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Synchronized Sound Comes to the Cinema

1. Origins to 1928

3. 1915–1928

  1. Paul Young

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf019

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Young, P. 2011. Synchronized Sound Comes to the Cinema. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 1:3:19.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


By 1926, Hollywood had established conventions for staging, filming, and editing silent pictures that told stories efficiently and enjoyably while emphasizing the glamour and pathos of their stars. But in that same year Warner Bros. threatened the stability of these conventions by releasing Don Juan (directed by Alan Crosland), the first major-studio feature film distributed with synchronized musical accompaniment. Even more radical was the prologue Warners distributed with Don Juan to the few theaters equipped to project it with sound: a gaggle of short films featuring fully synchronized speeches, orchestral music, opera singers, and jazz. Warners' breakthrough is a documented fact; how the studio system managed the breakthrough, however, is a matter of some debate. One influential account, Alexander Walker's 1978 book The Shattered Silents, suggests that Don Juan's release was the first step toward an industry-wide panic that came to a head with Warners' release of the first “part-talking” picture, The Jazz Singer, the following year. Suddenly, Walker reports, industry leaders foresaw talking pictures taking over the film industry, but had no clue how to harness or even survive the upheaval a full transition to sync sound would undoubtedly wreak on this “silent” industry (Walker 1986, 40–41, 62–68).


  • film sound;
  • film music;
  • silent cinema;
  • Warner bros.;
  • vitaphone;
  • William Fox;
  • sound technology;
  • synchronized sound