Monday, August 13, 2018

The Kinetophone: A Fact! A Reality!: Talking Pictures from 1913!


Jack's Joke (1913)
Photo Credit: courtesy Undercrank Productions/Library of Congress

Before there was the Vitaphone there was Thomas Edison's Kinetophone. Over a decade before Al Jolson proclaimed "you ain't heard nothing yet" in The Jazz Singer (1927), Kinetophone brought talking pictures to audiences. The technology was a marriage between the Kinetoscope and the Phonograph. According to silent film accompanist Ben Model,

"Showing the films in theaters involved a complex system involving a hand-cranked projector connected by a system of pulleys to a modified Edison cylinder player at the front of the theatre, operated at both ends by technicians connected by head-sets. The Kinetophone films, like the early Vitaphone shorts, were of theatrical or vaudeville acts, dramatic scenes and musical performances."
Over two hundred Kinetophone shorts featuring vaudeville acts, musical numbers, short dramas and other theatrical productions were released. The first ones premiered in New York on February 17, 1913. Only 8 of these shorts survived and 105 years later those 8, plus a 3 minute Kinetophone lecture, are available to the general public for the first time.

Model's distribution company Undercrank Productions has recently released The Kinetophone: A Fact! A Reality!: Talking Pictures from 1913, on DVD. It includes:

The Edison Kinetophone
The Musical Blacksmiths
The Deaf Mute: A Military Drama
The Five Bachelors
The Politician


As a bonus the set also includes the 24 minute documentary: So Amazingly Perfect They are Really Weird: The History and Restoration of Edison Kinetophone Films. The doc is hosted by George Willeman, Nitrate Film Vault Manager for the Library of Congress. Willeman discusses at length the history behind the Kinetophone technology and provides background on the players featured in the various shorts.

Each short is roughly six minutes long and features synchronized sound. The only exception to this is The Politician which is still missing its sound cylinder. Preceding each short is a brief introduction presented in the form of title cards. These include information about the source materials, restoration and synchronization of the short film. Any syncing issues are flagged up.

I've watched a few of these Kinetophone films before at Capitolfest in 2016. It was great to see all the surviving Kinetophones in one collection. With the exception of Nursery Favorites, these have not been released to the general public since their premiere in 1913!

These Kinetophone shorts are more than just curios from the past. They're an important piece of film history. This treasure trove from a forgotten era of filmmaking is one classic film enthusiasts will want to get their hands on.



The Kinetophone: A Fact! A Reality!: Talking Pictures from 1913! DVD is available from Undercrank Productions. Many thanks to Ben for sending me a screener to review.




Check out my red carpet interview with Ben Model at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival. He discusses at length about some of the upcoming releases from Undercrank Productions.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave me a comment! If it is a long one, make sure you save a draft of it elsewhere just in case Google gobbles it up and spits it out.

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook     Google+