The sound has been found in the form of an old Edisonian recording cylinder. The cylinder was repaired, then Walter Murch ACE MPSE synced the film to the correct music in (I believe) 2002. Total running time is approximately 17 seconds.
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The earliest extant sound film. William K.L. Dickson stands in the background next to a huge sound pickup horn connected to a Thomas Edison phonograph recorder. As he plays a violin, two men dance in the foreground. This film was made to demonstrate a new Thomas Edison machine, the Kinetophone. These machines were Kinetoscope peepshow viewers mated with Thomas Edison wax cylinder phonographs. But the Kinetophone never caught on and this film was never released. The film still exists, but the phonograph soundtrack has been lost. Written by
Steven W. Siferd <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Synchronised film sound a third of a century before The Jazz Singer
The Edison company in the US made experimental motion pictures on photographic film from 1889, and first exploited film commercially with the Kinetoscope system in 1894. The Lumières in France, however, are usually credited with launching the cinema proper a year later, as they saw the virtue in projecting films so they could be enjoyed communally. Thomas Alva Edison, in contrast, seems to have regarded moving images as a novelty to be consumed in an atomised and slightly voyeuristic way, by an individual peering through a lens. In a time when people regularly watch theatrical features on their smartphones, this mode of consumption has made a comeback.
This experimental example from Edison's famous Black Maria studio in New Jersey is particularly remarkable as it's the earliest known sound film, a full third of a century prior to The Jazz Singer. It's perhaps less surprising when you realise that Edison's main interest in film was as an enhancement of his other great cultural invention, the phonograph, which he regarded as a more enduring content medium. The film is a test run for a planned Kinetophone system in which film is combined with a soundtrack recorded on a wax cylinder, an idea that finally had its day with the Scopitone visual jukebox of the 1950s and persists in contemporary music video.
Successful synchronisation defeated Edison's engineers and their pre-electronic mechanical equipment, however, and the kinetophone was eventually launched with unsynchronised musical accompaniment. This film was never exhibited and over the years film print and cylinder became separated. In 1998 researchers realised the connection between the two and veteran Hollywood editor Walter Murch finally completed the synchronisation using digital technology.
But the film also gets into this list for its intriguing content. While director and film pioneer William K L Dickson plays a simple fiddle tune into one of the massive horns then used for audio recording, two men dance together, one of them occasionally smiling. It's therefore been claimed as the first gay film, notably by Vito Russo in his book The Celluloid Closet, and features in the documentary of the same name based on the book (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman 1995). More plausibly, it offers a window into an era where all male environments were common in research and development as well as the naval setting that the lyrics of the song Dickson plays allude to and where sex was so far off the agenda the obvious modern interpretation of the scene would have been unthinkable.
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