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The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926-1930 Paperback – May 24, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Nowadays the "talkie" seems, like some other technological breakthroughs, to have obliterated its less-advanced predecessor, the silent movie, in one fell swoop. The reality, of course, is more complex. As Scott Eyman writes in his prologue to The Speed of Sound, "To examine this period of unparalleled industrial change, it is necessary to reverse the perspective, to give a fair, detailed idea of what silents were like to the people who made and watched them, and how talkies permanently changed the creative and personal equations." Eyman's eye-opening book fulfills this mission. He focuses on just five years--1926 through 1930--but tells the story on many levels. We learn about the technology, the details of actors' and technicians' lives, the elaborate business machinations associated with the rise of sound, and the resulting transformation of not just the movies but Hollywood itself. The Speed of Sound fills a gap in any film buff's library. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The transformation of the movies from silent to talking pictures is a fascinating subject. For the serious film devotee, there is a profusion of information in Eyman's work (LJ 2/15/97), and narrator Adams Morgan moves it along briskly. There are moments when Eyman engrosses us in situations evoking the human face behind the events of this turbulent time, and legendary names such as Edison and Eastman, Griffith and Vidor, Fox and Warner, and Jolson and Barrymore emerge as vital personalities. Too often, however, we are subjected to a description of some technical innovation and are sidetracked by repetitious detail concerning frames per second, memos to projectionists, numbers of reels and discs, and directions for keeping equipment clean. Regrettably, the information is confusingly organized. For the general listener, it cannot be recommended.?Barbara Mann, Alelphi Univ., Garden City,
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; New edition edition (May 24, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801861926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801861925
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,323,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By anonymous on July 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
You know you're dealing with a serious achievement when you read a book and can't conceive how one person was able to write it. Eyman does some amazing things in this book. He covers the BUSINESS side of the talkie revolution. He covers the TECHNOLOGICAL side of it. He covers the ARTISTIC side of it. And he covers the HUMAN side of it. Moreover, he does this in the context of a flowing narrative that drops some stories here and picks them up there, juggles one aspect with another; sets them aside, traces another development . . . without ever losing the flow, without ever losing the reader. I've read a lot of film books, and the skill and the intelligence of this one just amazed me. This is a dazzling piece of work, and it reads like a really good novel. I couldn't recommend a book more enthusiastically.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Calvert on October 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Scott Eyman's masterful research of the Talkie Revolution is a must-read for silent-film and early sound-film fans. He covers early unsuccessful sound-film attempts, some of the last great silent film classics like THE CROWD and SUNRISE, Warners' and Fox's different sound systems, and many other topics. The main scope of the book is the period from 1926-1930. The focus of the book is on how the business of filmmaking and the art of filmmaking was completely changed with the coming of the talking movie. Careers were born and destroyed overnight. Sometimes a performer's voice was a problem in sound films. In other cases, like John Gilbert's, the studio thought that he was too expensive and the type of film that was his forte became passe. For a couple of years, the sound-man was the most important person on a movie set.
Eyeman's book is comprehensive, but not comprehensive enough. Curiously, he gives short shrift to some comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Raymond Griffith. Except for a brief mention of the British change-over, the book focuses exclusively on Hollywood studios. He covers all of the bases such as legal wrangling over patents, financial profits and losses, the problems that studio artists encountered in making sound films, and the many poor films that were produced in the early sound era. If you like classic films, you will love this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 28, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Following in the footsteps of his biographies of Mary Pickford and Ernst Lubitsch (his best book), Scott Eyman tells the story of how an industry changed in spite of itself. We are all familiar with Jolson's outburst of speech and how sound ruined many careers, but this book tells about how it had to be. Sound came in not because of any artistic desire (that wouldn't happen for a few years) but because one man (Sam Warner) at one studio wanted to make his company more than it was and somehow knew that the public would be ready for something new. That it succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and changed an art form forever is what Eyman illustrates with this magnificent history. Some of the familiar is here (the decline of John Gilbert, the opening of THE JAZZ SINGER amidst the death of one of the brothers Warner) mixed in with the making of the silent era's greatest films (SUNRISE, THE CROWD) and the recollections by artists and technicians of how crazy it really was-the pages instructing projectionists how to splice films with sound on discs is almost too funny to believe. Profusely illustrated and with an exhaustive bibliography, THE SPEED OF SOUND is a welcome addition to both film lovers as well as those of us fascinated by a time when it seemed that every day something new was about to happen
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Anyechka on January 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book goes above and beyond the call of duty in writing about, primarily, the very turbulent years of 1926-30 in the American film industry, during the transitional period between silence and sound. It covers everything--the technology behind these new innovations and the technology of silent film-making, the business and financial aspects, the artistic angles, and the human aspects. Most people who aren't familiar with this era in cinema tend to believe a lot of myths and clichés about it, all of which Mr. Eyman destroys in his quest for the truth about this era. For example, while a lot of people seem to believe that talking pictures didn't exist until 1927, the truth is that there had been experiments ever since the 1890s, though none of them caught on, and most of them had very crude and impractical technology. Many people also seem to believe that after 'The Jazz Singer' (which is actually about 75% silent, with most of the sound being songs instead of dialogues), the entire industry turned to sound overnight. Such a massive sea change did not and could not have happened overnight. Most people believed it was just a novelty and that before long films would go back to being silent, or perhaps would only use sound selectively, as in the transitional period of the late Twenties, or there would be films that were both sound and silent instead of all one or the other. This new technology developed by William Fox (Movietone) and the Warner Brothers (Vitaphone) happened to come about at just the right time for it to finally not only be a lot more practical than the various systems invented previously, but also at just the right time for the public to be ready for it.Read more ›
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