The Times (30/Jul/1929) - The Talkies: Dialogue and sound films
(c) The Times (30/Jul/1929)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Blackmail (1929), British International Pictures, New York City, New York, Oscar Wilde, Scotland Yard
PART 1 - NOVELTY AND UNCERTAINTY.
A PERIOD OF DOUBT.
It is the purpose of these articles to discuss the talkies in detachment from the wild campaign of publicity that has attended their introduction; to review their present position; to examine their nature! the powers of the invention on which they depend, and their relations, commercial and aesthetic, with other forms of entertainment, notably with the thea[tre and with silent films; finally, to ask what their future may be, what other developments the introduction of sound may be expected to bring in its train, and what opportunity they offer to British industry.
Though their present position is represented in the minds of many connected with the trade by a vast, ecstatic note of exclamation, it is better conveyed by a question-mark. The talkies came suddenly, as everything comes to the movie-world. Long ago experiments were made in the synchronization of sound and movement, but synchronization was not then taken seriously. It was scouted, not because it was technically imperfect, but because the film industry did not wish it to be perfected. The reason for this was clear. The great American corporations had the conservatism of success. Their capital was. invested in silent-film apparatus; their wealth had been poured out in "creating" stars, whose silence was indeed golden; they had secured what was virtually a world monopoly, and had everything to lose by a revolution that might disturb it. They did not want talking films, and, although there is now some evidence that the profits of silent picture theatres slightly declined before the screen became vocal, the evidence is not strong enough to suggest that there was any public demand for change. But the problem of synchronization by a disk-apparatus and by the use of a sound-track on the film itself had now been solved, and the solvers wished for their reward. Meanwhile, one great American company, having become less prosperous than it liked and being in fear of losing its game with its silent competitors, decided, as a desperate gamble, to upset the board and start a new game with new rules.
The talkies were introduced and heralded by a gigantic bombardment of publicity. The industry did not want them; the pubic had not been conscious of wanting them; but the world of Hollywood was stampeded into accepting them. The gentlemen whose bluff had so marvellously succeeded put their winnings in their pockets and announced a new era in the art of the world.
POSITION OF EXHIBITORS.
The revolution is, however, very far from being complete. There are now in the United States about 3,500 theatres wired for sound, the larger having acquired one of the two chief reproducing equipments, the smaller contenting themselves with cheaper "boot-leg" apparatus. At the beginning of the talkie panic it was widely assumed that no one would ever wish to see a silent picture again; silent pictures, though bought and paid for, were not used; and talkies, regardless of their quality, were thrust upon audiences. Today, it is reported that many exhibitors with wired theatres, who have greatly added to their overhead expenses, are doing less business than in the days of silence, while others, who have exercised greater discrimination and have understood that a talkie is not necessarily good entertainment because it talks, are progressing favourably. It is, too, worth observing that the Jury-Metro-Goldwyn Company, of America, whose productions are made primarily for their own theatres and who combine the functions of maker and exhibitor, have been steadily issuing silent versions with their talking films. Their theatres, which are showing many silent films, are earning greater profits than in the past, and it seems fairly safe to argue from American experience that, when once the novelty of talking films has worn off, those in the British trade who have proceeded with caution will have reason to congratulate themselves.
No one now expects a sudden reversion to silence. It is probable that, as time passes and the cost of reproducing apparatus falls, talkie-wiring will become a necessary and profitable part of every cinema equipment. But this is no reason for buying at the top of the market or for supposing, when a calculation is made of the return required to justify new capital expenditure, that in future nothing but talking films will be shown. To this, another word of warning may, perhaps, be added. The inventive revolution is not complete. Colour and stereoscopy will certainly follow sound. The apparatus bought to-day may be out of date to-morrow. To exhibitors, and particularly to small exhibitors, the present position of talking films is full of dangerous uncertainty.
THE MAKERS' PROBLEM.
It is extremely difficult to discover how far British makers have as yet been affected, for, in speaking of their plans, they are incurable optimists, and like their figures to appear as large as possible. They were held back at first by the absence of recording apparatus, in which the principal patents are all foreign, but British talkies are now forthcoming and the number of sound-studios rapidly increases. The delay, if it has been used in thought, will have done more good than harm. The Americans began to use their apparatus before they knew what to make with it; the consequence has been a series of noise films which, because they were novelties, drew money, but for which very few Englishmen have been able to find a word of praise. The opportunity of British film-makers, which will be examined in more detail in a later article, lies in the Americans' complete failure to understand the scope and limitations of the new power, and in the break of the American grip on the international market. The language difficulty and its effects on trade ought not to be exaggerated. The Americans are well able to make the same film in half a dozen languages by using half a dozen casts in the same setting. The European market is by no means closed to their films or to ours. But it is plain that the English and Imperial market will in future be of greater importance to American sellers than it has been in the past, and that our bargaining power, directed to securing an entry for our own product into America, will be proportionately increased. Already several Anglo-American contracts have been signed more advantageous to us than any that could have been hoped for six months ago. This is the most encouraging sign in the commercial sky; the talkies may give us that key to the American market for lack of which the British industry, quota or no quota, was perishing.
To look for additional assistance from the purity of our movie-actors' English is to look for too much. The argument to this end, which has become a catchword in the industry, needs exploding. British people, it is said, will prefer British speech to American; therefore we shall have an advantage at least in the Imperial market. There may be some advantage in parts of England itself, but whether in our own industrial North, or in Scotland, or in Wales, or in the Dominions, the speech of Oxford (if that be the standard) will be more familiar and so less irritating than American is open to grave doubt. Of the American taste, let Mr. Rowson speak. In his recent address to the Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association, he said:-
I was sitting next to a group of young women in New York recently, watching Bull-Dog Drummond. After about 20 minutes I overheard one of these women say: "You get tired of all this English, don't you?" - a sentiment which evoked the ready assent of her companions. And, as to Ronald Colman, they could not conceal the disappointment they experienced at the discovery that he spoke a different language from their own! What right have we to assume that American Fans would prefer our English to theirs? The happy legend, then, may be put aside, and the discarding of it suggests a nightmare alternative. The purpose of the British industry is, and must be, to enter the American market. Is it not possible that, in order to make our product more acceptable there, we may be driven to import or to imitate American actors, with this sad consequence — that the language most acceptable to the Middle West may become the standard language of the British screen? This is more than a nightmare; it is a serious possibility; and whoever is rejoicing in the coming of talkies would do well to imagine his children and grandchildren speaking to him in the accents of Kansas and Iowa.
The one safeguard seems to be that extremely American pronunciation does not reproduce well. There is something clipped and monotonous in the harsher twangs against which even microphones rebel. For this reason many American film-makers are seeking for English actors, or at any rate for those among their own countrymen whose speech is not extravagantly Western. Our children and grandchildren are thus being, granted a temporary respite until the day comes when men of science crown their achievements with a recording and reproducing apparatus patient of voices a hundred per cent. American.
All the problems of exhibitor and maker depend for their final solution on the public taste. The present condition of public taste is, therefore, of great importance, and never has public taste been more difficult to analyse. There has been during the last few weeks a boom in talking films, and the picture-halls in which they were shown have been crowded. But who unconnected with the trade has said that they are better than silent film? Their angry, restless noise; the slowness and stupidity of their dialogue; the evident crudity of their technique; their lack of movement and their failure to sustain illusion are condemned continually even by those who have been enthusiastic filmgoers. Many couple their condemnation with eager hope; the invention is new, they say; its early products are bad, but will improve. In this spirit of determined optimism and curiosity they continue to enrich the box-offices; but how long will they continue? The queues that at first assembled outside the talking cinemas have already begun to diminish. Makers who assume that the British public has given a final and considered vote for talkies and nothing but talkies are deceiving themselves. It is fairly certain that sound has come to stay as a part of the cinema programmes of the future, but that the movies will be completely dominated by it has yet to be proved. Everything connected with the talkies is as yet uncertain — the strength of their popularity; their commercial value to exhibitors; their effect on production costs; above all the form that they will take. The time must be very near now when even the "fans" will recover from the hypnotism of publicity and begin to criticize the entertainment they receive. They will begin to compare dialogue films imitative of the theatre with films that preserve a great part of the silent technique, supplementing it with sound. They will begin to ask for movement again. They will remember that, before the talkies came, films had begun to emerge from a long infancy into a reasonable discretion, and they will observe that the early talkies, though made tolerable by novelty, plunged back into the dark ages. In brief, they will insist that noise itself is not a sufficient marvel. If by that time any section of the producing industry has troubled to ask itself what new principles are implied by the new invention, it may make an independent fortune while its rivals are still bound to the primitive shouties. These principles are now to be considered.
PART 2 - DIALOGUE AND SOUND FILMS.
The film industry, it has been shown, is in a state of flux. The talkie revolution — if it may be spoken of as a revolution at all — is incomplete. It is, except among the ignorantly cocksure, more productive of questions than of conclusions. The position of exhibitors, the policy of makers, and the taste of the public are all in continuing doubt. But the answer to one group of related questions, if we can arrive at it, may suggest the answers to a host of others. What is a talkie? What are its peculiar powers and limitations? What, if there must be sound, is the right application of sound to the screen? All questions lead to these.
Talkies are of four kinds: films principally musical; dialogue films, whose technique is borrowed from the theatre; sound films, which preserve a great part of the silent film technique, but supplement it with speech or other appropriate noises; finally, a special and miscellaneous group of news films or scientific films whose advantages and disadvantages are too plain for controversy.
Of musical films it is not necessary to speak at length. Their problems are principally acoustic; for better and for worse their commercial future is assured. In their higher uses, they will be judged by the technical efficiency of their sound apparatus, those musicians who cannot have music at its source deciding whether it is least corrupted by screen, by wireless, or by gramophone, and some opera-goers, it may be, rejoicing to discover that what they lose in the reproduction of sound they gain in the ingenuity of synchronisers who, perceiving that the figure of an eminent songstress belies her part, will keep her singing in the pavilion while a voiceless beauty goes in to bat. And in their humbler uses, musical films will always have a market among devotees of musical comedy and revue, if cheapness and accessibility outweigh their sadness in knowing that their favourite legs are but impersonal and are being waved to an audience icily stereoscopic. To playgoers of the old order who, equipped with white ties, white gloves, and the exhilaration of Clicquot, knew full well that when Kate Vaughan or Lily Elsie smiled she smiled at them, there will be cold comfort in natural colour and a three-dimensional screen. How does one lose one's heart to a mechanical ghost? But every generation loses its heart in. its own way. The man who prefers a machine to a horse will have no difficulty in making a happy fool of himself about an amplified shadow; and, heaven knows, there are enough of him in the world to make the fortune of musical films.
Not until an approach is made to the ground contested by dialogue films and sound films does the genuine significance of talkies emerge. The issue is: Shall the talkies base themselves on the stage, imitating or, at best, adapting its means of creating illusion, or shall they develop from what tradition the silent films have been able to establish! The easy answer, and therefore the first answer to be given when the industry was scrambling to produce anything that made a noise, was, of course: imitate the theatre. Think, said the noble pioneers, who knew how to mingle uplift with publicity, think what benefits Hollywood will give to the world when the masterpieces of the World-Drammer may be heard for 20 cents in luxurious stalls of red velvet! Even to-day Mr. Rowson can find it in his heart to say that "we cannot patiently contemplate a future in which such subjects (as Nothing But the Truth, Home Towners, and the Oscar Wilde comedies) will not sometimes be available for screen material." He may do what he will with Nothing But the Truth and Home Toumers, but to speak of the comedies of Wilde as screen material is to play into the hands of those of us who believe that imitation of the stage is a blind alley. Why should the screen touch them? Their action is but a stiff background to their verbal wit; only of The Importance of Being Earnest is this untrue, and the merits, the very great merits, of even this play give no scope whatever to the screen's proper liberties.
It will, of course, be answered of the Wilde comedies and of every other play that what the film-makers propose to do is not to imitate but to "adapt."' Adaptation is a dangerous process, a trap for fools. The adaptation of novels was for years the curse of the silent screen, and a bar to its independent progress. But let us assume, for the purposes of argument, that a theme discussed or a story told by a master in one art form may without ruin be rediscussed or retold in another art form. It has been done. Shakespeare (or Fletcher) clung very close to Holinshed when he wrote Queen Katharine's opening appeal; composers have again and again drawn old tales into their music; there is no reason that a good silent film should not be made of the Odyssey. But it is to be remarked that, with the exception of Queen Katharine's speech (an example which the supporters of dialogue films may have as a present), good adaptations are seldom adaptations at all; they are independent creations in a separate medium; they do indeed draw, as all art draws, from a common fund of idea, but they do not carry into the new medium the technical apparatus of the old.
DISTORTING THE EMPHASIS.
This is precisely what the talkie-adapters of stage-plays propose to do. Approaching such a play as Lady Windermere's Fan, they will find themselves compelled, for lack of other material, to lay a solemn dramatic emphasis on the emotional plot which Wilde treated with flippant contempt, and they will drag his verbal wit, which was elaborately fashioned to sparkle in the theatre, into a medium whose rules of illusion, of laughter, of surprise and suspense are altogether different from the rules that governed Wilde's design. Nor will Shakespeare or any other dramatist fare better. We have already had experience enough of the difficulty of enacting. Shakespearian plays on a non-Shakespearian stage, and the whole tendency of modern production has been a lesson in the necessity of recreating as far as possible an artist's own conditions of interpretation. Talking-films might make one or two interesting experiments in the performance of such plays as King Lear and The Tempest, which are relatively earth-bound on the stage; there are qualities in them of which the liberties of the screen might make beautiful employment; but unless we are prepared to argue that Shakespeare mauled and distorted is better than no Shakespeare at all — which is at best an argument from "uplift" and not from aesthetics — the filmmakers would generally do well to leave his dialogue in the circumstances for which it was designed.
Still, all the arguments in favour of dialogue films have not been met. Why, it will be asked, should not films chiefly dependent on dialogue be written expressly for the screen? It cannot be objected to these that dialogue written for one set of circumstances is being unnaturally forced into another. This is a reasonable view. An original dialogue film has a much better chance of being a work of art than a close adaptation of a stage play, and there is every reason to hope that good films of this kind will be made. But whether they make the best use of the sound invention is questionable. Any film that is chiefly dependent on dialogue (and this is what is meant by a "dialogue film"), and film which traces its main narrative or follows its main argument in words, however interesting or valuable those words may be in themselves, is sacrificing or greatly reducing the advantages that the screen, rightly used, has over the stage — its speed, its range in time and space, its fluid quality; above all, its power to do what the stage, except in its rarest miracles of poetry, cannot do — namely, use a mass (a mob or a nation) as protagonist of an epic or exhibit simultaneously more than one plane of consciousness. There will be good dialogue films written for the screen; there may even be tolerable adaptations of stage plays; but there is no avoiding the truth that the more a film depends on naturalistic dialogue the more it will deny the principles of the screen, and the more it will tend to become, not a development of an independent art-form but an unhappy, imitative bastard doomed to carry with it the limitations of the stage into a place where those limitations have not their opposite advantages, and doomed also, like a small boy who has been given a kite and may not fly it, to be on the screen, and to watch all the screen's liveliest powers go unused.
The alternative to a dialogue film is a sound film — a film, that is to say, which preserves the silent technique in the development of its main narrative, but employs words or other sounds for special purposes. The simplest of these purposes, over which it is unnecessary to linger, is illustrated in the use of a fragment of dialogue to round an awkward corner of the plot; this is as easily defended and as easily attacked as the old use of captions and is subject to the same considerations of convenience and taste, the one sure rule being that dialogue so used must abbreviate and not prolong a silent sequence. Supplementary sound may also be used for purposes of particular emphasis or for the reinforcement and enrichment of whatever mood it is the intention of a silent film, at a particular moment, to create in those who watch it. It is in the direction of this employment of sound that the talkies may be expected to move. Many variants of it are possible; some of these it will be convenient to mention in a later article on the probable future of the new device. Meanwhile it will be enough to establish the principle and give an example of its application.
Mr. Alfred Hitchcock has lately produced for British International at Elstree a film called Blackmail, which is an interesting mixture of talkie-techniques. It begins with a long and extremely well-managed silent sequence showing the methods of the Flying Squad from Scotland Yard; thus far it is a silent film, swift and clear-cut. As the detectives go off with their prisoner in a van, a crowd assembles, we hear the noise of their murmuring — and the film instantly becomes, in a simple and crude way, a sound film. Later, when a detective is entertaining a girl at a restaurant, we are given their conversation, and the film becomes a dialogue film and dull; but the general hubbub of the restaurant while the two principal actors are going to their places, instead of breaking the illusion, enforces it, and again, in simple form, the sound film justifies itself.
But there comes a time when sound-film technique is used with greater subtlety. A girl, having gone to a man's rooms, is attacked by him. and, in her defence, murders him with a bread-knife. We do not see the blow delivered; the girl is dragged behind the curtains, screaming as she is overpowered; her hand emerges, seizes the knife from a table, and is withdrawn; the killing is suggested, not by sound but by a sudden, prolonged silence in the midst of sound. This is one variant of genuine sound-film technique. Another is perceived when we see the girl next morning at breakfast in her father's shop. A gossiping neighbour comes in to talk of the - murder committed during the night in a house near by. The girl, hugging her secret, listens in terror to this ghoulish chatter which, so long as it remains naturalistic dialogue, does not help the film and serves to retard its action. But gradually the woman's gossip ceases to be naturalistic and, forsaking the technique of the stage, resolves itself into a particular emphasis. The word "Knife... knife" alone is heard, all intervening words being dropped into buzzing incoherence. The effect is to carry the audience into the mind of the listening girl. We hear what she hears. We share her obsession of terror. "Knife... knife" is what strikes her mind — and ours. Her father now asks her to cut the loaf. When she picks up the. bread-knife we share in her identification of it with the instrument of murder. When it falls to the floor, and clashes, we hear the clash with her ears.
This is an early instance of the right use of sound as an enforcement of silent technique. In this film plain dialogue invariably takes away much more than it gives; whenever Mr. Hitchcock suppresses it and uses supplementary sound his work lives. And it lives then because it is still a film within the films' own aesthetic province and follows a line of development proper to the screen.
PART 3 - SCREEN AND THEATRE.
A NEW CHANCE FOB BRITISH FILMS.
Although, as has been suggested in the analysis already made of dialogue films and sound films, the true development of talkies as a form of art certainly lies, not in borrowings from the stage but in the supplementing of silent technique with the particular emphasis of sound, it is necessary to recognize that, partly through lack of thought and partly for want of original material of a better kind, the industry is for the time being heavily committed to dialogue films. These will take one of two forms. First, they may be original film plays or fairly free adaptations of stage plays and novels; secondly, they may be, or may become, exact imitations of stage plays.
The prospect of exact imitation is worth examining. At present it is ruled out by the technical imperfections of talkie apparatus, but many of these will disappear. Natural colour, complete stereoscopy, and a three-dimensional screen are all in the offing. The vile lisping of the talkies is beginning to abate, and the time may not be far distant when the exaggerated uproar now necessary to reach all parts of a great cinema will be avoided by the fitting of earphones to every seat or by some variation of the loud-speakers. The last of the devils to be overcome will probably be the difficulty of obtaining natural colour, for the good reason that the industry will claim victory in this quarter long before victory has indeed been won. It is more than probable, if experience does not lie, that for many years those who have a respect for Nature's colour will be asked to applaud, as "a triumph of colour photography, that curious mingling of harshness and anaemia made familiar by cheap oleographs. But in this, and in all else material, something near to perfection will come some day, and we have to contemplate the possibility that, going into a cinema, we may be aware of no screen whatever and may see, on the full area of a stage, things that look and sound very like human beings performing the latest play at the St. James's or the Haymarket.
This kind of imitation could have, of course,, no connexion with the art of the screen; but it would bear the same relation to drama as colour-reproduction does to painting: it would circulate it. It might, moreover, say the dark prophets, supplant altogether' the drama of flesh and blood, and, though we may not take so extreme a view, we are bound to ask what effect the talkies, particularly in their imitative form, will have on the theatre as we know it.
EFFECT ON THE THEATRE.
The answer to this question depends, first, on the power of the talkies to perfect themselves technically; until they succeed in this, there is no reason to suppose that they will be a more serious rival to the theatre than silent films have been. But when and if they are technically "perfect," when they can and do give "exact" imitations of stage plays, what then? The answer now depends on an unknown psychological factor : what proportion of a man's pleasure in a play will vanish with flesh and blood? The present writer's answer is: probably nearly all of it. There may be illusion in a "perfectly" imitative talkie, but - how can one express it more precisely? - the soul will be gone from it. As easily be deeply moved by a talkie of Romeo and Juliet as fall in love with a perfected Robot. But such an answer is a personal one, and it is highly probable that vast numbers of people, though they may prefer the drama of flesh and blood, will accept an imitative talkie as their money's worth.
Does that mean ruin to the theatre? It means certainly, if the talkies perfect themselves, that the musical-comedy and revue stage, particularly in the provinces, will be seriously damaged; it means probably that even in London there may not be a public to support so many theatres as now exist. There will, be commercial failures. But to speak of the talkies killing the art of drama is to talk nonsense. They may decrease its bulk, but they will correspondingly raise the quality of its modern practice. For of one thing we may be sure. Except when choice is governed by consideration of the "drawing power" of such a name as Shakespeare's, the imitative plays that the talkies choose to circulate will be bad plays. It cannot he otherwise. The men who are artists in the studios, will pursue their own art and not be content to mechanize another, and dramatists of quality will not submit to the demand, inevitable so long as the films are what they are, that they direct their work to the instant satisfaction of a mixed audience of millions. The talkies, though they may spell ruin to many theatrical managers whose object has too long been to usurp the sensationalism of bad films, may well prove a blessing in disguise to the art of drama, purging and purifying the practice of it, drawing away from it finally the undiscriminating audience that is an embarrassment to it, making clear once for all that it cannot compete with films in their own territory, and winning back to theatres, reduced in numbers but raised in quality and prestige, that critical public which, in recent years, has shown a tendency to abandon them in despair. In brief, when imitative talkies have drained away the nonsense, genuine playgoers may with renewed hope begin going to the play again.
But this inquiry into the future of imitative talkies is a dismal one. No doubt money will be made in them and in their companion evil - stage adaptations; but the future of genuine talkies does not lie here, but in developing the application of sound to silent technique. It is in studying the possibilities of this development that British films have their opportunity. They cannot now, any more than in the past, beat the Americans at their own game of lavishness and luxury. Their one chance, now as always, is to establish a separate, independent prestige so that men will go to a British film because, as the Americans would say, it is "different." German silent films established a reputation for being "different," and, though handicapped by a strange element of the macabre, were beginning to win their way into the world's markets. British makers, to whom the similarity of two languages has now opened, at least by a few inches, a door to the United States, have a chance of flinging that door wide if, by looking ahead, they anticipate the demand for "something different" which will certainly arise when the public tires of the crudity of the early dialogue films.
What form should this "difference" take? What are the possibilities of supplementary sound? Two or three uses of it were suggested by the film Blackmail to which an earlier article drew attention. There are others that deserve to. be investigated. Music - not music introduced by a hero who sits down at a piano or a heroine who is given a voice-trial - but music "off" may be used to induce or deepen a mood: this is legitimate melodrama. And if music, why not other abstract sound? A man, in a silent sequence, is, let us suppose, under sentence of death; the hour of his execution is approaching; we want to be conveyed into his mind. Tha method, of a dialogue film is to bring in the warders and the chaplain and give us their talk; and naturalistic dialogue on an occasion such as this is inevitably inadequate. But a sound film would punctuate the silence of the prisoner's dread and anticipation with - the examples are chosen at hazard - the rattle, of earth on a coffin, some phrase (at first seeming irrelevant) that leaped out of the past, the blare of trumpets, the flutter and the beating of wings; and to each of these the imagination of the audience would make a challenged response, running hither and thither with the prisoner's thought, seeking and putting its own interpretation on the sound-symbols. That is the master-key to the use of supplementary sound; make of it, not a pedestrian explanation of fact that retards the movement and breaks the spell of a silent film but a spur to the imagination, an evocative symbol. Do not tie sound to naturalism. Use it abstractly as musicians use it, saying what cannot be said in words or pictures.
"Ah!" says the cautious producer with his eye on the box-office, "but the public will never understand it." They may not, but they will feel it. Only the very profound fools, turning to their neighbours, will say of the man condemned : "Did he really hear a trumpet?" or "Was there really a bird in his prison cell?" Others will discover finality of summons in the trumpet blast and a tragic mingling of liberty and menace in the light flutter and the heavy, rhythmic beat of wings.
There is no limit to the power of sound so used by an artist: the thought underlying visible action might declare itself now in sound-symbols, now in words; the use that Mr. O'Neill made of a drum in The Emperor Jones might be transformed in infinite subtleties; poetry itself, spoken not with the lips of the persons of a play but into their spirits (The Greek Chorus: Strophe and Antistrophe in The Dynasts), might bring its riches, and new riches, to this art whose scope has as yet scarcely been dreamed of. Through it all the silent film would go forward unimpeded, as fluid, as free, as swift as ever, but enforced now by a new accent on emotion, a vast orchestration of the mind.
In face of this, is the British industry to be content with making shadowy imitations of revues? It needs a central research department to investigate every possibility of scientific advance; it needs to rid itself for ever of men who are hypnotized by Hollywood; it needs to abjure its habit of believing that the opinion of a bottle-washer "on the floor" is more valuable than that of Aristotle, who had no trade experience; it needs, above all, to distinguish between criticism and publicity. The talkies, instead of being, what they now threaten to be, a reversion to the old trade principle of "give it 'em rough," might be a genuine expansion of the powers of silent films. If, while there is yet time and America is still playing with the new toy of imitation dialogue, British film-makers would take counsel of artists end consider the aesthetic of their own trade; if they would concentrate all their energy on the absorbing problem of the right use of supplementary sound, they might well establish for themselves an enduring pre-eminence.