FILMMAKERS ON THE COMING OF SOUND
From 1928 to 1933, sound seemed to many filmmakers both promising and threatening. Most realized that it offered new aesthetic possibilities, but many feared that static versions of plays might dominate production. Some directors offered views of how sound could be used creatively.
Predictably, the Soviet Montage filmmakers, who had written extensively on film theory in the silent era, discussed sound. The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents 1896–1939, ed. Richard Taylor and Ian Christie (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), contains essays by several filmmakers, including Vsevolod Pudovkin ("On the Principle of Sound in Film," pp. 264–67), Esfir Shub ("The Advent of Sound in Cinema," p. 271), and Dziga Vertov ("Speech to the First All-Union Conference on Sound Cinema," pp. 301–05).
Writings on sound by several major French filmmakers of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Jacques Feyder (pp. 38–39), René Clair (pp. 39–40), Abel Gance (pp. 41–42), and Marcel Pagnol (pp. 55–57) are available in English in Richard Abel's French Film Theory and Criticism 1907–1939: A History/Anthology, vol. 2 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988). The most successful and influential of French directors in the early sound era, Clair blended his writings from the period with commentary added years later, reflecting on his own initial reactions to sound; see his Cinema Yesterday and Today, ed. R. C. Dale and trans. Stanley Appelbaum (New York: Dover, 1972), pp. 126–58.
Hollywood directors wrote relatively little on the subject, but two significant articles appear in Richard Koszarski, ed., Hollywood Directors 1914–1940 (London: Oxford University Press, 1976): Edmund Goulding's "The Talkers in Close-Up" (pp. 206–13) and Frank Borzage's "Directing a Talking Picture" (pp. 235–37). Writing from a very different perspective, Carl Dreyer offered thoughts on how filmmakers could adapt plays as sound films and still avoid static dialogue scenes in his "The Real Talking Film," in Donald Skoller, ed., Dreyer in Double Reflection (New York: Dutton, 1973), pp. 51–56.
SOUND AND THE REVISION OF FILM HISTORY
Film historians can overturn widely accepted accounts by discovering new data or devising new arguments to accommodate existing evidence. Research into the introduction of sound offers some striking examples.
One historical puzzle was this: How did a small firm like Warner Bros., whose financial records show heavy losses in the mid-1920s, manage to introduce sound and grow quickly into a major company? In 1939, Lewis Jacobs suggested that Vitaphone was "a desperate effort to ward off bankruptcy." (See his The Rise of the American Film [reprint, New York: Teachers College Press, 1968], p. 297.) Other historians repeated and embroidered this account. In The Movies (New York: Bonanza Books, 1957), Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer even attributed Sam Warner's 1927 death to the strain of the "grim race with time" to save his debt-ridden company (pp. 240–41).
In the mid-1970s, however, economic historian Douglas Gomery argued that Warners' debts were a sign of the firm's healthy expansion and that the introduction of sound was far from a frantic bid to avoid ruin. Gomery's numerous articles on this topic include "The Coming of Sound: Technological Change in the American Film Industry," in Tino Balio, ed., The American Film Industry, 2nd ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), pp. 229–51.
Similarly, the widespread resistance to the coming of sound on the part of filmmakers and critics has led some historians to treat its introduction as a major break in the cinema's stylistic history. By this account, early talkies virtually eliminated editing and camera movement. In the 1950s, however, André Bazin (see Film History: An Introduction, p. 358) took a novel approach by asking "if the technical revolution created by the sound track was in any sense an aesthetic revolution" ("The Evolution of the Language of Cinema," in Hugh Gray, trans. and ed., What Is Cinema? [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967], p. 23). He answered that by and large it was not. David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson offered evidence to support Bazin's view, showing that many aspects of visual style in the classical Hollywood cinema changed surprisingly little with the introduction of sound. See their The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).