"I was quite amazed to learn in Mark Schubin's September column ['Synching Fast'] of the existence of sound films dating back before 1900. Yet more amazed was I to read that said films had been transferred successfully to videotape.
"Can you tell me where I might see these films, or better yet, acquire copies?
Joe Salerno Industrial Video Services Bellaire, TX
"Mark Schubin responds: In 1894, Century Magazine carried an illustration of a projection room with a phonograph attached to a film projector for synchronized sound. The process was known as either Kinetophone or the Kinetophonograph. William Dickson claimed to have demonstrated sync-sound motion pictures as early as 1889, but that date has been disputed by others. Between the Century illustration and other American and European sources, however, there's little doubt that there were sound movies sometime in the Nineteenth century.
"More recently, while poring through the archives of Sveriges Radio (the Swedish Broadcasting Corp.), American Art Shifrin came across some Edison sound recording cylinders of unusual size. These turned out to be Kinetophone cylinders. Searching various archives, Shifrin found 48 existing Kinetophone cylinders and seven existing Kinetophone films, six of which match sound cylinders.
"Films were transferred to 1-inch videotape, and, after much construction of appropriate playback mechanisms, the sound was synchronized to the images and recorded on the same tape. The results were shown at a meeting of the New York section of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers in 1983. Neither picture nor sound quality match today's standards, but there's no question that they are sync-sound movies. Exact dating of these films has not yet been determined.
"Shifrin would be willing to show you the tape version if you are in the New York area. He would also very much like to continue to pursue the "Kinetophone Project," improving the transfer of both sound and image with modern digital techniques and searching for more old sound movies. Readers who might be able to provide financial assistance are urged to contact him at (718)468-5383."
Andrew Siegel Manhattan Transfer New York, NY