The Importance of Color and Sound to Cinema History

        Even though the first movies were black and white, silent and short movies have been amazing audiences since their first release. Some of the first released movies appeared in the Nickelodeons (theatres) for only a nickel or were shown in private showings that took place inside a little box and were observed through a peephole, but still people flocked to see them. If movies were still in black and white, silent and short, people would be bored with them by now. Innovations like color and sound have changed movies over time and kept movies changing with the pace of technology which has kept people interested after all of these years.

        As time passed, color in movies grew to be more vibrant and exciting. Some movies had a little color before Kodak created a film that had the ability to record color. The movie Nosferatu (Symphony of Horrors), was released in 1922 and used the lack of color to create a monster of the night. The use of shadows and backlighting helped the vampire of Symphony of Horrors come alive. At the end of the movie, Memoirs of Napoleon, directed by Abel Gance in 1927, the screen was split into three screens, each one telling a different part of the story, and each one appearing in a different color. The invention of filters allowed film makers to film in black and white and add color later. The filters gave the entire screen a change into one color, which would not be impressive to the audiences today but which helped the movies of the past seem more real. The Wizard of Oz, directed in 1939 by Victor Fleming, is a classic story that is told in both sepia and in color. As Dorothy, the main character (Judy Garland) is sent off to a dreamland, after being hit in the head during a tornado, her dreams take her boring sepia country life and make it a colorful land of witches, lions, tigers and bears. For most of the movie Dorothy, lives out her dream and searches for a way to return to her home in Kansas. The unforgettable scene when Dorothy opens the door to her room to find an unknown world of color and imagination is what makes that movie such a classic. Today there are movies that use the old method of black and white to show either a flashback scene or a dream sequence but there are almost no totally black and white movies shown in theatres. The recent Good Night and Good Luck was filmed in b/w to fit in with the television images of that period. If color had not made it to movies, theatres would be nothing but a part in history. Since television became color, movies had to become color also, or die. The same goes for sound in movies as it did for color in movies; if the movies had not gone to sound, they would not exist today.

        Many movies of the past used nothing but music and silent acting to tell a story. Some of the early movies were shown with music being played in the theater throughout the entire film to help set the mood. As the movie progressed scenes, were played out for the audience and then the words would appear on the next slide allowing the audience to know what was happening. Charlie Chaplin, the famous Little Tramp, still has audiences laughing at his silent comedies. Chaplin used his body to tell stories as well as incorporating music that helped an audience know when he was trying to be funny. The Gold Rush (1925), starring Charlie Chaplin is a movie with Chaplin as narrator himself, dubbed onto the soundtrack much later it to tell the story. Even without the narrator, the movie would have been humorous; but the narrator added pitch levels and voices to make it even funnier. At one point Chaplin is leaving the girl of his dreams, Georgia (Georgia Brown), to find gold. He looks at her, walks away, comes back and then leaves again. When the narrator adds in his voice saying, "When I return, I shall be back," the words made the scene funny and helped the audience to know what was happening. This was the case for many movies as cinema progressed. Because television had sound it was important for movies to have sound as well. Today there is Dolby Digital sound that gives one the impression of actually being in a movie, whether one is at home or in the theater.

        Color and sound have come a long way since movies first appeared in the theatres. Cinema has gone from short black and white movies of mime acting and almost nonstop music to three-hour epics that can make us laugh, cry or even scream with its dialog, along with supplemental music. Without color and sound movies, would have gone out of style and would have quickly been replaced by televisions. Today going to the movies is still a treat that can be enjoyed by children, couples and friends. If movies ever stop changing or updating with the times, movies will be nothing more than a story we tell our grandchildren. Movies have got to keep changing and getting better, or no one will want to see them anymore.

Maggie McKay

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