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Motion picture (sound film)


Advanced sound-on-film-In 1919, American inventor Lee De Forest was awarded several patents that would lead to the first sound-on-film technology with commercial application. In De Forest's system, the sound track was photographically recorded on to the side of the strip of motion picture film to create a composite, or "married," print. If proper synchronization of sound and picture was achieved in recording, it could be absolutely counted on in playback. Over the next four years, he improved his system with the help of equipment and patents licensed from another American inventor in the field, Theodore Case.

At the University of Illinois, Polish-born research engineer Joseph Tykociński-Tykociner was working independently on a similar process. On June 9, 1922, he gave the first reported U.S. demonstration of a sound-on-film motion picture to members of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. As with Lauste and Tigerstedt, Tykociner's system would never be taken advantage of commercially; De Forest's, however, soon would.

On April 15, 1923, at New York City's Rivoli Theater, came the first commercial screening of motion pictures with sound-on-film, the future standard: a set of shorts under the banner of De Forest Phonofilms, accompanying a silent feature. That June, De Forest entered into an extended legal battle with an employee, Freeman Harrison Owens, for title to one of the crucial Phonofilm patents. Although De Forest ultimately won the case in the courts, Owens is today recognized as a central innovator in the field. The following year, De Forest's studio released the first commercial dramatic film shot as a talking picture-the two-reeler Love's Old Sweet Song, directed by J. Searle Dawley and featuring Una Merkel.2 Phonofilms' stock in trade, however, was not original dramas but celebrity documentaries, popular music acts, and comedy performances. President Calvin Coolidge, opera singer Abbie Mitchell, and vaudeville stars such as Phil Baker, Ben Bernie, Eddie Cantor, and Oscar Levant appeared in the firm's pictures. Hollywood remained suspicious, even fearful, of the new technology. As Photoplay editor James Quirk put it in March 1924, "Talking pictures are perfected, says Dr. Lee De Forest. So is castor oil."3 De Forest's process continued to be used through 1927 in the United States for dozens of short Phonofilms; in the UK it was employed a few years longer for both shorts and features by British Sound Film Productions, a subsidiary of British Talking Pictures, which purchased the primary Phonofilm assets. By the end of 1930, the Phonofilm business would be liquidated.

In Europe, others were also working on the development of sound-on-film. In 1919, the same year that DeForest received his first patents in the field, three German inventors patented the Tri-Ergon sound system. On September 17, 1922, the Tri-Ergon group gave a public screening of sound-on-film productions-including a dramatic talkie, Der Brandstifter (The Arsonist)-before an invited audience at the Alhambra Kino in Berlin. By the end of the decade, Tri-Ergon would be the dominant European sound system. In 1923, two Danish engineers, Axel Petersen and Arnold Poulsen, patented a system in which sound was recorded on a separate filmstrip running parallel with the image reel. Gaumont would license and briefly put the technology to commercial use under the name Cinéphone.

It was domestic competition, however, that would lead to Phonofilms' eclipse. By September 1925, De Forest and Case's working arrangement had fallen through. The following July, Case joined with Fox Film, Hollywood's third largest studio, to found the Fox-Case Corporation. The system developed by Case and his assistant, Earl Sponable, given the name Movietone, thus became the first viable sound-on-film technology controlled by a Hollywood movie studio. The following year, Fox purchased the North American rights to the Tri-Ergon system, though the company found it inferior to Movietone and virtually impossible to integrate the two different systems to advantage. In 1927, as well, Fox retained the services of Freeman Owens, who had particular expertise in constructing cameras for synch-sound film.

Advanced sound-on-disc-Parallel with improvements in sound-on-film technology, a number of companies were making progress with systems in which movie sound was recorded onto phonograph discs. In sound-on-disc technology from the era, a phonograph turntable is connected by a mechanical interlock to a specially modified film projector, allowing for synchronization. In 1921, the Photokinema sound-on-disc system developed by Orlando Kellum was employed to add synchronized sound sequences to D. W. Griffith's failed silent film Dream Street. A love song, performed by star Ralph Graves, was recorded, as was a sequence of live vocal effects. Apparently, dialogue scenes were also recorded, but the results were unsatisfactory and the film was never publicly screened incorporating them. On May 1, 1921, Dream Street was rereleased, with love song added, at New York City's Town Hall theater, qualifying it-however haphazardly-as the first feature-length film with a live-recorded vocal sequence.4 There would be no others for more than six years.

In 1925, Warner Bros., then a small Hollywood studio with big ambitions, began experimenting with sound-on-disc systems at New York's Vitagraph Studios, which it had recently purchased. The Warner Bros. technology, named Vitaphone, was publicly introduced on August 6, 1926, with the premiere of the nearly three-hour-long Don Juan; the first feature-length movie to employ a synchronized sound system of any type throughout, its soundtrack contained a musical score and sound effects, but no recorded dialogue-in other words, it had been staged and shot as a silent film. Accompanying Don Juan, however, were eight shorts of musical performances, mostly classical, as well as a four-minute filmed introduction by Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, all with live-recorded sound. These were the first true sound films exhibited by a Hollywood studio. Don Juan would not go into general release until February of the following year, making the technically similar The Better 'Ole, put out by Warner Bros. In October 1926, the first feature film with synchronized playback throughout to show to a broad audience.

Sound-on-film would ultimately win out over sound-on-disc because of a number of fundamental technical advantages:

  • Synchronization: no interlock system was completely reliable, and sound could fall out of synch due to disc skipping or minute changes in film speed, requiring constant supervision and frequent manual adjustment
  • Editing: discs could not be directly edited, severely limiting the ability to make alterations in their accompanying films after the original release cut
  • Distribution: phonograph discs added extra expense and complication to film distribution
  • Wear and tear: the physical process of playing the discs degraded them, requiring their replacement after approximately 20 screenings

Nonetheless, in the early years, sound-on-disc had the edge over sound-on-film in two substantial ways:

  • Production and capital cost: it was generally less expensive to record sound onto disc than onto film and the central exhibition systems-turntable/interlock/projector-were cheaper to manufacture than the complex image-and-audio-pattern-reading projectors required by sound-on-film
  • Audio quality: phonograph discs, Vitaphone's in particular, had superior dynamic range to most sound-on-film processes of the day, at least during the first few playings-while sound-on-film tended to have better frequency response, this was outweighed by greater distortion and noise

As sound-on-film technology improved, both of these disadvantages were overcome.

The third crucial set of innovations marked a major step forward in both the live recording of sound and its effective playback:

Fidelity electronic recording and amplification-Beginning in 1922, the research branch of AT&T's Western Electric manufacturing division began working intensively on recording technology for both sound-on-disc and sound-on film. In 1925, the company publicly introduced a greatly improved system of electronic audio, including sensitive condenser microphones and rubber-line recorders. That May, the company licensed entrepreneur Walter J. Rich to exploit the system for commercial motion pictures; he founded Vitagraph, which Warner Bros. acquired a half interest in just one month later. In April 1926, Warners signed a contract with AT&T for exclusive use of its film sound technology for the redubbed Vitaphone operation, leading to the production of Don Juan and its accompanying shorts over the following months. During the period when Vitaphone had exclusive access to the patents, the fidelity of recordings made for Warners films was markedly superior to those made for the company's sound-on-film competitors. Meanwhile, Bell Labs-the new name for the AT&T research operation-was working at a furious pace on sophisticated sound amplification technology that would allow recordings to be played back over loudspeakers at theater-filling volume. The new moving-coil speaker system was installed in New York's Warners Theatre at the end of July and its patent submission, for what Western Electric called the No. 555 Receiver, was filed on August 4, just two days before the premiere of Don Juan.5

Late in the year, AT&T/Western Electric created a licensing division, Electrical Research Products Inc. (ERPI), to handle rights to the company's film-related audio technology. Vitaphone still had legal exclusivity, but having lapsed in its royalty payments, effective control of the rights was in ERPI's hands. On December 31, 1926, Warners granted Fox-Case a sublicense for the use of the Western Electric system in exchange for a share of revenues that would go directly to ERPI. The patents of all three concerns were cross-licensed. Superior recording and amplification technology was now available to two Hollywood studios, pursuing two very different methods of sound reproduction. The new year would finally see the emergence of sound cinema as a significant commercial medium.

Triumph of the "talkies"

In February 1927, an agreement was signed by five leading Hollywood movie companies: the so-called Big Two-Paramount and MGM-a pair of studios in the next rank-Universal and the fading First National-and Cecil B. DeMille's small but prestigious Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC). The five studios agreed to collectively select just one provider for sound conversion. The alliance then sat back and waited to see what sort of results the forerunners came up with. In May, Warner Bros. sold back its exclusivity rights to ERPI (along with the Fox-Case sublicense) and signed a new royalty contract similar to Fox's for use of Western Electric technology. As Fox and Warners pressed forward with sound cinema in different directions, both technologically and commercially-Fox with newsreels and then scored dramas, Warners with talking features-so did ERPI, which sought to corner the market by signing up the five allied studios.

The big sound film sensations of the year all took advantage of pre-existing celebrity. On May 20, 1927, at New York's Roxy Theater, Fox Movietone presented a sound film of the takeoff of Charles Lindbergh's celebrated flight to Paris, recorded earlier that day. In June, a Fox sound newsreel depicting his return welcomes in New York and Washington, DC, was shown. These were the two most acclaimed sound motion pictures to date.6 In May, as well, Fox had released the first Hollywood fiction film with synchronized dialogue: the short They're Coming to Get Me, starring comedian Chic Sale.7 After rereleasing a few silent feature hits, such as Seventh Heaven, with recorded music, Fox came out with its first original Movietone feature on September 23: Sunrise, by acclaimed German director F. W. Murnau. As with Don Juan, the film's soundtrack was comprised of a musical score and sound effects (including, in a couple of crowd scenes, "wild," nonspecific vocals). Then, on October 6, 1927, Warner Bros.' The Jazz Singer premiered. It was a smash box office success for the mid-level studio, earning a total of $2.625 million in the U.S. and abroad, almost a million dollars more than the previous record for a Warners film. Produced with the Vitaphone system, most of the film does not contain live-recorded audio, relying, like Sunrise and Don Juan, on a score and effects. When the movie's star, Al Jolson, sings, however, the film shifts to sound recorded on the set, including both his musical performances and two scenes with ad-libbed speech-one of Jolson's character, Jakie Rabinowitz (Jack Robin), addressing a cabaret audience; the other an exchange between him and his mother. Though the success of The Jazz Singer was due largely to Jolson, already established as one of America's biggest music stars, and its limited use of synchronized sound hardly qualified it as an innovative sound film (let alone the "first"), the movie's handsome profits were proof enough to the industry that the technology was worth the investment.

The development of commercial sound cinema had proceeded in fits and starts before The Jazz Singer, and the film's success did not change things overnight. Not till May 1928 did the group of four big studios (PDC had dropped out of the alliance), along with United Artists and others, sign with ERPI for conversion of production facilities and theaters for sound film. Initially, all ERPI-wired theaters were made Vitaphone-compatible; most were equipped to project Movietone reels as well. Even with access to both technologies, however, most of the Hollywood companies remained slow to produce talking features of their own. No studio beside Warner Bros. released even a part-talking feature until the low-budget-oriented Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) premiered The Perfect Crime on June 17, 1928, eight months after The Jazz Singer.8 FBO had come under the effective control of a Western Electric competitor, General Electric's RCA division, which was looking to market its new sound-on-film system, Photophone. Unlike Fox-Case's Movietone and De Forest's Phonofilm, which were variable-density systems, Photophone was a variable-area system-a refinement in the way the audio signal was inscribed on film that would ultimately become the rule. (In both sorts of system, a specially designed lamp, whose exposure to the film is determined by the audio input, is used to record sound photographically as a series of minuscule lines. In a variable-density process, the lines are of varying darkness; in a variable-area process, the lines are of varying width.) By October, the FBO-RCA alliance would lead to the creation of Hollywood's newest major studio, RKO Pictures.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. had released three more talkies in the spring, all profitable, if not at the level of the The Jazz Singer: In March, The Tenderloin appeared; it was billed by Warners as the first feature in which characters spoke their parts, though only 15 of its 88 minutes had dialogue. Glorious Betsy followed in April, and The Lion and the Mouse (31 minutes of dialogue) in May.9 On July 6, 1928, the first all-talking feature, Lights of New York, premiered. The film cost Warner Bros. only $23,000 to produce, but grossed $1.252 million, a record rate of return surpassing 5,000 percent. In September, the studio released another Al Jolson part-talking picture, The Singing Fool, which more than doubled The Jazz Singer's earnings record for a Warners movie.10 This second Jolson screen smash demonstrated the movie musical's ability to turn a song into a national hit: by the following summer, the Jolson number "Sonny Boy" had racked up 2 million record and 1.25 million sheet music sales.11 September 1928 also saw the release of Paul Terry's Dinner Time, among the first animated cartoons produced with synchronized sound. After seeing it, Walt Disney decided to make one of his Mickey Mouse shorts, Steamboat Willie, with sound as well.

Over the course of 1928, as Warner Bros. began to rake in huge profits due to the popularity of its sound films, the other studios quickened the pace of their conversion to the new technology. Paramount, the industry leader, put out its first talkie in late September, Beggars of Life; though it had just a few lines of dialogue, it demonstrated the studio's recognition of the new medium's power. Interference, Paramount's first all-talker, debuted in November. The process known as "goat glanding" briefly became widespread: soundtracks, sometimes including a smatter of post-dubbed dialogue or song, were added to movies that had been shot, and in some cases released, as silents. A few minutes of singing could qualify such a newly endowed film as a "musical." (Griffith's Dream Street had essentially been a "goat gland.") Expectations swiftly changed, and the sound "fad" of 1927 became standard procedure by 1929. In February 1929, 16 months after The Jazz Singer's debut, Columbia Pictures became the last of the eight studios that would be known as "majors" during Hollywood's Golden Age to release its first part-talking feature, Lone Wolf's Daughter. Most American movie theaters, especially outside of urban areas, were still not equipped for sound and the studios were not entirely convinced of the talkies' universal appeal-through mid-1930, the majority of Hollywood movies were produced in dual versions, silent as well as talking. Though few in the industry predicted it, silent film as a viable commercial medium in the United States would soon be little more than a memory. The final mainstream purely silent feature put out by a major Hollywood studio was the Hoot Gibson oater Points West, released by Universal Pictures in August 1929. One month earlier, the first all-color, all-talking feature had gone into general release: Warner Bros.' On with the Show!

The transition: Europe

The Jazz Singer had its European sound premiere at the Piccadilly Theatre in London on September 27, 1928. According to film historian Rachael Low, "Many in the industry realized at once that a change to sound production was inevitable."12 On January 16, 1929, the first European feature film with a synchronized vocal performance and recorded score premiered: the German production Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame (I Kiss Your Hand, Madame).13 A dialogueless film that contains only a few minutes of singing by star Richard Tauber, it may be thought of as the Old World's combination Dream Street and Don Juan. The movie was made with the sound-on-film system controlled by the German-Dutch firm Tobis, corporate heirs to the Tri-Ergon concern. With an eye toward commanding the emerging European market for sound film, Tobis entered into a compact with its chief competitor, Klangfilm, a subsidiary of Allgemeine Elektrizitäts Gesellschaft (AEG). Early in 1929, the two businesses began comarketing their recording and playback technologies. As ERPI began to wire theaters around Europe, Tobis-Klangfilm claimed that the Western Electric system infringed on the Tri-Ergon patents, stalling the introduction of American technology in many places. Just as RCA had entered the movie business to maximize the value of its recording system, Tobis also established its own production houses, led by Germany's Tobis Filmkunst.

Over the course of 1929, most of the major European filmmaking countries began joining Hollywood in the changeover to sound. Many of the trend-setting European talkies were shot abroad as production companies leased studios while their own were being converted or as they deliberately targeted markets speaking different languages. One of Europe's first two feature-length dramatic talkies was created in still a different sort of twist on multinational moviemaking: The Crimson Circle was a coproduction between director Friedrich Zelnik's Efzet-Film company and British Sound Film Productions (BSFP). In 1928, the film had been released as the silent Der Rote Kreis in Germany, where it was shot; English dialogue was apparently dubbed in much later using the De Forest Phonofilm process controlled by BSFP's corporate parent. It was given a British trade screening in March 1929, as was a part-talking film made entirely in the UK: The Clue of the New Pin, a British Lion production using the sound-on-disc British Photophone system. In May, Black Waters, a British and Dominions Film Corporation promoted as the first UK all-talker, received its initial trade screening; it had been shot completely in Hollywood with a Western Electric sound-on-film system. None of these pictures made much impact. The first successful European dramatic talkie was the all-British Blackmail. Directed by 29-year-old Alfred Hitchcock, the movie had its London debut June 21, 1929. Originally shot as a silent, Blackmail was restaged to include dialogue sequences, along with a score and sound effects, before its premiere. A British International Pictures (BIP) production, it was recorded on RCA Photophone, General Electric having bought a share of AEG in order to gain access to the Tobis-Klangfilm markets. Blackmail was a substantial hit; critical response was also positive-notorious curmudgeon Hugh Castle, for example, called it "perhaps the most intelligent mixture of sound and silence we have yet seen."14

On August 23, the modest-sized Austrian film industry came out with a talkie: G'schichten aus der Steiermark (Stories from Styria), an Eagle Film-Ottoton Film production.15 On September 30, the first entirely German-made feature-length dramatic talkie, Das Land ohne Frauen (Land Without Women), premiered. A Tobis Filmkunst production, about one-quarter of the movie contained dialogue, which was strictly segregated from the special effects and music. The response was underwhelming. Sweden's first talkie, Konstgjorda Svensson (Artificial Svensson), premiered on October 14. Eight days later, Aubert Franco-Film came out with Le Collier de la reine (The Queen's Necklace), shot at the Epinay studio near Paris. Conceived as a silent film, it was given a Tobis-recorded score and a single talking sequence-the first dialogue scene in a French feature. On October 31, Les Trois masques debuted; a Pathé-Natan film, it is generally regarded as the initial French feature talkie, though it was shot, like Blackmail, at the Elstree studio, just outside of London. The production company had contracted with RCA Photophone and Britain then had the nearest facility with the system. The Braunberger-Richebé talkie La Route est belle, also shot at Elstree, followed a few weeks later. Before the Paris studios were fully sound-equipped-a process that stretched well into 1930-a number of other early French talkies were shot in Germany.16 The first all-talking German feature, Atlantik, had premiered in Berlin on October 28. Yet another Elstree-made movie, it was rather less German at heart than Les Trois masques and La Route est belle were French; a BIP production with a British scenarist and German director, it was also shot in English as Atlantic.17 The entirely German Aafa-Film production Dich hab ich geliebt (Because I Loved You) opened three-and-a-half weeks later. It was not "Germany's First Talking Film," as the marketing had it, but it was the first to be released in the United States.

In 1930, the first Polish talkies premiered, using sound-on-disc systems: Moralność pani Dulskiej (The Morality of Mrs. Dulska) in March and the all-talking Niebezpieczny romans (Dangerous Love Affair) in October.18 In Italy, whose once vibrant film industry had become moribund by the late 1920s, the first talkie, La Canzone dell'amore (The Song of Love), also came out in October; within two years, Italian cinema would be enjoying a revival. Several European nations with minor positions in the field also produced their first talking pictures-Belgium (in French), Denmark, Greece, and Romania. The Soviet Union's robust film industry came out with its first sound features in 1931: Dziga Vertov's nonfiction Entuziazm, with an experimental, dialogueless soundtrack, was released in the spring. In the fall, the Nikolai Ekk drama Putyovka v zhizn (The Road to Life), premiered as the state's first talking picture.

Throughout much of Europe, conversion of exhibition venues lagged well behind production capacity, requiring talkies to be produced in parallel silent versions or simply shown without sound in many places. While the pace of conversion was relatively swift in Britain-with over 60 percent of theaters equipped for sound by the end of 1930, similar to the U.S. figure-in France, by contrast, more than half of theaters nationwide were still projecting in silence by late 1932.19 According to scholar Colin G. Crisp, "Anxiety about resuscitating the flow of silent films was frequently expressed in the French industrial press, and a large section of the industry still saw the silent as a viable artistic and commercial prospect till about 1935."20 The situation was particularly acute in the Soviet Union; as of spring 1933, fewer than one out of every hundred film projectors in the country was as yet equipped for sound.

The transition: Asia

During the 1920s and 1930s, Japan was one of the world's two largest producers of motion pictures, along with the United States. Though the country's film industry was among the first to produce both sound and talking features, the full changeover to sound proceeded much more slowly than in the West. It appears that the first Japanese sound film, Reimai (Dawn), was made in 1926 with the De Forest Phonofilm system. Using the sound-on-disc Minatoki system, the leading Nikkatsu studio produced a pair of talkies in 1929: Taii no musume (The Captain's Daughter) and Furusato (Hometown), the latter directed by Mizoguchi Kenji. The rival Shochiku studio began the successful production of sound-on-film talkies in 1931 using a variable-density process called Tsuchibashi.21 Two years later, however, more than 80 percent of movies made in the country were still silents. Two of the country's leading directors, Ozu Yasujiro and Naruse Mikio, did not make their first sound films until 1935. As late as 1938, over a third of all movies produced in Japan were shot without dialogue.

The enduring popularity of the silent medium in Japanese cinema owed in great part to the tradition of the benshi, a live narrator who performed as accompaniment to a film screening. As director Kurosawa Akira later described, the benshi "not only recounted the plot of the films, they enhanced the emotional content by performing the voices and sound effects and providing evocative descriptions of events and images on the screen… . The most popular narrators were stars in their own right, solely responsible for the patronage of a particular theatre."22 Film historian Mariann Lewinsky argues,

The end of silent film in the West and in Japan was imposed by the industry and the market, not by any inner need or natural evolution… . Silent cinema was a highly pleasurable and fully mature form. It didn't lack anything, least in Japan, where there was always the human voice doing the dialogues and the commentary. Sound films were not better, just more economical. As a cinema owner you didn't have to pay the wages of musicians and benshi any more. And a good benshi was a star demanding star payment.23

The viability of the benshi system facilitated a gradual transition to sound-allowing the studios to spread out the capital costs of conversion and their directors and technical crews time to become familiar with the new technology.24

The Mandarin-language Gēnǚ hóng mǔdān (歌女紅牡丹, Singsong Girl Red Peony), starring Butterfly Wu, premiered as China's first feature talkie in 1930. By February of that year, production was apparently completed on a sound version of The Devil's Playground, arguably quaIifying it as the first Australian talking motion picture; however, the May press screening of Commonwealth Film Contest prizewinner Fellers is the first verifiable public exhibition of an Australian talkie.25 In September 1930, a song performed by Indian star Sulochana, excerpted from the silent feature Madhuri (1928), was released as a synchronized-sound short, making it that nation's mini-Dream Street.26 The following year, Ardeshir Irani directed the first Indian talking feature, the Hindi-Urdu Alam Ara, and produced Kalidas, primarily in Tamil with some Telugu. The first Bengali-language film, Jamai Sasthi, and the first movie fully spoken in Telugu, Bhakta Prahlada appeared in 1931.27 In 1932, Ayodhyecha Raja became the first movie in which Marathi was spoken to be released (though Sant Tukaram was the first to go through the official censorship process); the first Gujarati-language film, Narsimha Mehta, and all-Tamil talkie, Kalava, debuted as well. The next year, Ardeshir Irani produced the first Persian-language talkie, Dukhtar-e-loor. Also in 1933, the first Cantonese-language films were produced in Hong Kong-Sha zai dongfang (The Idiot's Wedding Night) and Liang xing (Conscience); within two years, the local film industry had fully converted to sound.28 Korea, where byeonsa held a role and status similar to that of the Japanese benshi, in 1935 became the last country with a significant film industry to produce its first talking picture: Chunhyangjeon (春香傳/춘향전) is based on a seventeenth-century pansori folktale of which as many as 14 film versions have been made to date.29



In the short term, the introduction of live sound recording caused major difficulties in production. Cameras were noisy, so a soundproofed cabinet was used in many of the earliest talkies to isolate the loud equipment from the actors, at the expense of a drastic reduction in the ability to move the camera. For a time, multiple-camera shooting was used to compensate for the loss of mobility and innovative studio technicians could often find ways to liberate the camera for particular shots. The necessity of staying within range of still microphones meant that actors also often had to limit their movements unnaturally. Show Girl in Hollywood (1930), from First National Pictures (which Warner Bros. had taken control of thanks to its profitable adventure into sound), gives a behind-the-scenes look at some of the techniques involved in shooting early talkies. Several of the fundamental problems caused by the transition to sound were soon solved with new camera casings, known as "blimps," designed to suppress noise and boom microphones that could be held just out of frame and moved with the actors. In 1931, a major improvement in playback fidelity was introduced: three-way speaker systems in which sound was