Movie Projector
The Tech's new exhibit explores advent of sound in motion pictures

The Tech's new exhibit explores advent of sound in motion pictures

The Tech Museum of Innovation will celebrate the most transforming period in Hollywood movies with a new temporary exhibit, "Talking Pictures - The Dawn of Sound," opening Feb. 1. The exhibit chronicles how movies went from mute mime shows to "all talkies" in the 1920s. The show, which includes memorable scenes from many of the great American sound pictures, is sponsored by AT&T.

"Talking Pictures" blends technology and cinema artistry to trace the growth of sound movies from Edison's early experiments to such blockbuster classics as "Gone With The Wind." Highlighting the exhibition are interactive video kiosks where viewers may choose pictures of significant historical events and scenes from fabulous sound movies over a 50-year period. Using touch-sensitive screens, viewers can watch a montage of changing dates, key pictures and headlines. A visitor can touch the 1927 frame to view the historic newsreel film of Lindbergh's take-off for Paris. A finger touch at 1930 recreates Greta Garbo speaking her first screen lines in "Anna Christie." Touching 1941 brings newsreel footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Scenes from many Hollywood classics, including "Grand Hotel," "Rebecca," "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" also can be viewed at will.

AT&T developed the first successful movie sound systems through the work of scientists and engineers at its Bell Telephone Laboratories and Western Electric subsidiaries. The Association of Science and Technology Centers has arranged the show's national tour.

A half-ton theatrical sound movie projector from the 1920s will be the centerpiece of the exhibition. Equipped with a phonograph turntable, it played synchronized records to provide sound for the first "talkies." The projectionist had to change film reels and phonograph records every 10 minutes during the show. The fragile, plastic records wore out after just a few plays and could shatter if dropped, so several always were supplied with each film reel.

Pictures and artifacts document how motion picture sound technology grew from AT&T's telephone research. Among such earlier AT&T inventions were sound recording systems, and the now ever-present public address system, which made possible movie theater sound.

Visitors can see brief scenes, photos and memorabilia from the premier of the first feature sound film, "Don Juan," starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor. It was produced by Warner Brothers, with the AT&T Western Electric devised "Vitaphone" system. "Don Juan" opened in New York in 1926. Although phonographic discs were a better-understood technology, engineers had already begun working to place the source on the movie film itself. A highly responsive "light valve," developed at Bell Laboratories, helped speed the transition to the now universal optical sound track.

The exhibit also includes the first sound-on-film newsreel camera. This 1929 camera used a "light valve" to record sound on film as it passed through the camera.

Author Notes:

Wes Sims contributes and publishes news editorial to  An online look at projectors, home theatre and accessories; such as digital, video, screens and slides.

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