You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Artist Isn’t Silent by 1926 Standards

Among the films in contention this awards season, “The Artist” has one of the most appealing back stories out there. The black-and-white picture has no audible dialogue and a quaint 4:3 aspect ratio. And after charming audiences at Cannes in May and scooping up multiple end-of-year critics awards, the light comedy is being positioned as having the potential to be the first silent film to earn a best picture award since “Wings” took home the first Oscar 83 years ago.
How perfect is that as a demonstration of Hollywood coming full circle?
However, if “The Artist” had been released back in 1926, it would have been touted — lauded, even — as a groundbreaking film because it has a soundtrack that’s synched with the celluloid. A lack of dialogue didn’t mean the film was silent.
On Aug. 7, 1926, Variety published a special eight-page Saturday edition that proclaimed Warner Bros.’ “Don Juan” the first sound picture because it used the revolutionary Vitaphone, which allowed projectionists to synch a phonograph with the projector and amplify the sound for presentation. Rather than using a live orchestra to add drama to a silent film, any theater in the country with a Vitaphone could play the very best orchestral score, the way the filmmaker intended.
“What of those millions in the small towns, where a drive of from 20 to 40 miles in a flivver once a week to see the ‘movies’ is an event that is looked forward to by mother, father and the kids alike? Can you imagine what they will say when they get exactly what you have been getting on Broadway for years?”
Variety’s coverage of the Times Square premiere was effusive about the possibilities. Will H. Hays — then president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, the prototype for the Motion Picture Association of America — said the Vitaphone presentation of “Don Juan” “is the beginning of a new era. It has to be more than a novelty.”
To show just how important the technology was, Hays gave his speech via Vitaphone. However, Hays was the only one who did any talking during the presentation. Variety’s reporter wrote that the Hays address was the “only demonstration of the synchronization of the speaking voice during the evening. His voice registered as clearly as though he were present in person. ”
After all the hype and the steep $11 ticket prices (not adjusted for inflation), eager cinemagoers never heard star John Barrymore speaking dialogue throughout the night. Variety did, however, take note of Barrymore’s 191 onscreen smooches: “John Barrymore is the champion kisser of all time!”
In fact, it wasn’t until 1928’s “The Jazz Singer” — the first real “talker,” which is what Variety referred to them in the day — that music, effects and dialogue accompanied a film, albeit still through Vitaphone’s format.
So “The Artist” might be a novelty for today’s audiences because of its lack of dialogue, by 1926 standards, there’s nothing “silent” about it.

More Film

  • Mara Watkins Nabhaan Rizwan Steven Wouterlood

    Diverse Talents Pepper Variety's Fifth 10 Europeans to Watch List

    Variety has unveiled its fifth edition of 10 Europeans to Watch, spotlighting 10 rising talents from across the continent who are poised for breakthroughs in 2019. The selection includes emerging actors, directors, showrunners and cinematographers from six countries whose dynamic talents are being showcased on screens big and small, and on both sides of the camera. [...]

  • Glass Movie

    Box Office: 'Glass' Shines Overseas With $48.5 Million Weekend

    After autobots and aquatic kings have dominated foreign markets over the past few weeks, a different kind of hero has risen to the top of box office charts. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is the new champ overseas, pulling in $48.5 million from international territories. Related Actors on Actors: Amy Adams and Nicole Kidman (Full Video) Diverse [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    'Roma' and 'The Favourite' Lead London Critics' Circle Winners

    After ruling the U.S. critics’ award circuit, “Roma” continued its dominance on the other side of the pond, as the London Film Critics’ Circle announced its winners tonight. A week after landing seven BAFTA nominations, Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexico City memory piece landed film of the year and director of the year honors from the group [...]

  • M. Night Shyamalan Should Stop Writing

    The Big Twist M. Night Shyamalan Needs: He Should Stop Writing His Own Scripts (Column)

    Quick, name the greatest film by each of the following directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme. Answers will vary (mine would be: “Psycho,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nashville,” “Chinatown,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Silence of the Lambs”), but whatever your taste, odds are that [...]

  • Andy Vajna Dead: 'Rambo' Producer and

    Andy Vajna, 'Rambo' Producer, Dies at 74

    Andy Vajna, executive producer of several “Rambo” films as well as “Total Recall” and several “Terminator” movies, died Sunday in Budapest after a long illness. He was 74. Related Actors on Actors: Amy Adams and Nicole Kidman (Full Video) Diverse Talents Pepper Variety's Fifth 10 Europeans to Watch List The Hungarian National Film Fund confirmed [...]

  • Glass trailer

    Box Office: 'Glass' Dominates MLK Weekend With $47 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” topped box office charts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, collecting $40 million over the weekend for a four-day sum of $47 million. Related Actors on Actors: Amy Adams and Nicole Kidman (Full Video) Diverse Talents Pepper Variety's Fifth 10 Europeans to Watch List If estimates hold, “Glass” will come [...]

  • FICG Names Estrella Araiza As New

    Estrella Araiza To Head Up Guadalajara Intl Film Festival

    The Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival (FICG) has announced that Estrella Araiza, until now the festival’s head of industry and markets and director of the Guadalajara IntL. Film Festival in Los Angeles, has been promoted to the position of general director of the prominent Mexican festival. Related Actors on Actors: Amy Adams and Nicole Kidman (Full [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content