Talkies are films which include dialogue, music, and other forms of sound. Although the vast majority of films today are talkies, when “talking films,” as they were called, were first introduced, they attracted a great deal of public commentary and concern. In addition to radically reshaping the motion picture industry, especially in Hollywood, talkies also had a profound impact on the technology used to record and play back audio material, and the rise of the talkies had some interesting unintended consequences.
Prior to the advent of talkies, silent films were accompanied by live orchestras who played along in the theater, and when dialogue or exposition was needed, intertitles with written material were displayed. The atmosphere in a theater showing silent movies would have been quite congenial, as patrons often talked with each other about the film and reacted as a group to particularly stunning events. The thought of talking in a movie theater today is, of course, anathema, because people want to be able to concentrate on the scenes and dialogue.
As early as 1900, attempts were being made to produce sound recordings to accompany films. Early pioneers in the field faced several problems, not the least of which was sound quality. They also had to synchronize the recording with the film, which was challenging, since different devices were used to play back audio and display film. They also had to contend with volume levels, which were tricky to adjust without electric amplification.
By the teens, sound on disc technology had advanced to the point where synchronization had been made much easier, and people had also developed sound on film, ensuring synchronous playback. However, the first full-length talkie didn't come out until 1927, when The Jazz Singer was introduced to audiences around the world.
Initially, many people were opposed to talkies, in the belief that they sullied the purity of silent film. Notable directors such as Alfred Hitchcock expressed a profound distaste for talkies. However, talkies proved to be an unstoppable tide, taking over production studios and theaters all over the world.
One of the more unfortunate side-effects of the rise of the talkies was the disappearance of theater orchestras. Many musicians in such orchestras protested “canned music,” but their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, and because theaters no longer had to hire orchestras to accompany films, their overhead costs were drastically reduced. The talkies also ended a number of acting careers, as actors with thick accents or strange voices found themselves without jobs.