Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

The Silent Film Shortage

The Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association and the Coming of Sound, 1928–1929

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2018), 12, (2), 197–216.

Abstract

During the years of transition to sound, few had any certainty as to what the lasting impact of the talking picture would be. Amidst confusion and scepticism among producers and exhibitors alike about the apparatuses and rental terms surrounding sound films, opinion was split about the fate of the silent feature. The prospects for silent cinemas were decidedly dire by 1930, but as recently as 1928 the demise of silent cinema was viewed as almost laughable. By the end of 1929, only 800 cinemas in the country had wired for sound compared to 3,400 that had not, and while many exhibitors indicated a desire to convert to sound – so long as it was affordable – it remained accepted wisdom that so long as there remained a substantial number of silent halls in Britain, producers and renters would continue to offer silent product. This was contrary to industry trends, however, which announced and undertook a rapid shift away from silent production towards the talkies. The resulting shortage of silent films presented a significant threat to cinemas yet to wire for sound, and became a primary factor in the ultimate conversion or closure of these cinemas. This article will use reportage from the trade journal The Bioscope to chart the silent film shortage crisis as experienced by exhibitors and their trade organisation, the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association (CEA).

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Sibanda, Nyasha