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One of the earliest projected "synchronous" sound films

Author: Spencer Sundell from United States
10 February 2007

"Roméo et Juliette" (1900) was produced by the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, which premiered one of the first projected "synchronized" sound film systems at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. Approximately 24 such films are known to have been created by the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, featuring many of France's greatest stars of the day, including the legendary Sarah Bernhardt. Director Clément Maurice was the house manager for the very first 1895-96 Lumiere screenings in the Salon Indien at the Grand Café in Paris.

The process involved the performers first recording the sound component using the Lioretograph, a cellophane cylinder phonographic system created by Henri Lioret and probably best recalled for its use (in miniaturized versions) in early talking dolls. The performers were then filmed as the recording was played back, in a primitive form of lip-sync. The motion picture camera used was the Cinepar, built by Ambroise-François Parnaland and first marketed in 1896.

For screenings, a Lioret cylinder player was placed before the screen. A telephone-like device allowed the projectionist in the back of the hall to hear the recording more clearly, allowing him to adjust the hand-cranked speed of the projector in an effort to achieve something resembling synchronous sound.

At the time, the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre got favorable reviews and after the Paris Exhibition closed the films were taken on a successful tour of Europe during 1902. Following that, however, the films were forgotten until their rediscovery in 1930. A number of the films and their sound elements were re-photographed and compiled into the film "Cinéma Parlant 1900" (1952).

Only a very few of the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre films are known to survive today. Sadly, this film is not believed to be one of them.

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