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Film Sound Essay

3410 words - 14 pages

Semester Term Paper: Film Sound

Katayoun Nawabi

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

On my honor, I have neither given nor received aid in completing this assignment.

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Katayoun Nawabi


In analyzing film, critics constantly gloss over the importance of the use of sound. Those critics that do touch on the function of sound often underestimate its role in the overall impact of the film as a whole. There are those that are of the opinion that there has been little, if any, real contributions made by sound in film. Should sound have been added to film at all? A look back at the ...view middle of the document...

68). Each generation understands what should be thought of as “acceptable” sound based on what technologies are available at that time. Starting in the early 1900s, the film industry was growing at such a rapid pace, that the studios could not keep up with the demand. Theater owners knew that they had to create an edge in order to keep up with the competition. It was at this time that it became evident that the only way to set themselves apart from other theaters was in the display of sound practices.

Theaters sought to raise the tone of their establishments through sound. However, being that film itself was a new phenomenon, there was no common standard for how to present aural accompaniment. Several theatres featured an accompaniment by musicians on piano. Other theaters employed narrators and skillful actors to speak the lines in synch with the film. Whatever the accompaniment, there was a definite trend among the theater owners of the early 1900s to try to make the films sound like live theater. Other theaters, however, chose to seek further advancements. By 1913, several theaters experimented with a new sound-on-disc system called Cameraphone. Every company came out with their own imitation of Cameraphone, all of which allowed for the reproduction of the human voice to be played along with the image on screen.

Along with the debate about what accompaniment would be best to join the image on screen, came the issue of where the sound source should be placed in the theater. In earlier theater settings, the sound source was placed either right next to the projector or right next to the screen, keeping it still very separate from the action in the film. With the innovation of the sound-on-disc systems, theaters set the standard for speaker placement behind the screen. This placement of the sound source gave the viewer a sense of connection between the resultant sounds and the characters on screen. After all, was this not the intended purpose of sound all along?

For several years, imitation after imitation of the sound-on-disc systems emerged. However, in 1926, the Vitaphone system was heavily exploited to appeal to a wide commercial market. The Vitaphone system operated on a bit more of complex speaker configuration than that of the earlier theater systems. The system operated on a two-speaker system, each with separate roles. This system maintained the one speaker behind the screen, but only to reproduce characters' speeches. The second speaker was located in the orchestra pit and tilted upwards to create the effect of an orchestra. The Vitaphone system, although established in most theaters, was not used extensively. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the system was only used for music (Altman). Normal dialogue was presented on intertitles. However, since this system featured better amplification than the earlier systems, theaters that carried Vitaphone experimented with the concept...

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