The Sounds of Early Cinema

The Sounds of Early Cinema

Distribution: Global
Publication date: 10/03/2001
Format: Paperback 31 b&w photos, 1 index
ISBN: 978-0-253-21479-9
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The Sounds of Early Cinema is devoted exclusively to a little-known, yet absolutely crucial phenomenon: the ubiquitous presence of sound in early cinema. "Silent cinema" may rarely have been silent, but the sheer diversity of sound(s) and sound/image relations characterizing the first 20 years of moving picture exhibition can still astonish us. Whether instrumental, vocal, or mechanical, sound ranged from the improvised to the pre-arranged (as in scripts, scores, and cue sheets). The practice of mixing sounds with images differed widely, depending on the venue (the nickelodeon in Chicago versus the summer Chautauqua in rural Iowa, the music hall in London or Paris versus the newest palace cinema in New York City) as well as on the historical moment (a single venue might change radically, and many times, from 1906 to 1910).

Contributors include Richard Abel, Rick Altman, Edouard Arnoldy, Mats Björkin, Stephen Bottomore, Marta Braun, Jean Châteauvert, Ian Christie, Richard Crangle, Helen Day-Mayer, John Fullerton, Jane Gaines, André Gaudreault, Tom Gunning, François Jost, Charlie Keil, Jeff Klenotic, Germain Lacasse, Neil Lerner, Patrick Loughney, David Mayer, Domi-nique Nasta, Bernard Perron, Jacques Polet, Lauren Rabinovitz, Isabelle Raynauld, Herbert Reynolds, Gregory A. Waller, and Rashit M. Yangirov.

Author Bio

Richard Abel is Ellis and Nell Levitt Professor of English at Drake University, where he teaches cinema/media/cultural studies. His most recent book is The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American, 1900-1910 (California, 1999), which was a finalist for the Kraszna-Krausz Moving Image Book Award. Currently he is editing the Routledge Encyclopedia of Early Cinema.

Rick Altman is Professor of Cinema and Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa. After publishing Film/Genre (British Film Institute, 1999), which won the SCS Katherine Singer Kovacs award, he edited a special issue of IRIS 27 (Spring 1999) on the "State of Sound Studies." His current projects include a book on the silent cinema soundscape, a DVD devoted to illustrated song slides, and performances by his troupe, The Living Nickelodeon.


“This is the first book devoted exclusively to a little-known phenomenon: the ubiquitous presence of sound in early cinema. "Silent cinema" may occasionally have been silent, but the sheer diversity of sounds characterizing the first twenty years of moving pictures still can astonish us, from barkers and ballyhoos to pianists and orchestras. These twenty-five essays cover a broad range of subjects, including sound practices in production, sound-related exhibition practices in film music, and the politics of sound reception. ”

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Table of Contents


Introduction, Richard Abel and Rick Altman

I. A Context of Intermediality
1. Ian Christie, "Early Phonograph Culture and Moving Pictures"
2. Tom Gunning, "Doing for the Eye What the Phonograph Does for the Ear"
3. Mats Bjorkin, "Remarks on Writing and Technologies of Sound in Early Cinema"
4. Richard Crangle, "‘Next Slide Please’: The Lantern Lecture in Britain, 1890-1910"
5. François Jost, "The Ways of Silence"
6. Edouard Arnoldy, "The Event and the Series: The Decline of Café-Concerts, the Failure of Gaumont’s Chronphone and the Birth of Cinema as Art"

II. Sound Practices in Production
7. Isabelle Raynauld, "Dialogues in Silent Screenplays: What the Actors Really Said"
8. Bernard Perron, "The First Transi-Sounds of Parallel Editing"
9. John Fullerton, "Sound, the Jump Cut, and ‘Trickality’ in Early Danish Comedies"
10. Dominique Nasta, "Setting the Pace of a Heartbeat: The Use of Sound Elements in European Melodramas Before 1915"
11. Rashit Yangirov, "Talking Movie or Silent Theater: Creative Experiments by Vasily Goncharov"

III. Sound Practices in Exhibition
12. Gregory Waller, "Sleighbells and Moving Pictures: On the Trail of D. W. Robertson"
13. Stephen Bottomore, "The Story of Percy Peashaker: Debates about Sound Effects in the Early Cinema"
14. Richard Abel, "That Most American of Attractions, the Illustrated Song"
15. Jeffrey Klenotic, "‘The Sensational Acme of Realism’: ‘Talker’ Pictures as Early Cinema Sound Practice"
16. Lauren Rabinovitz, "‘Bells and Whistles’: The Sound of Meaning in Train Travel Film Rides"

IV. Spectators and Politics
17. Jean Châteauvert and André Gaudreault, "The Noises of Spectators, or the Spectator as Additive to the Spectacle"
18. Jacques Polet, "Early Cinematographic Spectacles: The Role of Sound Accompaniment in the Reception of Moving Images"
19. Marta Braun and Charlie Keil, "Sounding Canadian: Early Sound Practices and