#300) The Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894)
OR “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet”
Directed by William K.L. Dickson
Class of 2003
This video features “Dickson” multiple times; with and without the soundtrack
The Plot: A violinist (William Dickson?) plays “The Chimes at Normandy” into a recording horn, while two men slow dance in the foreground. Stick around for the surprise ending where a fourth man randomly wanders into the shot.
Why It Matters: The NFR gives the film historical context, stating how it “contributed to the development of future sound on film technology”.
But Does It Really?: Like so many Edison/Dickson films, this is a yes on a historic and technical front. This is the earliest known attempt to synch film with sound, and that alone is worthy of preservation. My question: is the NFR entry just the film, or the film with the soundtrack? Technically, they are two separate recordings.
Everybody Gets One: That’s William Dickson himself playing the violin. Well, maybe not. Some sources believe it’s Charles D’Almaine, then violinist for the New York Metropolitan Opera. The identities of the other three men are unknown, though they are most likely employees of Edison’s.
Wow, That’s Dated: Gee I don’t know, maybe the giant recording horn in the middle of the shot?
- Kudos to legendary film editor Walter Murch and his team for resynchronizing this film with its audio, possibly for the first time since 1894. Fun Fact: Murch has only directed one movie: “Return to Oz”.
- “Dickson Experimental Sound Film” was shot at Edison’s Black Maria studio in New Jersey. This film was created to test out Edison’s new invention: the Kinetophone. The Kinetophone was similar to Edison’s Kinetoscope, with the addition of a phonograph that could play the film’s sound. There was, however, no way to automatically synch the film with the phonograph, and the Kinetophone didn’t take off the way Edison had hoped.
- Try as “The Celluloid Closet” might, two men dancing doesn’t necessarily mean homosexual subtext. All-male stag dances were a thing back then. Though now that I think about it…
- I wanna know what the deal is with the fourth guy that shows up at the very end. What’s he up to? I like to think he’s gonna smash the recording horn or pull Dickson’s pants down. Now that would have been an ending.
- That song again is “The Chimes of Normandy” from the opera “The Bells of Corneville” by Robert Planquette.
- While not the first film with true synchronized sound, this is the film that proved it could happen, so I’m gonna blame Dickson for the most annoying sound in the world.
And with that “Dumb and Dumber” reference, we have now crossed off the 300th movie on this list, and so ends Year Two of The Horse’s Head. I’m taking some time off for the holidays, but I’ll be back in 2019 with more movies. In the meantime, I believe a very long nap is in order.
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