Q2 2018

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 66 of 81

65 Q2 2018 / CINEMONTAGE The Voice of Technology: Soviet Cinema's Transition to Sound, 1928-1935 by Lilya Kaganovsky Indiana University Press Softcover, 271 pages, $36 ISBN #978-0-253-03265-2 by Betsy A. McLane F ew Americans, even those who work with motion picture sound, have heard of the Tagefon and Shorinofon systems, but readers interested in the intricacies of how sound first meshed with cinema can learn about these machines and the artists who used them in Lilya Kaganovsky's fascinating study, The Voice of Technology: Soviet Cinema's Transition to Sound 1928-1935. Like most media innovations, the search for a stable sound-on-film system was multi-national and characterized by tangled webs of genius, hard work, collaboration, theft and patent disputes. Kaganovsky does not detail the science of these technologies, but two different systems were developed by Russian inventors, who named their inventions after themselves: Pavel Grigorevich Tager's Tagefon (1926) and Alexander Shorin's Shorinofon (1927). The Tagefon was based on intensive variable density optical recording on film, while the Shorinofon, widely used for field and studio sound recording, was based on a mechanical reproduction of gramophone-like longitudinal grooves along the filmstrip. Both utilized optical sound tracks and were somewhat equivalent to Hollywood systems of the time. There is some evidence that exchange of ideas did take place between the Russians and Americans despite Soviet mandates that the USSR develop its own sound technologies instead of licensing them from the West. (Editor's note: See related article in CineMontage Q3 2015 [ celebrating-sonic-centennial-everything-wanted-know- history-cinema-sound/] for details of Hollywood's struggles with sound.) Most histories of film pay scant attention to such developments in the newly formed Soviet Union, stating only that sound arrived there later than in the West. Even the sound works of Russia's silent masters — Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Esfir Shub, Aleksandr Dovshenko, Eduard Tissé and others — are generally viewed as inferior to their silent films. Kaganovsky not only explains the complex whys and hows of sound cinema development in the USSR, but also reclaims the artistry and imagination of those who first practiced it. This subject matter could rightfully be seen as esoteric, but there is much to be learned by those with a passion for film history as well as by contemporary sound designers and editors who may find themselves surprised and even inspired by this book. Kaganovsky's research is impeccable. Not only does she reference virtually all English-language writing on her subject, she also has combed the archives, unearthing personal stories, government records, filmmakers' notes, press reviews from the period, and other previously untranslated documents. Her experience as professor of Slavic, Comparative Literature, and Media and Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign is put to grand use in this book, and the meticulous footnotes alone tell a new story. CUT / PRINT Man with a Shorinofon When Russia Embraced the Talkies

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of CineMontage - Q2 2018