First Showing of Films with Synchronized Sound

Today in 1923, Lee DeForest premiered 18 short films made in the Phonofilm system, which recorded synchronized sound directly onto film, at the Rivoli Theater in New York City. DeForest’s sound-on-film system was the basis for modern sound movies. But Hollywood studios opted to use different systems for talkies and Phonofilm was defunct by 1929. DeForest and his partners were no match against Hollywood studios but they also were just a bit ahead of their time. Scott Kirsner in Inventing the Movies quotes James Quirk, editor of the magazine Photoplay who wrote in 1921: “We talk of the worth, the service, the entertaining power, the community value, the recreative force, the educational influence, the civilizing and commercial possibilities of the motion picture. And everyone has, singularly enough, neglected to mention its rarest and subtlest beauty: ‘Silence.'”

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