wishes) in London. His sound film of Lindbergh’s

wishes)
to use Western Electric’s equipment. In exchange, the patents owned by Fox-Case
were cross-licensed with Western Electric. William Fox was now in the sound
business. “Movietone and Vitaphone have wedded and once again all is quiet
along the Potomac.”

Phonofilm,
meanwhile, was still producing short movies. In December 1926, the famous
playwright George Bernard Shaw supposedly accepted to appear in front of de
Forest’s camera. He soon appeared in front of Fox’s camera instead. De Forest
got a boost when his sound film of Lindbergh’s receptions in Washington and New
York was booked into several theaters. Powel Crosley, Jr. (owner of the large
Crosley Radio Company) made a deal to manufacture one hundred Phonofilm
systems. He soon became president of the De Forest Radio Company, which de
Forest had sold in 1923. Desperate for capital, in September, de Forest presented
Phonofilm in London. His sound film of Lindbergh’s receptions was positively
received and played in forty-five theaters there. In December 1927, de Forest
sold Phonofilm to South African financier I. W. Schlesinger, which marked the
end of de Forest’s career as a movie producer. In 1928, Crosley’s
“new” De Forest Radio Company went bankrupt, again. Phonofilm was
reorganized as British Talking Pictures. It had produced 50,000 feet of talking
film by then and offered to rent its Phonofilm equipment to any producer. Lee
de Forest remained active in Schlesinger’s Phonofilm as chief engineer.

1.1.  Movietone’s
Synchronized Shorts and Features

Fox’s
Movietone films were first presented in New York in February 1927. They did not
contain dialogue. He needed a theater in which to promote Movietone, so he paid
$12 million to buy it from Roxy (public corporation financed by 9000 small
stockholders). It opened in March of the same year and it had projectors necessary
for showing Vitaphone discs, which were the model for Movietone, and Movietone
optical tracks. In June, the newsreel was introduced to the Fox Varieties. The
successful silent feature WHAT PRICE GLORY? was released again, but this time
with a soundtrack. The same happened with SEVENTH HEAVEN, previously silent
romantic drama, later rearranged with a Movietone score by Erno Rapee. The
first original Fox Movietone film was SUNRISE (1927) by the director F. W.
Marnau, which received largely positive feedback and was praised as one of the
best accomplishments in production ever. The sound was critically acclaimed as
better than Vitaphone: “In tonal range and quality, Movietone has
demonstrated its superiority in the field of synchronized sound and action
films.” Fox was extremely positive with the outcome, and thought that
Movietone will “enhance silent films with meritorious music. Features,
comedies, newsreels-all are slated for the same treatment.” Next big film
was FOUR SONS by John Ford in 1928. The theme song was called “Little Mother”
and it was composed by Erno Rapee and sung by Harold van Duzee. The film that did
not receive particularly positive commentary was directed by Howard Hawks and
called FAZIL (1928). However, critics realized that music could actually
improve the overall judgement of a mediocre film. Fox did not plan going talkie
at all until November 1927, when he started producing dialogue shorts, which planted
the notion that dramatic talking sequences were actually practical and
achievable. The first Fox film with dialogue was BLOSSOM TIME, directed by
Walsh.

1.2.  Movietone
Newsreels

Fox,
on 20 April, ran a sneak peak of an experimental sound film portraying West
Point cadets where the post commander gave a speech followed by long takes of
the drill and a procession. The audience was stunned and the footage was added
to the regular Roxy program. FOX’s vice president Winfield R. Sheehan wanted to
explore the possibilities of talking newsreels, especially since other studios
had not developed it yet. He introduced a new policy of placing camera and
sound crews across the country to record newsworthy events. Fox News officials
saw this as a transformation that was waiting to happen. Truman Talley,
director of Fox News, said: “Whenever anything occurs that can be
photographed which will be more interesting and entertaining when accompanied
by sound we will spare no effort to see that it is done.” The person who
especially liked the idea of newsreel was Benito Mussolini who supposedly
stated: “Let me speak through the newsreel in twenty cities in Italy
once a week and I need no other power.” He wanted to record a talking film
that would show his daily activities and allow him to show in public with no
threat of being assassinated. The first Movietone newsreel premiered in
September 1927 and feature Mussolini speaking “a message of
friendship” in Italian and English. Newsreels also caught Charles Lindbergh’s
transatlantic flight. The novelty of sound impressed everyone and Fox was at
the top of the heap. Lindbergh inspired Walt Disney to create the caricature Lindy
in PLANE CRAZY (1928). William Fox knew that sound motion pictures would be of
big value in years to come and stored films in the National Archives. The
popularity of newsreels soared, and events were structured by the camera. The
difference between de Forest’s interviews with presidential candidates and the
new Movietone was that with Movietone the personalities felt more real and
genuine, the subjects didn’t just deliver previously prepared statements.

The audience’s
appetite for topical newsreel was enormous and growing. After a few months, of
the Big Five studios only Warner Bros. did not have a newsreel. By May 1930,
all the biggest producers had stopped making silent features. Sound newsreels
provided a service for publishing the news and its different personalities and
events appealed to different people. However, Fox was reluctant to switch to an
all-talking format and persisted in praising the virtual orchestra. Even though
now it might seem like common sense to move to dialogue films, it was not so
obvious to the producers and filmmakers of that time.

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