In this snippet, a man plays the violin into a large microphone while two men dance beside him. So far, pretty typical, but get this: you can hear the violin. One of the interesting things about looking at these old films is seeing the beginnings of technologies that I had previously thought only developed later. The idea that someone was experimenting with sound films before the 1900s had even rolled around is kind of mind blowing, but this was still an experiment and one that basically failed, though the technology itself was basically solid. Back in these days, people watched these short films by looking into large cabinets. You paid your money (typically a penny) and then watched the film; these cabinets would be furnished in “penny arcades” that weren’t totally unlike our modern video game arcades. The idea here was that the cabinet would feature both the technology for showing the film and also a separate technology (cylinder recordings) to play sounds. The viewer would look into the window, place an earpiece next to his ear and the film and the cylinder would play at the same time. This would have been prohibitively expensive for the Edison company however, so the project was shelved. There were, of course, a number of possible problems. Let’s say the film and the sound got out of sync, which might easily happen while the cabinets were being moved. And having two separate mechanisms meant the cabinet would be twice as likely to break down. And then there’s the fact that it would have been difficult to create cylinder recordings to back a lot of these short films; this one, which features a single violin, is pretty simple, but getting recordings for some films would be nearly impossible. For all of those reasons, and probably others, sound films never got out of the gate in the 1890s, but it’s fascinating to realize that people were already toying with the idea. One last detail. The two men dancing are actually slow dancing as if they were a man and a woman. I was going to make a joke about this being a landmark in Queer Cinema, but upon Googling, I discovered that people have actually made this argument in dead seriousness. Well, it takes all kinds. ½ star.
tl;dr – fascinating early example of sound film experimentation is kind of mind blowing actually. ½ star.