Singing in the Rain: The transition from silent film to “Talking Pictures”.

The silent film era started in the nineteenth century, with the works from the Lumière Brothers. In the early stages of cinema, they were no synchronized recorded sounds but rather, motion pictures and title cards indicating the dialogue and what may be the plot of the story. It wasn’t until the late 1920’s where they started to perfect the use of sound in film. “Talking pictures” or “talkies “for short, opposed from silent films, they synchronized sound with moving images; causing a big evolution in the movie industry. On 1927, “The Jazz Singer” was released and became the first feature-length motion picture to have synchronized music score and lip-synchronous singing.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” is the first line ever spoken  in a feature film .

Being a revolutionary thing in cinema, of course, there’s going to be technical difficulties along the way. Hollywood used the idea of the transitions between eras and made it into a film. Thus, in 1952 “Singing in the Rain” was born. The movie is about Dom Lockwood and Lina Lamont, two superstars from silent film movies. After “The Jazz Singer” came out in theaters, their studio, the Monumental company, decided to start doing “talkies“. However, Lina Lamont doesn’t have the voice to do “talking pictures“. Throughout the film, Dom meets Kathy Selden an inspiring actress. He finds out that she can sing and so Dom uses her as a voice over for Lina Lamont on his next film.

Singing in the Rain” other than being an amazing musical, it showed us the hardship that film-makers and actors had when the transition from silent to “talkies” took place. Silent films depended on facial expressions and overused mannerism to convey the feelings on to the audience but many actors weren’t ready or capable of “talking pictures“. In the film, they showed the the actors taking vocal coaching and being careful how they pronounced the words. Just like Lina Lamont, some actors weren’t made for talking in the film.

On the technical side, in the film you could see the way the production worked was completely changed. On the set of silent films, the director and the crew could be talking and screaming on set because all they need was moving images. But, when it came to recording for a “talkie” they had to be completely quiet so that the microphone would only record the actor’s voices and not outside noise. Other technical difficulties were how they needed to adjust the microphones correctly so that it could pick up the actors voices or how the motion picture sometimes couldn’t sync with the sound. The film “Singing in the Rain” is a great example of how Hollywood transitions from silent movies to “talking pictures“; showing the effect that it had the actors and in film-making.


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The use of Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz

In 1939 the musical “The Wizard of Oz” was released on the big screen, based on the children’s novel of the same name written by L. Frank Baum. This story is about the adventure of Dorothy and her dog in the world of Oz, after being taken away by a tornado. On her way, she meets magical creatures from this world. Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and the Cowardly lion and they accompany Dorothy to “Emerald City”, where the Oz, a wizard, can take her back to her home, Kansas. This film has innovative productions, whether it is the scenography or costumes design, but what stands out is the use of technicolor to highlight the colors of the film.

One of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema is Dorothy leaving the sepia tone house and entering a world of bright colors. This could not be done without the “DF – 24 beam splitter camera”. This camera required using color filters that were composed of red, green and blue. When they filmed the scenes they used black and white 35 mm tape; in the process of revealing the ribbon they unite them and create the film in full color. But the camera did not do the whole process in its absolute fidelity. You had to play with the colors of the costumes and the scenery so that when they film it and goes through the filming process; does not miss the essence of bright colors that you wanted for the film. Every scene needed a color test strip and they did double or triple take just to be sure.

One of the challenges in the filming process was the lights since it needed a certain amount to make the color stand out in the process of revealing the tape. It was said that the set for this movie sometimes reached 100 degrees FF. One of the many things this movie achieved by using light was Dorothy’s famous shoes. To capture the eye of the audience, the used the bright lights to reflect the sequins. This helped highlight that striking red we see on the big screen.

The Wizard of Oz” was not the first film to use this technique, but it is a perfect example of the early work of colors in cinematography. The brilliant production of lights and the intensity of the saturated color palette is what made this film. Thanks to the use of technicolor we have the illusion of entering this bright and colorful world that is the world of Oz.

On this scene Dorothy is leaving her sepia tone house and entering the world of bright colors with the help of a DF – 24 beam splitter camera : 


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Video by Benjamin Portman }