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The Development of Sound in Film - Good or Bad?

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

Everyone has watched at least one film in their lifetime, whether this was at the cinema munching on seriously sticky popcorn, or at home on the television praying an advert doesn’t decide to interrupt an intense fight scene. Either way, I know for a fact that you have seen a film. I want you to think about one specific film, perhaps your all time favourite or maybe the most recent one you’ve watched? Now take that film and replay your favourite scene through your head. Can you hear any speaking? Any music? If you answered yes, that film was released after 1927.

Did you know that Alan Crosland's film ‘The Jazz Singer’ was the first ever film to feature a soundtrack? In fact, 1927 was the year where soundtracks entered the film-making world for good. Previously, cinemas were only distributing silent films due to the unsuccessful sound synchronisation and lack of knowledge on technology. This does make you think, how many completely silent films have you seen in your lifetime? I can assure you, most of you probably haven't seen one. This is because after 1927, silent films began to fade away, with their places being taken over by the sound of heavenly voices and catchy soundtrack feature films.

The public view on this development was surprisingly negative. 1895-1927 were the years silent film dominated cinemas, so this sudden change was difficult for people to process and adjust to. Silent film was much cheaper to see in the cinema, so the removal of it prevented many regular visitors from attending cinema viewings. Also, silent film overcame the language barrier, which was sufficient as it allowed the millions of immigrants coming to America during the 20th century to watch and understand the films being released. Removing silent film meant that millions of people missed out on seeing these new films, which would highly decrease the cinema companies income which resulted in many unfortunately being shut down.

Contrastingly, the view of the public today, in the 21st Century, is much more positive compared to the view in 1927. From the research I conducted, I found that the 6 people I interviewed had the same overall opinion. To make my research less biased, I interviewed 10 people, all from different age groups. Here are my findings:

  • How many completely silent films have you seen in your lifetime?

> 70% of interviewees claimed to have seen zero; the other 30% claimed to see one.

  • For those who answered zero, would you ever want to see a complete silent film?

> Out of the 7 who have seen zero; only 1 agreed that they would like to see a silent film.

  • (Aimed at the six who said no) Why wouldn't you?

> 63 Year Old announced: “I have already adapted to the evolution of film quality and better acting, I don't really want to adapt to completely silent films. It may burst my eardrum!”

> 14 and 17 Year Olds announced: “I don’t think I could pay attention to the actual film.”

> 25 Year Old stated: “I don’t really watch films in general, but my top franchise has got to be Fast and Furious. Can you imagine that in complete silence? It would completely ruin the effect!”

> 71 and 57 Year olds stated: “I don’t watch films”.

From these findings, I can conclude that out of the 10 people I interviewed, 6 of them who haven't seen any silent film would not be interested in ever seeing one. I’m sure if I asked a larger group of people, the same results would have been shown. From my own knowledge, I think the development of film overall plays a major role in these opinions. Since 1927, film has improved so much in quality with the acting and overall entertainment. A silent film now wouldn’t give the same effect as it did in the 20th Century. In addition, linking back to the argument with language barriers, films nowadays come with subtitles which can be changed to most languages. This means anyone can enjoy the films. In the end, does our influence of films impact our opinion?

Well, what do you think? Do you think you would be able to sit through a complete silent film? We would love to hear your thoughts!

  • Written by Shelbie Webb

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