In a world where we are constantly bombarded with video technology on our computers and smartphones, it’s crazy to think that this type of technology was once nonexistent. In the early days of film technology, all films were silent, meaning they had no sound synchronization either on the film itself or by an orchestra or recorded track.
Why were they silent?
Sound recording technology was first developed in 1877 with Thomas Edison’s phonograph. With the phonograph, a person could speak into the machine and the machine would replay what the person had just said. This is why it was referred to as the “talking machine.”
Phonographs and other prototypes of speakers were used to accompany silent films during the late 1920s, yet before this, all films were silent due to the fact that sound recording capabilities within the film itself were not yet developed and wouldn’t be until the 1930s. In the early days of film, only moving pictures could be recorded - not the sound that went along with them. This is why all films were silent before the late 1920s.
The First Film
The oldest surviving silent film is known as the Roundhay Garden Scene. It was recorded on October 14, 1888, by inventor Louis Le Prince in Roundhay, Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. The footage depicts Le Prince’s son, his in-laws the Whitleys, and a woman named Annie Hartley enjoying an afternoon in the garden of Oakwood Grange, the Whitley’s home.
Le Prince’s invention of the moving picture predates Thomas Edison’s, making him the first to successfully capture moving images on camera.
The First Commercial Silent Film Screening
The first commercial movie screening happened on December 28, 1895, at the Grande Cafe in Paris. Brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere developed a film using their invention the Cinematographe which showed scenes of everyday French life, charging admission to see their series of shorts.
The First Feature-Length Silent Film
In 1906, the first feature-length silent film was produced in Australia, titled The Story of the Kelly Gang. The film was directed by Charles Tait and depicted the adventures of the outlaw Ned Kelly and his gang. The film was more than an hour long, making it the longest narrative film seen in the world at the time.
The First Film With Sound
The first “talkie,” a film with synchronized recorded music and speech, was The Jazz Singer, a movie about a young Jewish man who defies his devout religious traditions by becoming a jazz singer. The film was released in 1927 and directed by Alan Crosland.
Can you believe that all films were once silent? It’s difficult to imagine in an age where video and sound are so prevalent in our every day lives. Yet this used to be the reality for early filmmakers and cinephiles. Silent films were a major source of entertainment from the early 1890s until the 1930s when sound-on-film capabilities were introduced.