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All Movie Talk

Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

All Movie Talk

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All Movie Talk, Episode 15

Show contents, with start times:

  • Best of the Year: 2000-2005 (1:32)
  • Trivia Question: Finder's Fee (22:31)
  • Industry Trend: Sound, Part 1 (24:01)
  • Top 6: Mysteries Where the Mystery Is Unimportant (41:16)
  • Film Buff's Dictionary: Crane, Handheld (56:39)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (61:13)
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Show Notes:


A title card, more formally an "intertitle," refers to a shot of printed dialogue that is edited into a silent movie to let the audience know what someone is saying or thinking. Title cards may also contain expository information, serving the function of a voice-over in sound films.

Best of the Year: 2000-2005 Trivia Question: Finder's Fee

Finder's Fee (2001), a small film about poker and a winning lottery ticket, has a strange creator. Our mystery person not only wrote and directed this film, but he also hosts a popular reality television show.

Industry Trend: Sound, Part 1

They talk! Sound in the movies goes all the way back to their birth, when Thomas Edison and his lab head William Dickson were pioneering early film machines and cameras. The Kinetophone, c. 1894, was an early invention that basically combined a phonograph with film viewers. While not technically synchronized -- that requires some sort of method of ensuring that the sound and picture be kept together -- it did provide sounds and pictures at the same time.

These film viewers made way for projectors by the end of the century and the silent era began. The silents would be dominant up until 1927, though they hung around for several years after that. But even the earliest projected films featured live musical accompaniment, ranging from solo pianists improvising tunes to composed scores performed by full orchestra.

During this time period there was a large number of experiments in synching up sound and image, including a failed revival attempt of the Kinetophone, but they generally didn't last. In the early 1920s, an inventor named Lee DeForest came up with a system called Phonofilm, a method of recording sound optically onto the film, where it would be reproduced by sound systems with a light sensor. It did not catch on with Hollywood, though DeForest spent the better part of the '20s making and marketing short sound films.

Around 1926, two new sound systems cropped up. One was Vitaphone, embraced by Warner Bros., and used 33 1/3 records to store sound. Synchronization was achieved via an extra gear added to the projector that kept the record synched up with the images. Warner's first sound film using this process was Don Juan (1926), which had sound effects but no spoken dialogue. Warner's The Jazz Singer (1927) is the first film to feature synchronized spoken dialogue and singing -- though much of the film is still silent -- and is a smash hit, ushering in the talkies.

Around the same time, 20th Century Fox was backing Movietone, an optical sound system similar to Phonofilm. Fox produced Movietone News, newsreels with sound. More interesting to film lovers is Sunrise (1927), one of the greatest films of the era and a movie that used Movietone for synchronized sound effects and music (though there is no spoken dialogue). Despite the huge early success of Vitaphone, it is phased out in favor of Movietone and other sound-on-film systems.

There aren't many major changes in sound technology for some time. Despite some experiments in the 1930s and '40s, stereo sound doesn't become mainstream until the 1950s, when movie theaters are heavily competing with television. The 3-D film House of Wax (1953) is the first general release stereo film.

Aside from a few gimmicks, sound mostly develops in a steady pace toward increased channels and greater fidelity. Many of these are associated with Dolby Labs, a company that pioneered methods of cleaning up background noise in optical film systems. The THX system, created by Lucasfilm in 1983, is a famous attempt at ensuring that sound (and picture) quality are up to par at theaters.

Top 6: Mysteries Where the Mystery Is Unimportant

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Film Buff's Dictionary: Crane, Handheld

A crane shot is a camera movement achieved by putting the camera on a platform mounted to a crane. It allows the camera to swoop up and down and in and out, achieving fantastic points of view that would never be possible were the camera stuck on the ground. Crane shots are very flashy and can be combined with tracking shots to create unbroken shots that are as dazzling as they are impossible-seeming.

The Stunt Man (1980), a great movie about the movies, includes several fun scenes demonstrating the use of cranes during filming.

A handheld shot is a camera move that is nowhere near as fluid as a tracking shot or a crane shot. Instead, handheld shots are shots where the camera is held by a camera operator. This allows the camera to move anywhere a cameraman can carry it, but without anything to stabilize the camera the shot becomes very jerky.

Despite technology that allows directors to achieve the freedom of handheld shots without the shakiness, many directors enjoy handheld shots for their immediate feel. Documentaries have long used handheld shots, and so directors of narrative films employ handheld shooting to achieve a documentary feel. In particular, action movies that want to pull the audience into the chaos of a battle use handheld shots.

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