Jolson

Don’t get me wrong, I love the era of silent film. Unencumbered by the distractions of sound, I look at silent films differently; I pay more attention to scenes, props, poses, and facial expressions. But today’s not about celebrating the silent. Today I want to give a shout out to early talkies.

Eighty-one years ago today, Waner Bros. studio announced their development and release of the Vitaphone sound-on-film process. “Vitaphone Talking Pictures,” as Warner Bros. called it, excited audiences because, unlike other competing sound-on-film technologies, it had great amplification and a high fidelity to the original sound. As Wired writer Tony Long said in his article commemorating the anniversary, this technology rung “the death knell for silent films.” And audiences could actually hear it this time…in phonograph if not surroundsound.

The first film to use Vitaphone was the 1926 feature, Don Juan (Video A2856), starring the ever-impressive John Barrymore, but, arguably, the most popular Vitaphone talkie is The Jazz Singer (Video A451). We have a few other Vitaphone movies on DVD and VHS. Check ’em out.


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