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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ONE OF THE BEST FILM BOOKS EVER WRITTEN
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...
Published on July 22, 2000 by anonymous

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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One Noticeable Flaw
Silent comedy gets ignored in this book. I read every word and found no explanation for why the author would fail to make no more than passing references to the silent work of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Though Eyman goes into great detail on THE CROWD and SUNRISE, surely some editor should have pointed out the need for greater balance by bringing into the book an...
Published on June 4, 1997


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ONE OF THE BEST FILM BOOKS EVER WRITTEN, July 22, 2000
By 
anonymous (san francisco, ca United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 (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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hollywood's turbulent era, October 10, 2001
This review is from: The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 (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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The multi-faceted truth, January 16, 2007
By 
Anyechka (Rensselaer, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 (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. Other stories include both famous ones, such as the one about how poor Jack Gilbert did NOT have a high-pitched voice and was NOT laughed offscreen after his first talkie, and lesser-known ones, such as how there were still a fair number of theatres not wired for sound by 1930, the stories behind the creation of some famous early talkies and late silents, the slow progress on improving the primitive sound recording technology, how most silent stars actually had hugely successful talkie debuts, if only because their fans wanted to hear their voices, how film-making took a big step backwards in time when sound came in and took awhile to recover (and as many people who were there felt, the romance of making films came to a crashing halt when these sterile foreboding sound stages came in, together with how movies became less subtle and artistic in ways), and how silent actors were saying actual lines in an actual script and usually had good voices, contrary to the modern-day myth of how they just said any silly thing that came to mind because the audience couldn't hear them, and how they all had these horrible voices.

Mr. Eyman really knows his subject, and pays respect to the silent era instead of treating it like some silly embarrassing clunky inferior relic of a distant past, as well as treating the early sound era in a balanced way, pointing out all of its shortcomings as well as the good things about it, how sound did make possible films that could have never been as good in the silent era. He almost puts one in the mindset of someone who was there when it happened, when all of these amazing changes, not all for the better, were taking place seemingly overnight, and when all of these historic films, such as 'Don Juan,' 'The Jazz Singer,' 'The Crowd,' 'Sunrise,' and 'The Lights of New York' came out, seeing the art of silent film-making at its greatest heights and then replaced by transitional hybrids that encorporated sound at certain points, and finally all of these crude clunky early talkies that nevertheless thrilled the audiences because they'd never heard and seen movies at the same time before. My only complaints about the book are that it kind of perpetuates the decades-old rumor about Marion Davies only having her career survive because of her association with William Randolph Hearst (not mentioning how she probably would have had an even more successful career if she hadn't been his consort, since non-Hearst owned papers also gave her great reviews, and it was actually due to his mismanagement of her career that she wasn't as successful as she could have been, since he insisted on putting her in serious costume pictures and dramas instead of recognising her proven forte of light comedy), and that, as other reviewers have noted, it does give a surprisingly short schrift to comedy, barely even mentioning people like Harold Lloyd or Charlie Chaplin, and not even mentioning a lot of other hugely popular comedians, like Lloyd Hamilton or Charley Chase, at all.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last! A neglected chapter of film history is told., February 28, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 (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
4.0 out of 5 stars If You Have Any Interest In Film History, September 19, 2004
By 
Clyde A. Warden Jr. (Taiwan (http://cwarden.org)) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 (Hardcover)
A history of the transition from silent cinema to sound, this book was much better than I expected, mostly because Eyman spends a lot of time on the technical details, which of course I enjoy. My work in film/video production from the time I was a teen to the digital technology I use no for my class Websites, make me very aware of the most complex and troublesome of issues--synchronization. Eyman's book does of course go into the personalities of the transition, from the movie Mongols like Fox and the Warner brothers, but the book never sinks into gossip. I was most impressed with Eyman's grasp and appreciation of the film art form and how that was forever lost, replaced with talking that often explains rather than do. That criticism is true right up to today's Hollywood movies that spend so much of their time explaining!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It takes you into the mindset of the late 20s, February 2, 1999
This review is from: The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 (Hardcover)
I am a huge silent movie buff. This book is utterly fascinating. The detail given to the movie industry at the time, the descriptions of movie goers reactions to the new fangled soundies and the reactions of the movie makers puts you right into the era. We are so numb in our current times that very little amazes and excites us. Reading this book transports you to the late 1920s and the wonders (and problems) that sound movies created. Excellent reading!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sound of One Art Form Being Replaced by Another in Four Short Years., March 8, 2008
This review is from: The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 (Hardcover)
"The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution" examines the rapid transition from silent to sound films that transformed the American film industry between 1926 and 1930. In just 4 years, Hollywood witnessed "the extermination of an art form at the height of its power -something unprecedented in history", as the booming business of silent pictures was replaced by talkies, and the nature of films, filmmaking, and the film business were reinvented. Early talkies weren't nearly as good as their silent competition, but audiences enthralled by the new technology didn't care. They wanted sound. And movies as we know them emerged triumphant.

Scott Eyman presents the upheaval in five parts, each dedicated to one year in Hollywood's transition period. The occasional digression brings us up to speed on the technologies and people central to the drama, including a history of the efforts to synchronize sound with film, from 1905 until the invention of sound-on-film in 1913. By this time, no one in the film industry was interested. In 1926, only Sam Warner of Warner Brothers and William Fox of Fox Film believed that sound could be profitable. Warner adopted the Vitaphone system, which uses an accompanying 33 1/3 RPM record. Fox adopted the sound-on-film Movietone system. And the race was on.

"The Speed of Sound" describes the production of the first feature-length talkie, "The Jazz Singer", in 1927. Although it was only 15% sound, the movie's popularity sent a message to studios that sound had arrived. It also follows the production of the last great silent films, F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise" and King Vidor's "The Crowd", alongside that of major early talkies by Warner, Fox, Paramount, MGM, and Universal. Eyman debunks the notion that silent actors and actresses were inarticulate clowns. Instead, he claims that many could not make the transition to sound films, because their voices -which can now be heard on recovered Vitaphone records- didn't fit their onscreen images.

The most fascinating comparison of silent and sound films is how the new constraints of recording sound set the art of cinematography back and mandated at least a couple years of bad movies, until how to "show" as opposed to "tell" was rediscovered. Movies became more literal, less visual, more talky, less musical. Their component part became the scene, whereas for silents, it had been the shot. Theater actors, writers, and directors flooded in from New York, along with sound technicians and elocutionists, actors were practically tethered to microphones, cameramen confined to airtight "iceboxes", and directors' power were supplanted by producers and sound men.

Part 5, which is supposed to be about 1930, reads more like an epilogue. But I guess there isn't much to say. Although many movies were being shot in both silent and sound formats for overseas release, silent films were all but dead by that point. Scott Eyman refers to Albert Warner as both "Abe" and "Al" in different places, which is confusing. But, apart from that, he has made a lot of technical detail, business analysis, and cultural study very readable, accessible, and sometimes absurdly funny. "The Speed of Sound" is essential reading for anyone interested in film history. It gave me a greater appreciation of the silents and a greater understanding of the current state of film as well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Eyeman's Book is Consistently Interesting, Truthful, June 10, 2009
By 
I read books mostly for pleasure, so a large degree of how I rate books is based on how interesting I find them. However, when it comes to non-fiction I cannot tolerate the insertion of fictional elements designed solely to heighten the drama or create the sense of omniscient knowledge on behalf of the writer. A non-fiction writer should stick to what he can find out and what he can reasonably infer, thereby staying true to the history. Unfortunately, that kind of writing can be dull. A good writer is able to write according to those principles and make it interesting, because life is interesting.

Eyeman succeeds at both tasks and has created a truthful and entertaining book. If you have any interest in the transition from silent to talkies, this book will be something you will enjoy. The personalities, the films, the milieu, the technology, and the psychology of the times are all examined.

In short, I am glad I bought this book.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars serious film history buffs only, June 4, 2001
By 
This review is from: The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 (Hardcover)
If you have a passing interest in this period, this is not for you. It is a very detailed -- often overdetailed -- history of the coming of the talkies. Everyone who writes on silents tends to overpraise them,and Eyman is no exception, but this is not a screed and not overly nostalgic, just a good revealing history of the the time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinatingly entertaining A must read !, December 27, 2014
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Incredibly well written ,full of fascinating stories and as entertaining as John Grisham a total page turner.Scott Eyman is without a doubt of of the best writer on movies and stars his MAYER biography was a must too,can't wait to start His DE MILLE one.
The speed of Sound is definitely one of the best book written about the Business of the cinema.Thank you Mr Eyman
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The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930
The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 by Scott Eyman (Hardcover - March 13, 1997)
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