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Have you ever wondered what shows were like in the 1920’s? Were they black and white with sound or in color with sound? To answer that question it was neither. This time period was known as the silent era. It wasn’t until later that “talkies” arrived and transformed the face of the American film industry. But was the silent era really all that bad? Around 1891 and 1927, a new kind of entertainment evolved known as the silent era. The silent era was a time for films, but most importantly, silent films.
Silent films were films which of course, had no synchronized sound. These films created a new kind of media for the people and allowed more exploration. The so called “silent films” were not all as they seemed though.
Many of these films included pianists and many were accompanied by orchestras. Narrators and live actors were also included in a good variety of these films. Many actors flourished in the silent film industry.
Charlie Chaplin and Carlyle Blackwell were some of the many of these actors. Charlie Chaplin was born on April 16th, 1889. At the age of twelve, he acted as the page boy in the hit ¨Sherlock Holmes¨. Chaplin moved through many different companies while acting as a comedian and eventually would become an independent producer. Carlyle Blackwell, born January 20, 1884, was another silent film star. Blackwell made his debut in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1910 and until 1915 was a number one star.
Many of these silent films were either epics, romances, comedies, and dramas.
Very little would be horror or mystery. One reelers, which were 10-12 minute long films, would soon be replaced by four-reel length films. In fact, the great Charlie Chaplin would come to perform ¨City Lights” in 1931. This film centers on Lady and the Tramp, but most importantly the Tramp. To some people this film shows a kind of timelessness. One critic, Alistair Cooke, says the film, despite all its struggles, ¨flows as easily as water over pebbles¨ (Cooke). The City Lights was perhaps one of the best films produced by Chaplin. With all the great things, what could possibly be better than these so called silent films? Things changed a little bit when talkies arrived.
Talkies were the first films that included synchronized sound. With the birth of talkies, comedy also flourished. The very first talkie in this era was “The Jazz Singer”. This film came out in 1927 and was based off of Samson Raphaelson’s “The Day of Atonement”. For the investment of half a million dollars with Western Investment, this talkie was a huge success. Another thing that came with the beginning of talkies were studios. In addition, The Big Five and The Little Three were created. The Big Five consisted of: Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, RKO Pictures, Mayer Pictures, and the 20th Century Pictures Company. The Little Three was of course, smaller than The Big Five. The Little Three included: Universal Pictures, United Artists Studio, and Columbia Pictures.
During this era a lot of new talkies emerged. The Big Parade in 1925 was one of many. This film was based off wartime experiences from a Marine serving in France and was the first realistic war drama. The Wizard of Oz in 1939 was also a talkie to arrive. As many people know, this is about a girl who dreams of something better and gets something much worse, after running into trouble they finally get to go back to her hometown of Kansas. Lost Horizon in 1937 was a film produced by The Little Three. This was inspired by a real-life mountaineer, who was lost during a climb of Mount Everest. Many of these films captured a lot of people’s attention right away because of the sound that was finally being heard. Was the switch from silent film to talkies as easy as it seemed though?The switch to talkies actually didn’t go too bad at all.
Many people loved the idea of having sound to films and to them it made the films much more interesting. In fact, every major studio began making two different versions of their films. One version would be a silent one and the other would be a talkie. Even so, some of these versions differed. Some would have for example, different endings or reversed sequences. All Quiet on the Western Front, produced in 1930, was a major example of this. In fact, it had a ‘silent’ version, with music and effects, and a ‘sound’ version. Many problems also erupted with the arrival of sound. Some of these problems included: restricted English-language talkies, many actors and actresses lacked good voices or stage experience and their marketability went down.
Many silent film actors actually ended up switching to talkies because they liked the idea of sound so much better. Greta Garbo was one of the biggest box office draws of the silent era. With the start of sound, she was afraid her accent would be the end to her career but it was actually the opposite. John Barrymore with his booming stage-trained voice he was a force to be reckoned with when it came to talkies. Joan Crawford embraced her free-spirit and not only showed people she could dance, but also that she could sing. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the most famous comedy duo. The switch to sound was easy for them because their films were always visual. Carole Lombard was the highest paid star in Hollywood. The more famous, Boris Karloff would come to appear in “Frankenstein” and later on “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!”.
Many more actors would soon make the switch and talkies would soon start to impact the world. Talkies did eventually change America. Many American towns had a movie theatre by the early 1920s. The movie industry would become a big business. People would go to see a movie at least once a week. Kay Gallant says, “ Movies were fun. They provided a change from the day to day struggles of life.¨ Movies inspired so many people, Americans would try to copy what they would see in these films. Rich and poor families could go out and watch a film and it just provided more to their life.With the birth of talkies a lot of things have definitely changed in America. Today, about 2.4 million people are employed from the film and TV movie industry.
$180 billion is contributed annually to the national economy. Not only can you see movies in theaters, you can also find them on the Internet, your TV, laptops, and also your smartphone. With one small idea, the world was changed in a matter of days.This period known as the silent era was just the beginning to an end. As talkies arrived and transformed this wonderful industry known as film, many things came about. People changed, grew, and experienced a different kind of entertainment. Without talkies we could have still been in the silent era not knowing what was out there. We changed our country just by creating something new. And as Americans sit from all around the world watching film, we continue to change, and at the same time, we silently think, what will be next?
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