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The Big, Wide Story Of Stereophonic Sound

Shane in Stereo-680         For a subject
that’s integral to the success of motion pictures, precious little has been
written about sound. I’m not referring to the dawn of the talkie era but later
developments that came in conjunction with widescreen, Cinerama, and 3-D in the
early 1950s, in a feverish attempt to lure people away from their new
television sets and back into movie theaters. (And let’s not forget the
pioneering efforts of Walt Disney with his introduction of Fantasound in 1940
for the roadshow engagements of Fantasia.)

         Longtime UCLA
Film and Television Archive preservationist Bob Gitt has made a great study of
sound and performed compelling demonstrations over the years…but now Robert
Furmanek, of the 3-D Archive, has compiled a fascinating article about the
history, introduction and promotion of Stereophonic sound in the 1950s.

         Using articles
and ads from trade magazines of the period, Bob helps bring this era to life
with all its technological advances and attendant ballyhoo. Even if you don’t
understand the scientific aspects of the story I think you’ll enjoy the “big
picture” he paints, along with the wonderfully evocative advertisements.
5000 Fingers of Dr. T Poster

         The
drum-beating was so loud during this period that Cole Porter even wrote a
satirical song about the audio craze for his 1955 Broadway musical Silk Stockings, introduced by Don Ameche
and Hildegarde Neff—and later reprised in the 1957 movie by Fred Astaire and
Janis Paige. Porter added additional lyrics (and sanitized others) for the MGM
movie but this original stanza will give you a sampling:

         If Zanuck’s latest picture were the good
old-fashioned kind

          There’d be no one in front to look at
Marilyn’s behind     

          If you want to hear applauding hands
resound

          You’ve got to have glorious technicolor,

          Breath-taking Cinemascope and        

          Stereophonic sound.

         To read Bob
Furmanek’s informative column, click HERE.

 

7 comments

  1. Mark A. Vieira says:

    Thanks for another welcome tip, Leonard.

  2. Constantine Santas says:

    The first stereophonic sound I hear was in "The Robe." Marvelous. I wish it could have stayed at that general level. the theaters were large then, and you could take it. The human ear is not made for the deafening decibel delirium that comes of most multiplex establishments today. Unruly cacophony is the end of me–and take cotton with me… not to go deaf.

  3. casey st. charnez says:

    Thrilling stuff. Thanks for the link!

  4. Nat Segaloff says:

    Wasn’t it Joseph L. Mankiewicz who said that CinemaScope, "is only good for showing snakes f**king." Then, of course, he made "Cleopatra" (albeit in Todd-AO).

  5. Mike Schlesinger says:

    Actually, it was Fritz Lang, and he said it was "only good for snakes and funerals." I love the early stereo films because they used directional dialogue, which was later phased out when the studio heads decided it wasn’t really worth the extra time and expense at the mixing board. Sigh.

  6. Theo Gluck says:

    @ Nat: I thought Billy Wilder said that about dachshundsand CinemaScope but the vibe remains the same

  7. Norm says:

    Douglas Shearer, made a significant contribution to films by way of sound, he would have to be included as a player…something that could be explored.

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