Those Talkative Silents – One Very Odd 1917 Patent Idea To Add “Sound” To Film

silent-movieOne reason that a lot of people seem not to like (or to think that they won’t like and therefore not even give them a chance) silent movies is because of the inter-title cards that appear during the films to dispense relevant information about the on-screen action or to relate important dialogue. It’s the same refrain one often hears in objection to foreign films that have subtitles instead of being dubbed. “I don’t want to have to read when I watch a movie”.

Of course, there are also those who don’t want to have to think when they go to a movie, which is why Hollywood can make so much money off of really bad, really rather stupid movies, but that’s a completely different thing.

Anyway, for a long time the fledgeling film industry continued to try to come up with innovative ways to simulate sound or to add dialogue to movies that was less intrusive-seeming than the inter-title cards, which, admittedly, could at times break up the flow of action or the pacing of a scene when used by a less-skilled film maker, but could just as often be used to enhance the movie going experience when they were used well.

One of the most novel ideas, as related in this article, came in the form of a US Patent gained in 1917 by one Charles F. Pidgin. As Pidgin himself explains in his patent application,

The invention relates to improvements in motion pictures and methods of producing the same.

6a00d83542d51e69e201a5115dcc88970c-500wiIn order to convey to the spectators of a photo-play or analogous motion picture productions, the full meaning of the picture shown, it often becomes necessary to add to the pictures themselves certain features, words,’letters and so forth, which are shown on a separate screen. This separation of speech and action must necessarily be ineflective to a, great degree and the primary object of the present invention is to show in the pictures themselves such salient speeches or expressions as will be, necessary to explain visibly the dramatic situation depicted on the film.

As you can see in the illustration which accompanies the patent, the idea was to include actual “word balloons” – somewhat similar to those used in comic strips and books – in the frames of the film which would unfurl from the speaking character’s mouth and have the dialogue written on them. in this way, the “flow” of the pictures onscreen would not have to be interrupted by distracting cutaways.

Yeah, somehow i can see this as being a lot less distracting, especially during a heavily dramatic or emotional scene.

Nonetheless, one does have to give Pidgin credit for at least thinking, as we would say today “outside the box”, and for trying to come up with something innovative.

Kind of silly, actually, but innovative.

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