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Early Hollywood . Transition to Sound .

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Early Hollywood

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Early Hollywood

Transition to Sound

  • Early on, when film prints traveled from small town to small town in the American heartland, they were often narrated by a live raconteur, who would explain the action on-screen to audiences. "Intertitles"—those cards between moments of action—contained explanations of action, or important moments of dialogue, or even bits of poetry to set the mood.

  • Read more: Movies and Film: A Brief History of Sound in Movies — Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/cig/movies-flicks-film/brief-history-sound-movies.html#ixzz21JDxNS1y

  • Synchronization and amplification were problems that needed to be overcome

  • During the expansion in the 1920’s Warner Brothers was the first studio that invested in a sound system using records in synchronization with film images (Vitaphone)

  • Vitaphone, which produced the first commercially viable sound system, essentially a very large phonograph hooked up to a film projector

  • Don Juan (1926)

  • Orchestral accompaniment and sound effects on disc

  • The Jazz Singer (1927) (part talkie with some scenes accompanied by music

  • These two films popularized the idea of sound on film

  • The success of these films proved that sync sound could be profitable

Technological Advances

  • Sound films needed to be compatible with all projectors

  • Eventually a sound on film rather than a sound on disc system had to be invented

  • This became the standard

  • The sound track is printed on the strip of film alongside the image

  • Setback for Hollywood style

  • The camera had to be placed in a large casing called a blimp

  • The camera couldn’t move except for short pans and tilts

  • One solution was multiple cameras in a booth

  • Boom Invented

  • Diegetic Sound allowed for better continuity editing (sound bridge)

  • Large studios developed distinctive approaches

  • MGM: Prestige studio (huge number of stars and technicians under long term contract)

  • Warner Brothers was a smaller studio that made more specialized features

  • They invested in sound because they were interested in producing musicals (more fragmented like vaudeville acts strung together)

  • RKO constructed musicals as classically constructed narratives

Deep Focus

Citizen Kane: 1941

  • Some musicals in the 30’s were shot in technicolor

  • This required a lot of light

  • The technical development of using light on the set led to the development of deep focus films

  • Greg Toland, Cinematographer for Citizen Kane used this technique

Frank Capra

Meet John Doe

  • Affectionate portrayals of the common man

  • Films deal with the strengths and foibles of American democracy

  • Sicilian descent: came to the US in steerage

  • Depicts a battle to prevent a power-crazed industrialist from taking dictatorial control of the country in "Meet John Doe"

Heroes of Capra Films

  • Homespun American heroes

  • Naïve idealists who are up against evildoers

  • The central characters win, because of their innate goodness

  • "Meet John Doe" drew criticism for what was seen as a "cop-out" happy ending. But BosleyCrowther of The Times called the 1941 movie "superlative" and said it was "by far the hardest-hitting and most trenchant picture on the theme of democracy" Mr. Capra had yet made.


  • In 1922 bluffed his way into making a successful one-reeler

  • Columbia Pictures (made a series of adventure films)

  • A Lady for a Day 1933

  • It Happened One Night 1934

  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town 1936

  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939

  • Meet John Doe 1941

  • It’s a Wonderful Life 1947

"I always felt the world cannot fall apart as long as free men see the rainbow, feel the rain and hear the laugh of a child”

Classic Narrative

  • Representation: signifies a world or a body of ideas

  • Semantics of narrative (semantics: the study of meaning)

  • Narrative can also be studied in terms of structure


  • Russian formalist term for the narrative events in causal chronological sequence

  • Narration: the process of cueing a perceiver to construct a fabula by use of syuzhet patterning and film style (the way the story is organized)

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZyur2rlh6A

Syuzhet and Hollywood Screenwriting Formula

  • Initial state of affairs which gets violated and must then be set right

  • Undisturbed stage

  • Disturbance

  • Struggle

  • Elimination of disturbance


  • The prime unifying principle

  • Cause and effect

  • Spacial and Temporal representation are motivated by causality

  • This process is especially evident in a device highly characteristic of classical narration: The deadline

Classical Syuzhet presents a double causal structure

  • Heterosexual romance

  • Goals obstacle and climax (Work war mission or quest )


  • Hollywood narration clearly demarcates its scenes

  • Unity of time

  • Space (a definable locale)

  • “The bounds of the sequence will be marked by some standardized punctuations: dissolve, fade, wipe or sound bridge.

Scenes or Sequences

  • Usually are closed temporally and spatially, but open in terms of the overall causality

  • Always move causality forward

  • Montage (Classical Hollywood) Compresses time

  • Fills in information to move causality forward

Distinct Phases of a Scene

  • Exposition specifies the time, place and distinct characters relevant to it

  • In the middle of the scene characters act towards their goals

  • They often struggle, make appointments, set deadlines and plan for future events

  • The Classical scene either closes off cause-effect developments brought about in previous scenes or begins new ones

Syuzhet Variations

  • A film in which the Syuzhet focuses on a single space for most of its duration will punctuate scenes in different ways

  • A film that spans decades may need more than a simple fade to black to communicate that

Classical Hollywood Endings

  • Smooth careful linearity

  • Logical conclusion of the string of events

  • The final effect of the initial cause

  • Arbitrary readjustment of the world knocked awry in the previous 80 minutes

  • Sometimes this is predictable (in 100 sampled movies over 60 ended with a display of a united heterosexual couple)

Transparency and Visibility of Narration

  • Classical narration tends to be omniscient

  • Knows more than most or all of its characters

  • Conceals very little (except what will happen next)

  • First few shots (Overt narration—exposition)

  • Once the action starts, the narration becomes more covert (the character’s actions take over)


  • Tend to become self conscious

  • Express narrations awareness of the viewer

  • A classical Hollywood montage compresses time

Soviet Montage

  • Aspects of cinema are juxtaposed for meaning or for heightened emotional effect

  • Not always clear in terms of demarcated scenes

Experimental Film

  • Causality is not always a factor

  • “ambiguous interplay of subjectivity and objectivity”

“Realistic” motivation

  • Audiences see films fully prepared

  • Conventions

  • Genre

  • Personality types

  • Transtextual motivation (star system)

“Artistic” Motivation

  • “Moment of spectacle” or technical virtuosity

  • Unmotivated shift from the objective to subjective perspective

  • Connections between sequences ruminate on themes rather than causal relationships

  • Limited focus on a single goal

  • Musical numbers

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