The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History

By Lewis Jacobs | Go to book overview

XXII
REFINEMENTS IN TECHNIQUE

THE years 1930-1939 have seen an earnest study of the relationships of the motion picture medium and attempts to bring the medium to a completeness of expression equal to its artistic and physical possibilities. Science has steadily increased the means of expression by constantly improving the tools and adding the elements of sound and color. Today movies have all of their mechanical needs and basic technique ready-made; their further progress will lie in the refinement and intensification of expression by craftsmen and in the grade of material to which this is applied.

When the first complete talkie, Lights of New York, appeared in 1929, the consensus was that moving picture art had, with the addition of sound, forgotten everything it had so recently learned. This relapse was so rapidly corrected during the next two years that today such a criticism--along with the first talking film--would seem absurd. Sound proved to be only a temporary setback to motion picture technique. But its effects on every phase of movie making were profound and far-reaching: it altered some techniques completely, modified others, quickened progress in all. It freed the director from the clumsiness of titles, gave more directness to the medium, enriched the reality of the story, increased the intimacy of the audience with the characters and situation. Sound was not only a business man's ruse to build up movie attendance; it represented a logical advance in motion picture expression.

Most directors favored sound from the start. They felt that it would not profoundly change the primary elements of motion picture expression but would release the medium from the impedi-

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