Talkies redux: The arrival of sound films in Toronto

With the surprising success of The Artist, a modern-day silent film dealing with the downfall of an actor at the on-set of the sound revolution, here are a few articles published here over the last few years dealing with the talkie transition in Toronto.

Talkies the talk of Toronto!

For the first time in the entirety of a feature film, they could hear the creaking of the stairs, the ghostly wind and the voices of all the characters. “Even the credits were spoken,” said the Daily Star. Other sound films had already played at the Tivoli, mostly Vitaphone shorts and silents with synchronized scores and a few short talking sequences, so this evening was mostly a welcome sensory overload! (Read more…)

Talking pictures in the silent era

Talking pictures settled permanently in Toronto in late 1928, but it was far from the first time Hogtown movie-goers were exposed to the concept that the flickers needn’t be silent.

In November of 1924, four years before the Tivoli and Uptown Theatres were wired for all-talking pictures, those attending the premiere of Elinor Glyn’s His Hour at Shea’s Hippodrome were treated to short subjects from radio pioneer Lee de Forest‘s Phonofilm, a sound-on-film process.

On the screen, an orchestra performed “Come on, Spark Plug,” the sound modestly filling the auditorium while the Hippodrome’s orchestra sat silent; a Spanish dancer performed what the Toronto Daily Star referred to as a series of romantic gyrations; a politician delivered a short address, followed by a roll call from the Democratic National Convention.

A Few Moments with Eddie Cantor followed next, with the Broadway star performing a few gags and singing “The Dumber They Are, the Better I Like ‘Em” and “Oh, Gee, Georgie” from the Ziegfeld show Kid Boots. (Read more…)

Buster Keaton, turntables and sound effects: The early days of cinema redux

Lecturers who traveled with films often provided non-musical sounds during screenings. Robert Gutteridge’s book Magic Moments refers to a 1933 Toronto Daily Star interview looking back at one of the Lumiere Cinematographe’s first Toronto appearances in 1896: “Whenever the blacksmith on the screen struck the picture anvil, down came the backstage hammer on a real anvil.” (Read more…)

You’re fired: Silent film musicians & the talkie revolution

The successful commercialization of synchronized sound films in the late 1920s was arguably the medium’s most important technological achievement since its invention. But often neglected is how the costly conversion to sound systematically put thousands of silent film musicians out of work.

In Toronto, sound films first arrived at the Tivoli, at Richmond and Victoria Sts., when the Fox Movietone film Street Angel premiered on October 5, 1928. As Luigi Romanelli’s  orchestra sat silently in the pit, the whirring strings and woodwinds from New York’s Roxy Orchestra emanated from loudspeakers in the Famous Players theatre. (Read more…)

Always Cool and Comfortable at the Pantages

Indeed, while the Pantages orchestra played along to Gershwin tunes like “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and “It’s All The Same To Me,” talking pictures wouldn’t make their way into the Pantages until late April 29, 1929, with the premiere of William Wellman’s Chinatown Nights, starring Wallace Beery, Florence Vidor and Warner Oland.

An early gangster film, it was originally shot as a silent, with dialogue later over-dubbed. The Toronto Daily Star was quick to pan the film, claiming the grandest Canadian theatre’s “first talkie has too much shooting,” and that “its moral tone is not high.” (Read more…)

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