Dickson Experimental Sound Film

Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894-1895) Director: William Kennedy Laurie Dickson

DicksonFilm Still.png

This early experiment in synchronizing sound and film was shot at Thomas Edison’s studio in West Orange, New Jersey, sometimes called the “Black Maria”. It was a test of Edison’s “Kinetophone” project. The wax recording of the sound (as seen in the film) was believed lost for many years until it turned up in 1964 in a broken cylinder in Edison’s National Historic Site as the “Violin by WKL Dickson with Kineto”. In 1998, the wax cylinder was repaired and re-recorded in New York. It was the first time the film and sound were matched since Edison and Dickson originally put the two together over 115 years ago.

Vaguely in the background the audience can hear someone (perhaps Edison or Dickson) say “Are the rest of you ready? Go ahead.” The film shows a few seconds of a man (Dickson) playing violin into a wax recording while two other men dance beside him. Another man appears in the background before the film terminates.

There is no evidence that Edison or his team featured this film in any kind of public display. There is reason to believe they produced many other joint “Kinetophone” films, yet this is the only one that has survived. The violin song is from an 1877 Robert Planquette opera called ‘The Chimes of Normandy.’ The film lasts about 17 seconds while the wax cylinder contains about 23 seconds of sound. Tragically there have been some latter “sophisticated” modern interpreters who claim all manner of ‘homoerotic’ interpretations of the film.

Review

★★★☆☆

It is impossible to evaluate a film of such technological importance to the history of cinema. It is an important early film to view.

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