Silent Film Sound

Rick Altman

Columbia University Press

Silent Film Sound

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Pub Date: February 2007

ISBN: 9780231116633

480 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $38.00£30.00

Pub Date: December 2004

ISBN: 9780231116626

480 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $110.00£85.00

Pub Date: December 2004

ISBN: 9780231534000

480 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $37.99£30.00

Silent Film Sound

Rick Altman

Columbia University Press

Because silent cinema is widely perceived as having been exactly that-silent-no one has fully examined how souns was used to accompany the films of this era. Silent Film Sound reconsiders all aspects of sound practices during the entire silent film period. Based on extensive origianl reserach and accompanied by gorgeous illustrations, the book challenges the assumptions of earlier histories of this period in film and reveals the complexity and swiftly changing nature of American silent cinema.

Contrary to received opinion, silent films were not always accompanied, nor were accompaniments uniform. Beginning with sound practices before cinema's first decade and continuing through to the more familiar sound practices of the 1920s, Rick Altman discusses the variety of sound strategies and the way early cinema exhibitors used these strategies to differentiate their products. During the nickelodeon period prior to 1910, this variety reached its zenith, with theaters often deploying half a dozen competing sound strategies-from carniva-like music in the street, automatic pianos at the rear of the theater, and small orchestras in the pit to lecturers, synchronized sound systems, and voices behind the screen. During this period, musical accompaniment had not yet begun to support the story and its emotions as it would in later years.

But in the 1910s, film sound acquiesced to the demands of the burgeoning cinema industry, who successfully argued that accompaniment should enhance film's narrative and emotional content rather than score points by burluesqiung or "kidding" the film. The large theaters and blockbuster productions of the mid-1910s provided a perfect crucible for new instruments, new music publication projects, and the development of a new style of film msuic. From that moment on, film music would become an integral part of the film rather than its adversary, and a new style of cinema sound would favor accompaniment that worked in concert with cinema story-telling. For the first time, Silent Film Sound details the ways in which these diverse intersts and industires cam together to produce an extraordinarily successful audiovisual art.
Because silent cinema is widely perceived as having been exactly that—silent—no one has fully examined how sound was used to accompany the films of this era. Silent Film Sound reconsiders all aspects of sound practices during the entire silent film period. Based on extensive original research and accompanied by gorgeous illustrations, the book challenges the assumptions of earlier histories of this period in film and reveals the complexity and swiftly changing nature of American silent cinema.

Contrary to received opinion, silent films were not always accompanied, nor were accompaniments uniform. Beginning with sound practices before cinema's first decade and continuing through to the more familiar sound practices of the 1920s, Rick Altman discusses the variety of sound strategies and the way early cinema exhibitors used these strategies to differentiate their products. During the nickelodeon period prior to 1910, this variety reached its zenith, with theaters often deploying half a dozen competing sound strategies—from carnival-like music in the street, automatic pianos at the rear of the theater, and small orchestras in the pit to lecturers, synchronized sound systems, and voices behind the screen. During this period, musical accompaniment had not yet begun to support the story and its emotions as it would in later years.

But in the 1910s, film sound acquiesced to the demands of captains of the burgeoning cinema industry, who successfully argued that accompaniment should enhance the film's narrative and emotional content rather than score points by burlesquing or "kidding" the film. The large theaters and blockbuster productions of the mid-1910s provided a perfect crucible for new instruments, new music-publication projects, and the development of a new style of film music. From that moment on, film music would become an integral part of the film rather than its adversary, and a new style of cinema sound would favor accompaniment that worked in concert with cinema storytelling. For the first time, Silent Film Sound details the ways in which these diverse interests and industries came together to produce an extraordinarily successful audiovisual art.
Weighty and ambitious....This thoroughly researched and copiously illustrated book is recommended for large libraries and all cinema collections. Roy Liebman, Library Journal
Silent Film Soundis a bible of reference information and vintage photos. Bookwatch
Edison's pioneering work...is given a large amount of space in a fascinating new book. Steve Ramm, Groove Magazine
Rather than reinventing the wheel or allowing for too many examples in his analysis, Altman successfully dispels notions of a homogenous turn-of-the-century soundscape and interweaves salient but ignored aspects of early cinema and its coinciding entertainments...Highly recommended. Choice
A magisterial effort of a type rarely seen in cinema today... Altman's history is precise, reflective, and human. Cinemas Journal
Rick Altman's Silent Film Sound is revisionist film history at its best. Marshall Deutelbaum, New Review of Film and Television
Nothing short of a classic, definitive work. Jacob Smith, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film
A major contribution to the history of early cinema. American Studies
His groundbreaking, encyclopedic book represents a crucial contribution to the scholarly understanding not only of early film sound, but also of the full range of film history. Kecia D. McBride, Film Criticism
Rick Altman has given us a magnum opus... a stunningly original work of film history. Tom Gunning, Film Quarterly
[A] majestic book... Readable as the most complete account of early American cinema. Dana Polan, Screening The Past
Silent Film Sound is a superb contribution to many scholarly fields in addition to film history, including musicology, media studies, sound studies and American history. Katherine Spring, Film International
Silent Film Sound is a top pick for any serious college-level film library. California Bookwatch
Part I: Methodology
1. The History of Silent Film Sound
Past Attempts to Write the History of Silent Film Sound
Assumptions and Limitations of the Current Project
2. Crisis Historiography
A New Kind of History
Anatomy of an Identity Crisis
Part II: The Late-Nineteenth-Century Soundscape
3. The Musical Scene
4. Lecture Logic
Part III: Early Film Sound
5. From Peep Show to Projection
6. Vaudeville
Part IV: Nickelodeon Sound
7. The Crisis of the Late Aughts
8. Lectures, Sound Effects, and the Itinerant Exhibition Model
9. Films That Talk
10. The Nickelodeon Program
11. Nickelodeon Music
Part V: The Campaign to Standardize Sound
12. Trade Press Discourse
13. Music for Films
14. Training Musicians, Training Audiences
Part VI: The Golden Era of Silent Film Music
15. Moving Picture Orchestras Come of Age
16. New Roles for Keyboard Instruments
17. Cue Sheets and Photoplay Music
18. Musical Practices
Conclusion

Runner-up, 2006 Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards

Winner, 2005 Limina Award for Best Cinema Studies International Book

Winner, 2017 Theatre Library Association Award

About the Author

Rick Altman is professor of cinema and comparative literature at the University of Iowa. He is the author of The American Film Musical and Film/Genre; the editor of Sound Theory Sound Practice; and the coeditor of The Sounds of Early Cinema.