The understanding of how the silent film industry faded away, and the speed at which it eroded is tantalisingly revealed via the digitising of Australian newspapers over the last two years. What has now surfaced are previously hidden stories, observations, opinions and concerns expressed through the media of the day.
Below is an assemblage of the hopes, fears, highlights and failures of the transition from silence to sound in Australia.
The Talkies are coming! They will be here tonight at the Burlington Picture Theatre.
Many of us never dreamed we would live to hear the pictures talk.
The new invention ‘Photofon’ will provide twenty minutes of speaking pictures tonight and three
will be presented in conjunction with the usual full programme
(National Advocate, Bathurst, NSW June 1926)
Although the news has not been officially announced, even in London, it is more
than probably that various Cabinet Ministers from Westminster, and perhaps even
Mr Baldwin will be seen and heard in Australia in the not-to-far distant future.
(Evening News, NSW, August 1926)
The cinematograph will never attain its full measure of popularity as a form of
entertainment until the coming of of the ‘talking film’
(Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, October 1926)
A blind man would have imagined himself at an ordinary talking machine entertainment
and a deaf man would have seen only a picture show, but those with both sight and
hearing were at a performance which suggested to the imagination wonderful possibilities
(The Sydney Morning Herald, November 1926)
Is the talking film going to supersede all other kinds of moving pictures?
Some people think it is , and there can be no doubt that it is worth watching closely.
We certainly cannot afford to pooh-pooh these new inventions. Twenty five years ago people laughed at ‘animated pictures’ as they were called. To-day the picture business is the fourth largest industrial concern in America.
We are going to hear more of talking pictures.
(The Warwick Daily News, Queensland, January 1927)
Speaking and Talking Movies.
A special novelty attraction at the Rink on Friday night is the new amazing invention of speaking and talking pictures – ‘Photofon’.
This is an attraction that will please both young and old. It is perfect in synchronism and a decided novelty.
Don’t fail to see and hear this wonderful invention , and modernise your methods and brighten your mind by seeing the latest marvels of science.
(The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser, New South Wales, January, 1927)
The old tramway sheds at Rushcutter’s Bay are to be transformed into a modern motion
picture studio. The studio will have every modern convenience , and it will mean that in
starting a new industry , we shall open another channel of employment
(The Sydney Morning Herald, March 1927)
A new Industry which has remarkable possibilities has been launched in Australia. The industry is for the production and development of films which talk and it is being undertaken by the De Forest Phonofilms (Australia) Ltd.
(The Telegraph, Queensland, March 1927)
Movies that really talk – not by a gramophone but by photographed sound rays – are the De Forest phonofilms , modern motion picture studios for the production which are now in course of construction at Rushcutter’s Bay, Sydney
(Truth, Queensland, March 1927)
The most outstanding development in motion picture production – the synchronised speaking film – is to be introduced to picture theatre patrons to-day. A unique demonstration of this remarkable invention was given at the Majestic Theatre yesterday, when 600 invited guests heard music on the silver sheet. Portrayed before them was a renowned band playing in the rotunda at Taronga Park, Sydney, while perfectly synchronised , was heard the music the band was playing. Then followed burlesque features, dance items, and a film depicting a trip to Long Island, the sounds associated with it being naturally reproduced. From the speech amplifiers came the noise of the railway train, the barking of dogs, the call of the wildfowl, and the shrieks of children.
(The Age,Victoria, July 1927)
Hollywood is in a turmoil and it looks as though some of the present stars
who can’t even talk good American, will be cut out of a job
The trouble with many of the present stars is that they are of foreign or Jewish extraction
and are hopeless for recording clear, intelligible English
(The Daily News, Western Australia, September 1928)
Deaf folk at any rate will be very disconsolate if the talking film entirely supersedes
the ordinary variety.
(Border Watch, South Australia, November 1928)
For the first time on earth, shadows are going to make noises.
Thy are going to squeal , grunt, shout, whine, and hiss.
They are going to batter and bruise the delicate art of speech , and vent themselves
in a veritable riot of cacophony
(The Australian Worker, November 1928)
I can no longer look upon them as an experiment and I have arranged
for their installation in all the principle Union Theatres in Australia.
(Morning Bulletin, Queensland, November 1928)
Many American movies heroines would cease to be heroines if their
admirers heard them speak.
(The Mail, South Australia, November 1928)
It will cost Hoyts Theatre Ltd 90,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds to install talking pictures
(The Daily News, Western Australia, November 1928)
The Jazz Singer is only partly talkie.
There was at times a succession of blurred notes , particularly in the orchestral effects.
On the other hand a resonance of tone that was truly remarkable was achieved in the synagogue scene.
The effect was amazing.
It was clear from last night’s performance that Talkies are yet in their infancy.
(The Sydney Morning Herald, December , 1928)
Australian censors have been confronted with the problem of the censorship of talking pictures.
A transcript of the dialogue must be submitted to the censors by the importing companies.
(The Advertiser, South Australia, December , 1928)
Miss Ada Reeves,the well-known vaudeville artist,who arrived yesterday by the Ventura , declared that the ‘talkies’ had achieved wonderful successful in the United States and that the silent film would soon have vanished altogether from the screen
(The Sydney Morning Herald, January, 1929)
At a time when the talking-film has mowed down half of Hollywood’s famous stars and the other half
are rapidly sinking into obscurity, it is distinctly encouraging to find the two Australians – Dorothy Cummings,
and Mae Busch – have not only survived the mad stampede unscathed, but can actually be seen and heard in the very
front rank of the new ‘talking ghosts’.
(Sydney Mail, July, 1929)
By the s.s Sierra, on August 8, arrived Mr S. S Crick, managing director for Australasia of Fox Movietone Ltd.
Mr Crick has brought back with him the first complete sound recording machine to arrive here.
It is fitted to a fast truck, and will make an extensive tour of Australia , taking sound pictures, which will be given worldwide
circulation. The truck will commence its tour almost immediately and will be fuelled and lubricated throughout
by Plume Appotenic motor spirit and Gargoyle Motoroil.
(Referee, NSW, August 1929)
Hear the voice of Fairbanks speak to you in a special dialogue sequence.
Douglas Fairbanks in his first Cinesound Presentation ‘The Iron Mask’
With full Vitaphone supporting entertainment
(Advertisement in The Daily News, Western Australia, August 1929)
All This Week.
A 100 per cent. Talkie.
Supporting Silent Picture
“The Grain of Dust”
(Advertisement in Table Talk, Victoria, September 1929)
Could you enlighten me as to whether the picture theatres will give an occasional silent picture show here after
they have all installed the ‘Talkies’? I think this should be seen to at once , as there are quite a number of deaf
people in the city who have gone regularly to picture shows and will now be ‘downed’ as a far as silent pictures go,
if there is to be none at all in the future.
Mr P McLeod , of Lenard’s , said that it is an utter impossibility to get a good silent show now, as the producers are concentrating on ‘talkies’
(Barrier Miner, NSW, May 1930)
Sir- the last few months I have noticed with interest the controversy raging between the Talkies and the ‘Legitimate’ Theatres. When the talkies were first introduced into New South Wales about 18 months ago their rivals of the stage and orchestra pit both predicted a short future for the talkies and were confident that the public ‘would soon realise they were listening to canned music and tire of it’.
Usually an 18 months trial is long enough for anything and now that time has elapsed and the talkies still seem to be holding their own. Although I am not altogether for the talkies ,I candidly think that they are here to stay, although it does seem a shame that the legitimate theatre is apparently doomed
(The Maitland Daily Mercury, NSW, May 1930)
-sourced/collated by Rhett Bartlett @dialmformovies