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Cinema's Conversion to Sound: Technology and Film Style in France and the U.S. [Paperback]

Charles O'Brien

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Book Description

Oct 2004
The conversion to sound cinema is routinely portrayed as a homogenizing process that significantly reduced the cinema's diversity of film styles and practices. Cinema's Conversion to Sound offers an alternative assessment of synchronous sound's impact on world cinema through a shift in critical focus: in contrast to film studies' traditional exclusive concern with the film image, the book investigates national differences in sound-image practice in a revised account of the global changeover from silent to sound cinema. Extending beyond recent Hollywood cinema, Charles O'Brien undertakes a geo-historical inquiry into sound technology's diffusion across national borders. Through an analysis that juxtaposes French and American filmmaking, he reveals the aesthetic consequences of fundamental national differences in how sound technologies were understood. Whereas the emphasis in 1930s Hollywood was on sound's intelligibility within a film's story-world, the stress in French filmmaking was on sound's fidelity as reproduction of the event staged for recording.

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About the Author

Charles O Brien is Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. He is co-translator (with Nell Andrew) of Francesco Casetti s Inside the Gaze: The Fiction Film and Its Spectator (IUP, 1998)."

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The conversion to sound cinema is commonly characterized as a homogenizing process that quickly and significantly reduced the cinema's diversity of film styles and practices. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars review from Choice (sept. 2005) 21 Oct 2005
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From Choice (Sept. 2005):

PN1995 2004-9891 CIP

Humanities-Performing Arts-Film

O'Brien, Charles. Cinema's conversion to sound: technology and film style in France and the U.S. Indiana , 2005. 200p filmography index afp ISBN 0-253-34463-8, $45.00; ISBN 0-253-21720-2 pbk, $19.95 . Reviewed in 2005sep CHOICE.

Taking on the familiar (and standard) notion that cinema's conversion to synchronous sound homogenized film production in the early 1930s, O'Brien (Carleton Univ., Canada) builds a fresh and cogent case for differences of film style across international borders. The author juxtaposes French and American filmmaking aesthetics and practices, carefully revealing how particular sound systems (e.g., magnetic and optical) and alternative models evolved in diverse national settings. Certainly US hegemony set forth models for emulation, but innovative work came from directors like René (Rene) Clair, Jean Vigo, and Jean Renoir. Out of technical and economic necessity, French cinema demonstrated a marked preference for direct sound (in contrast to the Italian cinema's reliance on postsynchronization). O'Brien chooses case studies--e.g., the popular Pathé-Natan (Pathe-Natan) in its Joinville studios--to examine the level of Hollywood indigenization and standardization on a global production company's own "house style." Both technical and artistic decisions differed from country to country, and image and sound became unique cultural expressions that changed through various periods, such as in the postwar auteur practices. Writing in an unassuming, conversational, yet scholarly style, O'Brien is lucid and thoughtful, and he offers numerous significant insights. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All collections; all levels. -- T. Lindvall, Duke University School of Divinity
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