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Problems with early sound

1.01.2011

Technological advances during this period were numerous. The first microphones for recording sound were clumsy and bulky and produced poor sound quality. Technicians insisted that the performers stand next to the microphones for optimal sound quality; this meant that both the camera and the actors stopped moving, resulting in static films that fans and critics alike derisively labeled “teacup drama.” Most actors in early sound films were recruited from Broadway; for those who did not have a good speaking voice, the parade was over. John Gilbert, one of the most famous stars of silent films, saw his career crumble because his high tenor voice didn’t mesh with the public perception of him as a dashing romantic hero (although rumors persist that his decline was the result of a feud with Louis B. Mayer). In the early days of sound, dubbing and mixing were all but impossible, so that many films were shot with multiple stationary cameras, each in a soundproof booth, while an orchestra played off screen so that all sound could be recorded simultaneously.


Not surprisingly, directors soon balked at these limitations, and audiences grew tired of films in which dialogue was the sole attraction. The early musicals of Ernst Lubitsch, such as The Love Parade (1929) and Monte Carlo (1930), used extensive post-synchronization to lay in music


tracks after the film had been shot silently, allowing the camera to return to its state of mobility. Rouben Mamoulian, one of early sound film’s most audacious pioneers, was a proponent of the moving camera in such films as Applause (1929), City Streets (1931), and his masterpiece, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), still the most visually stimulating of the many versions of the classic tale. Soon cameras were mounted inside “blimps,” which soundproofed the noise of their running electric motors, and microphones were mounted on “booms,” long poles that were extended over the actors within a scene to allow mobility for the performers. Editing systems also improved, along with the introduction of separate sound and picture tracks that allowed cutters to freely manipulate the image and audio components of a film, as well as improvements in postproduction sound mixing and dubbing.



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