, procedures , Bern University of the Arts, 13. – 14. December 2018, accessed December 13, 2019
  3. ^ The arsonist in the IMDb
  4. ^ BZ Berlin: It happened in Berlin