Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: sound film

Cook & Rilly’s Trained Rooster (1905)

Alternate Title: Le Coq dressé de Cook et Rilly

Well, this is a movie in which a rooster sits on a stool and crows. That’s it.

If it were a silent film, that would be pretty darn silly. However, it’s an early experiment with synch-sound recording, for which, happily, the sound disc still survives. There are actually thousands of such movies, and quite probably thousands of such discs, but in general they have not been reunited, which is too bad, because neither element would work alone.

Cook and Rillys Trained RoosterAdmittedly, even with sound, this is a pretty boring film, and I’d bet it wasn’t intended for commercial distribution, just as a test to show that the system worked. One thing it got me thinking about is the sound that roosters make. In English, we are told from a young age that roosters say, “cock-a-doodle-doo.” I have never heard a rooster say this, however. To me, their call sounds more like, “Er-Er-ER!-Errr…”, with the emphasis unfailingly on that third syllable and the final one trailing off. I have no idea where this silliness about “cock-a-doodle-doo” comes from.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville)

Starring: A rooster

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

La Marseillaise (1907)

This is another early French experiment in sound cinema, this time using their stirring national anthem as the subject matter. Evidently, problems with amplification of the soundtrack prevented this method, developed by Georges Mendel, from catching on, but it remains a fascinating example of the struggle to add a second sense to the silver screen.

La MarseillaiseThere’s really no plot to this movie, what we see is a cannon with a French flag leaning against it and a painted set in the rear. Opera singer Jean Noté walks out onto the set and stirringly sings “La Marseillaise” – well, not really. In fact, the film was shot with him lip-synching to his pre-recorded phonograph record of the song, and he simply moves for the camera while the song plays. Noté gestures emphatically throughout the performance and ends with a patriotic salute. Fans of the 1938 French film or even the scene from Casablanca will not fail to be moved.

La Marseillaise1Unlike in “Cyrano de Bergerac,” inventor Georges Mendel had worked out a mechanism for synching the phonograph playback to the projector, taking the pressure for synchronization off the hands of the projectionist. For me, the effect of the movie is greater as well, because I don’t need to understand French to enjoy the music. It’s interesting to think about the position of France in the world at this time, before being laid low by the First World War, with a still-flourishing global empire that largely was not in rebellion. By the same token, at this time the French cinema dominated the world (somewhat more than two-thirds of the films shown in American nickelodeons were of French origin at this time), and had not yet begun its decline in importance. It therefore makes sense that experiments in sound would be made in film’s first nation, and that they should be as proudly nationalist as this offering.

Director: Georges Mendel

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Jean Noté

Run Time: 2 Min 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1900)

This very early experiment in sound film captures dialogue and also has color – making it a fairly impressive technical achievement for 1900. It would still be some time before all of the technical issues would be resolved, leading to synchronized sound and Technicolor for feature-length films by the late 1920s, but this movie shows that the industry was already looking forward to such techniques at a very early date.

Cyrano_de_Bergerac_(short_1900)The scene reproduced is the famous “duel” scene from Cyrano de Bergerac by Rostand. In this scene, a foppish upstart in a hotel challenges the great Cyrano (played here by Benoit Constant Coquelin) to a duel, and Cyrano, bored by the whole vulgar display, composes a poem as he duels, ending the poem at the moment he scores a hit on his opponent. The fighting is highly formalized fencing, as shown here, not the swashbuckling action that fans of the later version with Jose Ferrer, which makes more sense in light of Cyrano’s reciting as the duel proceeds. He wears rich-looking but fairly drab brown clothes, while the opponent has flourishes of bright green and yellow on his clothes, making him more dynamic in the picture. I was surprised that there was no sound of clanging swords, only the dialogue was recorded.

CyranoApparently, the technique used here required the sound to be recorded on a wax cylinder, which was not synched in any way to the sound, so the projectionist had to try to crank at the right speed to get the words to come out at the right time. It’s easy to see why that technology wasn’t a tremendous success. Also, the color in this movie looks like hand-painted frames to me, which was no great innovation in 1900 (Méliès had been doing it for years, and Edison had tried it as well). It’s worth noting that the play was still quite new at this time (1897), so this wasn’t necessarily familiar material for all audiences, although of course having the spoken dialogue by Cyrano would help contextualize the scene for them. This also emphasizes the more “nationalist” nature of sound cinema – I don’t speak French, there are no subtitles provided, and I didn’t understand a word, whereas I can usually follow a silent foreign film without help.

Director: Clément Maurice

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Benoit Constant Coquelin

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.