The Film Score

3 The Introduction of Sound Film

With the development of the sound film technique in the course of the 1920s, the technical basis of recording sound changed, above all in view of the possibility of exact synchronization. In the case of the Vitaphone technique, a so-called sound-on-disc technique introduced in 1926, records were connected to the projector. In this respect they were similar to a system with which, beginning in 1903, Oskar Meßter connected retakes with opera recorded on discs for his sound images. In the case of optical sound, which began to prevail in the late 1920s, acoustic waves were recorded photographically onto the filmstrip directly, now enabling sound and image to be stored on the same carrier material for the first time. At its premiere on October 6, 1927, The Jazz Singer (US, dir. Alan Crosland) had a sensational impact, although contrary to popular accounts it was not the first sound film in film history; moreover, it was made using the Vitaphone technique. What was exciting was that the audience simultaneously heard and saw a man singing.

The new optical sound technique, however, initially had little influence on the music. Numerous so-called talkies were produced that did not allow for music at all. Above all, the use of natural noises instead of the surrogate noise material[9] of the silent-film period and the lip synchronization of speech and song were considered spectacular. The Soviet Film Manifesto (1928), a horror-stricken outcry that the sound film could destroy the artistic montage technique, also makes reference to the duplications of the images by means of speech and noises. Accordingly, it called upon an asynchronous and contrapuntal arrangement of image and sound—which, however, was only to some extent realized by the manifesto’s authors, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Grigori Alexandrov. Theodor W. Adorno and Hanns Eisler also reflected on antithetic montage of the acoustic and the visual as well as on a contrapuntal arrangement of music.[10]

The first sound films were often shot silent and not underscored with sound until later. The motion picture Blackmail (UK 1929), for example, was conceived as a silent film. Alfred Hitchcock did retakes of several scenes in order to be able to treat speech and noises in an innovative way. The knife sequence, in which the word knife is repeated in a way approaching concrete poetry, became famous. In René Clair’s film Sous les toits de Paris (FR 1930, music: Raoul Moretti and Armand Bernard), too, the new arrangement possibilities were primarily seen in speech and noises. The music of the street singers, that of the accordion players, and the café house music in this film, justified as incidental music by the image, can, however, evolve into interpretative accompaniment. Josef von Sternberg and Friedrich Hollaender made a similarly constructed use of music, though this use is also diegetically motivated for Der blaue Engel (DE 1931).[11] The emotional underscoring of the death scene at the end is literally the only time that film music is used.

The sound film also spawned new, highly popular genres in which music took on a more central role: operettas, musicals, chorus lines, and dance films (e.g., Der Kongress tanzt, DE 1931, dir. Erik Charell; Die Drei von der Tankstelle, DE 1930, dir. Wilhelm Thiele; Broadway Melody, US 1929, dir. Harry Beaumont). Striking is that many of the songs composed for these music films, songs such as Ein Freund, ein guter Freund, Das gibt’s nur einmal, (music: Werner Richard Heymann, lyrics by Robert Gilbert), or Give My Regards to Broadway (song by George M. Cohan), became box-office hits and contributed to the success of the films.