This is a very interesting book on a very short but crucial period of time in film history. This book combines biographical information, business strategies of the studios, cultural ramifications, and the actual technical aspects of the transition to sound in a somewhat academic style that is both entertaining and informative.
Particularly interesting is the skeptical attitude of the studio business community about adding sound to pictures. So great was their concern about audience acceptance that Warner Brother's first talkie film was a piece on the automobile and how it made its forerunner obsolete, an obvious ploy at coaxing the consumer to see sound in pictures in the same light as the auto - as a step forward in progress. Of course now it seems silly to think that audiences would have preferred the lack of use of one of their human senses when the technology was present to integrate it into their viewing experience, but such was the outlook of the business community in 1926.
Another interesting chapter is on the little-known figure of Lee de Forest and his invention of the Phonofilm process in 1920, a way to make the movies talk by adding a synchronized optical soundtrack to the film. This process used a device called a light valve to expose a series of light and dark areas on the film which were read by a photocell and converted to audio. Although basically correct in principle, its operating quality was poor, and the inventor found himself unable to interest film producers in its possibilities. Ironically, with the Vitaphone "sound on disk" system being such a difficult process to work with both technically and logistically, within a few years' time the motion-picture industry converted to talking pictures by using a sound-on-film process similar to that of de Forest's.
On the corporate level, Crafton frames the battle over sound technology as ERPI versus RCA. In 1926, Fox signed an agreement with ERPI to combine its Movietone sound-on-film method with Western Electric's amplification methods for theater use. The ERPI variable density system would compete for the next decade with the RCA variable area system that was adopted by RKO after 1928. Crafton does a good job of making this battle of the titans very interesting, involving all kinds of maneuvering and even, of all people, Joe Kennedy.
Crafton goes over theatrical and tactical issues of converting to sound as well, including how changes in direction and acting techniques were required, as actors in early talkies were still making the wild gestures that were necessary to convey the action taking place in silent films, but just looked ridiculous when sound was added. Likewise, dialogue was initially extremely pedestrian, as is best illustrated in the first feature-length all-talking picture "The Lights of New York" with such hammy gangster lines as "Take him for a ride." Thus, Crafton goes over a variety of early talkie successes and failures and how the budding film industry learned from both.
The back of the book has an extensive bibliography and even box office receipts for the years 1928 through 1931. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in this fascinating era in cinema history.