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Summarize with your group this weeks lecture and readings,include topics of Sound, CHC, Production Code, Berkeley

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Reading Week 5
Adjustments to the Hollywood System
Sound and the Production Code and the continued domination of CHC
SOUND by Bordwell
It should be noted straight off that there are two basic sorts of musical score regularly encountered in the
domain of the sound film: the first, more traditional sort consists of music composed specifically for the
film in question, and generally tailored by the composer to the rough cut, scene by scene; the second sort
consists of preexistent music chosen by the filmmaker, often in conjunction with a musical consultant,
and applied or affixed to scenes or parts thereof. Call the former sort a composed score, and the latter an
appropriated score. We can make at least two observations about these two types of score. First, with
appropriated scores the issue of specific imported associations, deriving from the original context of
composition or performance or distribution, rather than just general associations carried by musical style
or conventions, is likely to arise. Second, with appropriated as opposed to composed scores, there will,
ironically, generally be more attention drawn to the music, both because it is often recognized as
appropriated and located by the viewer in cultural space, and because the impression it gives of
chosenness, on the part of the implied filmmaker, is greater. To these two observations I add a third, more
contentious one, that later discussion will support: music composed for a film (for example, the
soundtracks of Vertigo or The Heiress or On the Waterfront or La Strada), is more likely to be purely
narrative in function than preexisting music appropriated by a filmmaker (for example, the sound track of
A Clockwork Orange)
There is not one and only one function that music can perform in relation to movies. Aaron Copland
suggested five broad functions: creating atmosphere, underlining the psychological states of characters,
providing background filler, building a sense of continuity, sustaining tension and then rounding it off
with a sense of closure. These do not seem to be necessarily exclusive categories, nor do they exhaust the
range of functions that music can perform in movies. Not surprisingly, I am happy to join this double
consensus: film music often serves narrative in some way, but there is a range of other functions that such
music sometimes performs.
What I saw was stunning — a huge set, a street of old Paris filled with people, lighted by
hundreds of arc-lights. The big ones were called sun-arcs, but the light they produced seemed
whiter and bluer than sunlight.
It was a noisy, crowded set; there seemed to be a dozen things happening at the same time. I
found myself wondering how we, the sound people, could fit into that turbulent new world, and
what changes we would bring. For one thing, the sun-arcs would have to go. The heart of each
arc-light was an intense, white-hot electrical fire. The flames were fed by carbon rods; these had
to be rotated – driven by electric motors to ensure even-burning. The stage was filled with the
grinding noise of the motors and the high-pitched whine of the flames.
Instead, he complained about the pampered, entrenched movie people, the producers, directors
and cameramen. “They don’t like us,” Campbell said. “They don’t like sound; they wish we’d go
away, but we’re not going away.” His theme was that if you gave those motion picture autocrats
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an inch they’d take a mile. His response was that we would not give them that inch. I was
troubled by Campbell’s intransigence. I felt that it would make the transition from silent to sound
films more difficult and certainly more abrasive.
Dent credited Mary Pickford, whom he regarded highly, with forcing her partners to stop
bickering and come to a decision. She was convinced, Mary told them, that sound was not going
to fade away; and, much as she disliked doing so, she would vote to convert to sound. Her
partners agreed, reluctantly, but their indecisiveness had caused the loss of three or four valuable
weeks. “Now we’re trying to catch up,” Dent said.
Vitaphone was the Warner Brothers’ system. They lit the firecrackers that caused the film
industry to stampede to sound; and they did it with a system — disc recording — that was
impractical for motion picture production. Disc recordings could not be edited. It was one thing
to put a recorded song on a disc, with an adlib by Al Jolson at the end of it; it was quite another
to edit a fast-moving melodrama, in which there might be a dozen short scenes – “cuts” – in one
minute of film. And using disc sound in the theater was trouble-prone. A projectionist had to
possess keen eyesight and a steady hand to place the stylus on the correct start-point. If he
missed by only one groove the movie was grotesquely out of sync, which generally caused the
audience to laugh or to yell angrily and throw things. The Warner Brothers saw the light and
changed quickly to sound-on-film.
The Fox sound system was Movietone. First used in newsreel cameras as a “single system,”
sound and picture were recorded on one negative in the camera. The heart of this system was a
gas-filled tube, called an AEO light which, when activated by an audio input, responded by
producing sound-modulated light that could be photographed. When the AEO light was used in a
separate recorder, the film could be edited, but the quality was poor, and the Fox-Case system
soon went the way of Vitaphone and the carrier pigeon.
The RCA system, Photophone, was also an optical sound system. It employed a
galvanometer-type device in which a tiny mirror twisted and turned in response to sound waves
and photographed those sound waves on film. This produced a negative, white-on-black, in
which the profile of the sound resembled a mountain range with many peaks and valleys.
Printed, the mountain range became black; the background white. Photophone could be edited
and development and printing of the film was not critical.
We at the United Artists studio used the Western Electric variable density sound system. The
sound image was recorded not as a black and white mountain range, but as a series of black,
white and gray bars of infinite complexity and accuracy. The heart of the system was a brilliant
invention called a light valve. A pair of ultralight metallic ribbons provided a slit through which
a strong source of light was focused on the film as it passed through the recording machine and
photographed the sound. The Western Electric light valve had one significant advantage over the
RCA mirror galvanometer: the light-valve were so light that they had no measurable inertia. The
RCA mirror, although it was made as light as possible, had an appreciable degree of inertia, so
that it resisted modulation by faint sounds, and tended to overmodulate loud sounds, a flaw
generally called “volume expansion.” It was not a serious problem; RCA variable area sound and
Western Electric variable density sound served well until magnetic sound — tape recording -replaced them in film production.
The man who invented the light-valve may have been a genius, but the engineers who designed
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the other Western Electric equipment were decidedly not. Everything they provided for us was
oversized and overweight. They must have come straight from designing battleship hardware
because they made liberal use of bronze, which resists salt-water corrosion but is, of course,
heavy. Salt-water corrosion is not a serious problem in Hollywood.
Their masterpiece was a portable mixing panel. It was not made of bronze, but of steel, and it
was portable, after a fashion; it had a pair of handles, and two strong men, chancing the peril of
hernia, could carry it.
The cables and cable connectors were also grossly overweight. We called the bronze connectors
“pineapple connectors,” because they were roughly the size and shape of large pineapples. I have
a personal grudge against them — a pineapple connector broke my nose. We carried coils of
cables on the roof of our sound truck. I stood on a ladder to take down one of the cables. When I
lifted it, a connector, not properly secured, swung free and smashed my nose. I dropped the cable
and nearly fell off of the ladder. Had I fallen, I might well have broken my neck, my head, or
both. A studio driver took me to a doctor, who stuffed my nose with cotton, told me to use an ice
pack, and assured me that my nose would heal straight. A prize-fighter’s bend might have made
my unremarkable nose more interesting.
It was inevitable that the microphone Western Electric provided for us would also be heavy.
Officially, it was called a condenser-transmitter-amplifier, CTA for short. The nature of a CTA
required that an amplifier be a part of the device; this added to bulk and weight, so that the CTA
weighed about eight pounds; and naturally, it was encased in bronze. The result was that this
electronic heavyweight, which should have been light, agile and capable of quick movement,
proved difficult to move. It was even, because of its size, difficult to conceal in the benighted
days when we concealed microphones in flower arrangements and behind curtains.
The size and weight of the equipment may have added to the difficulty of making the first sound
films, but it was the manner in which we used that equipment that affected, for better or for
worse, our first productions. Too frequently, our methods were not helpful. Western Electric
people finished their tests and turned the equipment over to us.
We began testing, but our tests were essentially useless; there was no consideration of the way
the system would ultimately be used. Several of the infamous camera booths had been built; we
could have requested a camera crew and actors for a full-fledged camera and sound test, but we
did not. In short, we were given no training in actual picture-making. The time came — inevitably
— when we had to begin the work we were being paid for.
After a series of sound tests, Mary was dissatisfied with the way she was photographed. Her
future depended on how she looked as a very young woman. The looming menace of sound
sound threatened her place in the hearts of millions of fans.
There were more tests, and then finally we began to work on film that would go into theaters.
The filming of “Coquette” began in mid-December, 1928. It was a struggle against long odds,
against cumbersome sound techniques and the inferior photography that sound imposed on the
cameramen. In the silent era, Mary Pickford had been in control — film-wise, camera-wise and
story wise. She no longer had that control. Scenes were shot with agonizing slowness. We in
sound took much time setting our microphones. A grip would go high up to the stage catwalk
and drop a rope to us. We would tie a microphone to it; it would then be raised to clear the top
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frame line of the widest-angle camera, and ropes from the light platforms would be used to pull
the mike into position.
It was laborious and time-wasting, and if the staging of a scene or the camera setup was changed,
our mikes had to be repositioned in the same cumbersome way.
The director of “Coquette” — Sam Taylor — used multi-camera setups; two, three and even four
cameras. That multiplied the cameraman’s problems and also hurt our sound. The clumsy,
nondirectional CTA mikes had to be as close as possible to actors to get good closeup sound. In
one of Sam Taylor’s four-camera setups, the top-line for our mike was set by the camera with the
widest angle lens, and our microphone might be seven or eight feet from the actors — too far for
good closeup quality.
This was particularly damaging in closeups of Mary. She had what Douglas Fairbanks Jr. called
a “small, tight voice” — a voice that needed to be caressed by a microphone close to her. Instead,
she was required to strain that small voice to reach a too-distant mike. In an interview years later,
Pickford described the filming as a painful experience. Restrictive sound and camera techniques
and frequent equipment failures, Mary said, made it impossible to create good scenes.
As for Fairbanks, I saw him at his carefree, prankish best during the silent filming of “The Iron
Mask.” Then I saw what the coming of sound did to him when we filmed a talking prologue for
the picture. A ten-foot-high blowup of a page of the Dumas novel, simulating ancient parchment
was mounted in a frame. Doug slashed through the page with his sword, sprang into the
foreground and delivered his prologue speech. We did the scene over and over — I can still
remember Doug’s lines: “Out of the shadows of the past, as from a faded tapestry dim and vast, I
bring you a tale of long ago.”
Finally we got a complete take, and, as was the barbaric custom in those days, we played it back.
Sound equipment was touchy and inefficient then. Sometimes speed would go out of control.
When we made that playback for Doug, we had a “runaway” on the wax playback machine, just
fast enough to give Doug a girlish falsetto. Mercifully somebody pulled the loudspeaker plug,
but I think Doug never really recovered from the shock of hearing that gibbering runaway
There hadn’t been much improvement in production efficiency in the year since those first few
efforts. Camera booths were still used, and we, the sound people, were still hiding microphones
in flower arrangements and hanging them from sound-stage catwalks. We heard rumors that
sound booms were being used in other studios, but our chief engineer, Howard Campbell, was
adamant: mikes were not to be swung around recklessly. They would be placed carefully and
judiciously, and the actors would be instructed how to “play to them.”
He had other anti-boom arguments; a heavy CTA at the end of a long boom-arm would be
dangerously tip-prone, and the camera booths and the lights monopolized the front of the set.
There was no room for a clumsy mike boom.
Some of us were not convinced. We felt that a boom could be counterweighted, and if we could
demonstrate the need, room would be found for us in the front of the set. I was beginning to see
things from the point of view of the film makers. There was a need for a microphone that could
follow the actors and give the directors and actors the ability to stage scenes the way they, and
not the sound men wanted them.
We sound men in those days used monitor booths — glassed-in rooms suspended from the walls
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of the sound stages. The men who designed the early sound systems thought we needed a full set
of theater-type speakers to monitor the sound quality properly. A far cry from the featherweight
set of earphones the sound man uses today.
He said Ronald Colman’s acting was ruined by sound, and that Joan Bennett, “such a beautiful girl, she
don’t look so good when they have to photograph her out of those goddamn doghouses.”
Production Code
Throughout the decade of the 1920s, the relatively infant Hollywood motion picture industry came under
increasingly intense scrutiny from a sizeable section of the general public and, perhaps more importantly,
the Catholic Church. This can be attributed to a number of important factors. Firstly, the years following
World War I saw great social change in the United States, a loosening of moral bonds that was reflected
in the movies. A significant and vocal minority of the public held the film industry responsible.
Additionally, the industry had experienced a series of high profile scandals around the beginning of the
decade, the most infamous of which being the rape and manslaughter trial of the then highest paid film
star in Hollywood, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle in 1921.. The director William Desmond Taylor was
murdered in his home, with rumours of his allegedly wild personal life being played out in the press.
There was further controversy when it was found that he had been drinking alcohol, during the era of
Prohibition. The drug related death of the popular actor Wallace Reid was another mark on the industry,
especially when it was discovered that he had been addicted to morphine and spent time in a sanitarium as
a consequence. These scandals resulted in a public outcry from various sections of society, and further
added to the notion of Hollywood as a ‘den of iniquity,’ with tabloid publications asserting that behind
the images manufactured by Hollywood’s publicists lay a ‘secret world of social unconventionality and
moral turpitude. Women’s groups, religious organisations, youth movements and reform groups all
protested against the industry’s supposed lack of morals, and called for the censorship of films.
Censorship bills were introduced in thirty seven states. Facing a growing backlash against the industry,
possible further censorship legislation and financial disaster, in 1922, the studios formed a trade
organisation known as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. This was an attempt by
the industry to regulate itself and to pre-empt any attempts at regulation by the federal government. To
give dignity and respectability to their industry, and to help rehabilitate Hollywood’s image in the eyes of
the American public, the company heads followed the lead of Major League Baseball and hired a ‘czar’ to
preside over the MPPDA. They chose a man named Will Hays. Hays had been the chairman of the
Republican National Committee, ran Warren G. Harding’s presidential campaign in 1920, and later
served as Postmaster General in Harding’s administration. His connections in Washington and
impeccable credentials in legal and religious authority (he was a Presbyterian elder) made him the top
choice for the job. At a salary of $100,000 a year, Hays was handed the task of defusing the censorship
movement. The MPPDA soon became informally known as the ‘Hays Office’, and Hays himself was able
to use his adeptness at public relations and power of persuasion to reassure the public. He would invite
influential religious and civic leaders to meet with him and discuss how to best improve the film industry,
and made efforts to improve the public image of Hollywood. Hays was able to convince these different
groups to drop their calls for censorship and instead to join a Public Relations Committee, of which a
representative was assigned to the Hays Office and paid a salary. He would have publicists eliminate any
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references to movie star luxuries or excesses which common people would consider ‘immoral’, e.g.
expensive cars and champagne baths. Some prominent actors who had been known to be partygoers soon
disappeared altogether. Several performers, such as Arbuckle, were blacklisted from the industry due to
their ‘scandalous’ reputations. Some would try to adopt pseudonyms simply to find work. Certain women
with dubious reputations were also never heard from again, and some romantic relationships between
stars were publicised as marriages. His approach appeared to be working, as criticism of the film industry
subsided for the rest of the decade, and in 1926, efforts for federal regulation of Hollywood were
abandoned. However, it was during this period that legislation in Washington was passed calling for
stricter state censorship of films. In an effort to find ways in which to avoid having a film censored in one
state but not another, he called upon the top studio executives to form a committee on the matter. This
committee consisted of Irving G. Thalberg of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), Sol Wurtzel of Fox, and
E.H. Allen of Paramount, who collaborated on a document entitled ‘Don’ts and Be Carefuls’ : Resolved,
that those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the
members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in whic …
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