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I Bet You Didn't See... The Dickson Experimental Sound Film

Click this link to the film, and listen carefully for the opening line.


The film you have (hopefully!) just watched is called The Dickson Experimental Sound Film. It was made in 1894. Thomas Edison had decided to move on from his 'Kinetoscope', a reel of film one person could watch through a small eye-piece for up to a minute, to wanting to add sound to them. William K.L. Dickson assisted Edison, and as he is the only identifiable person on screen, it has been named after him.


Initial experiments failed, but ultimately a wax cylinder of the sound recording played alongside the moving image became viable. Their issue was this - how to get it synchronised?


I came across this in the opening pages of a book called "In Search of Lost Films" by Phil Hall. This will feature more in the future as I delve into the mystery of missing cinema, but I had to share a piece of unique history that a lot of people don't realise exists.

The broken wax cylinder sound track

The sound track was considered lost for 70 years before being discovered in Edison's artifacts. It was a fractured and broken cylinder. Organisations stepped in to fix the cylinder and help sychronised both. The rejoined film and sound track was first exhibited back in 1999 (105 years after it was made). Originally made in 1894, the film is now 128 years old.


Below is the transcript of what the original video description says which runs for the first 57 seconds.


"The film you about to see (and hear!) was shot sometime in late 1894 (or 1895) at Thomas Edison's laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey [USA[, by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson. It was a test for Edison's "Kinetophone" project, the first attempt in history to record sound and moving image in synchronization.

"The wax cylinder soundtrack, however, was believed lost for many years. Tantalizingly, a broken cylinder labelled "Violin by WKL Dickson with Kineto" was cataloged in the 1964 inventory at the Edison National Historic Site.

"In 1998, this cylinder was repaired and re-recorded at the Rogers and Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound, Lincoln Centre, New York.

"The work-in-progress presented here is the first time the original film image and wax cylinder sound track have been rejoined, synchronized and exhibited since Thomas Edison, W.K.L. Dickson and their colleagues witnessed them over one hundred and five years ago.

"It will be repeated three times.

"Listen carefully, and before the film starts you can hear someone say "Are the rest of you ready? Go ahead!""


So, are you ready? Go ahead!




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