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What are Talkies?

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  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Talkies are films which include dialogue, music, and other forms of sound. Although the vast majority of films today are talkies, when “talking films,” as they were called, were first introduced, they attracted a great deal of public commentary and concern. In addition to radically reshaping the motion picture industry, especially in Hollywood, talkies also had a profound impact on the technology used to record and play back audio material, and the rise of the talkies had some interesting unintended consequences.

Prior to the advent of talkies, silent films were accompanied by live orchestras who played along in the theater, and when dialogue or exposition was needed, intertitles with written material were displayed. The atmosphere in a theater showing silent movies would have been quite congenial, as patrons often talked with each other about the film and reacted as a group to particularly stunning events. The thought of talking in a movie theater today is, of course, anathema, because people want to be able to concentrate on the scenes and dialogue.

As early as 1900, attempts were being made to produce sound recordings to accompany films. Early pioneers in the field faced several problems, not the least of which was sound quality. They also had to synchronize the recording with the film, which was challenging, since different devices were used to play back audio and display film. They also had to contend with volume levels, which were tricky to adjust without electric amplification.

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By the teens, sound on disc technology had advanced to the point where synchronization had been made much easier, and people had also developed sound on film, ensuring synchronous playback. However, the first full-length talkie didn't come out until 1927, when The Jazz Singer was introduced to audiences around the world.

Initially, many people were opposed to talkies, in the belief that they sullied the purity of silent film. Notable directors such as Alfred Hitchcock expressed a profound distaste for talkies. However, talkies proved to be an unstoppable tide, taking over production studios and theaters all over the world.

One of the more unfortunate side-effects of the rise of the talkies was the disappearance of theater orchestras. Many musicians in such orchestras protested “canned music,” but their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, and because theaters no longer had to hire orchestras to accompany films, their overhead costs were drastically reduced. The talkies also ended a number of acting careers, as actors with thick accents or strange voices found themselves without jobs.

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Domido
Post 11

Talkies, or movies with spoken language, can sometimes leave out some integral points of interest.

Sometimes it seems that we are beginning to rely less and less on the quality of the script and the plot and so forth, and more and more on just being told what is going on.

It is a little disturbing to me sometimes when I see the things that we find to be entertaining. So much of it is mindless and quite low level humor that actually has no real valid point or inspiration.

Although talkies are great for many different venues, I think that relying too much on any one communication tool is a major mistake that makes us all a little lazier and less thoughtful.

Some things are better left unsaid, and that is true in more than one way.

poppyseed
Post 10

I used to teach theatre, and one of my favorite things that we ever did was to go from working with silent film to talkies. Yes, I actually made my students explore silent film.

The fact is that there are a lot of hidden gems masked within these silent films that can help students who are just blossoming into actors and actresses allow their imaginations to run wild.

So there first major assignment of our second unit was to first watch some old Buster Keaton films and observe how communication obstacles were handled and so forth.

Then, I would arrange to bring in several different video cameras at once and separate them into groups. They had to

write, act, direct and film their own silent films, complete with sets and costumes.

Of course, these were great fun. They also chose their music for the background which was always cool.

Then, our next humongous project was doing a talkie. This allowed the students to learn their history and bridge the gap between the old and new kinds of film.

Bertie68
Post 9

Of course, when talkies came along, the stories could be much more complex. They could now use narrative,and dialogue with all its subtleties. In addition, body language, music and instant change of scene to tell a story could be used. They could take great books and make movies about them.

In the time of the early talkies, the whole family could enjoy the humor of the greats, like the Marx Brothers. There's not a whole lot of films today with the kind of humor that everyone, including kids, can enjoy. Early talkies had that appeal.

amysamp
Post 8

@geekish - I would suggest watching a silent film with music (so you can guess by my suggestion that there is such a thing)! What I have heard is that silent films with recorded music but no dialogue are considered sound films.

Maybe you can find out which came first the sound film or the talkie and see if you can best your husband on that trivia or maybe who was a famous silent film actor (hint: The name starts with An 'ita' and ends with a Hill!)

geekish
Post 7

While I knew silent pictures existed, I didn't realize that our modern movies were considered talkies! I love that name, will have to use it

My husband and I were just talking about silent movies! We have both never seen one, and were discussing watching one for the first time together.

But we have a disagreement; however: I thought that silent movies were only made with live orchestras so I figured we would just be watching the silent movie.

My husband thinks that before talkies there were silent movies with music recorded with them before talkies were created (kind of the in between of silent movies and talkies).

Does anybody know if this is true?

B707
Post 6

@popcorn - Both talkies and silent movies have their appeal. But I agree with you that the silent movies gave the actors an opportunity to develop skills in using body language and facial expression to portray emotion and intention. And the audience could enjoy trying to interpret the body language and facial expressions of the actors as they told a story.

I remember seeing some silent films on television. I remember my eyes being riveted to the face and body movements of Charlie Chaplin. He was wonderful!

Oceana
Post 5

Movies are greatly enhanced by conversation. Consider all the plays on words that could not be made in silent movies. Also, little ironies and subtle sarcasm would have been impossible.

Consider also how small vocal inflections can determine the meaning of certain words. While one sentence could be spoken one way and taken literally, if spoken in another tone, it could mean the opposite. You lose all of these subtleties when you remove sound.

When I watch movies, I do so to see the emotional interaction and wit. I’m not into action movies or violence, and my particular preference of film could not occur as anything but a talkie.

mitchell14
Post 4

@popcorn- I was talking about this with someone recently who felt the same way. While I think there are some really great actors out there, I do agree there are some, and a few of them are very famous, who seem to be always cast in the same sort of role. What bothers me most about that, though, is that people will still happily pay to see them.

sapphire12
Post 3

My college did a few events where one of the chief organists (it was a religious college) would play his organ in the church while, on a huge projector screen, the audience watched a silent movie. It was a really cool revival of silent film to me, and made me wish that the music was richer in today's "talkies".

letshearit
Post 2

The advent of talkies was a necessary step in the development of cinema to make it a serious art form capable of telling stories as complex as any novel. I can appreciate popcorn's explanation of the appeal and opinion of silent films, but I think they have really opened up a whole new avenue for filmmakers to exploit.

The Marx Brothers made the most famous of the early talkie comedies and Groucho's clever wordplay was absolutely essential to what makes those comedies so beloved. I find that watching these old movies really takes you back to storytelling in its rawest form. Plus, if Frankenstein wasn't a talkie we'd never have the classic movie line "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!!!!!"

popcorn
Post 1

As much as I enjoy movies today, I can't help but feel like a little bit of something was lost during the transition from silent movies to talkies. Prior to talkies, there was little to no dialogue in a movie and stories had to be kept very simple as a result. This meant there was no language barrier and today audiences all over the world can laugh at Charlie Chaplin since he told stories almost completely through body language.

It seems to me that the more dialogue we have added to movies the less filmmakers have started to rely on genuine acting ability to get their emotions across. So many films today seem to forget that old adage, show don't tell.

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