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Musicians' Conditions and the Arrival of the "Talkies"

 

In October, 1928, the Musicians' Union filed a log of claims for salary increases before the Arbitration Court. For picture show musicians, the claim was :

It was at the end of 1928 that perhaps the most significant event in the history of the Australian film exhibition industry occurred. This event was announced on Boxing Day, 1928:

SYDNEY SEES FIRST SOUND FILMS.

STAGE BANDSMEN MAY BE HIT

Whereas "The Red Dance" at the Regent had merely a musical sound track, the Lyceum had secured the more innovative "The Jazz Singer", in which Al Jolson spoke and sang in short scenes:

The following week, the trade press reported that:

Sound films in themselves were nothing new; they had been around in one form or another since 1896, when the first sound film show before a paying audience was given by Oskar Messter in Berlin, using synchronised Berliner discs [Robertson, Patrick, The Guinness Book of Film Facts and Feats, Enfield, Middlesex, UK., 1980]. The first colour "talkie" had been shown in Sweden in 1911 [ibid.]. In Australia, talking films had been shown on numerous occasions previously. One typical example was at the Lyceum, Brisbane, in August, 1924:

That final word, "novelties", summed it up, for the rest of the programme comprised silent films. The titles of the sound films were not even mentioned.

Now things were different. The whole industry and the general public sensed that this was "the real thing", that talking films were no longer just a novelty, a nine days' wonder, but something which was here to stay. And they were right. Few words can have summed up a revolution more concisely, their ungrammatical and alien sound enhancing their impact, than "You ain't heard nothin' yet" [Al Jolson, Dialogue from the first spoken sequence in The Jazz Singer, Warner Bros., Hollywood, 1927].

Whereas the future for cinema orchestras seemed uncertain, to say the least, for despite the assurances quoted above, it must have been obvious to all that it would only be a matter of time before the mechanical problems would be overcome and the sound quality improved, a new rôle could develop for the theatre organ.

It was at this dramatic moment that Frank Lanterman [who was sometimes billed as Frank Latimer in Australia] arrived from America to prepare for the opening of the organ in Union's new State Theatre, Melbourne, then under construction. He had seen the advent of sound films in America, and had no fears for the future:

History, as we shall see, proved him right, and although in America the combined impact of "talkies" and the Depression sounded the death knell for most organs in theatres in the 1930s [Dr John W Landon, Behold the Mighty Wurlitzer - The History of the Theatre Pipe Organ, Westport, Connecticut, USA., 1983, pp. 87-97], the instruments gained in popularity in Australia, Britain and the Netherlands, where they were just beginning to "catch on" with the public.

Shortly before the arrival of sound films, the Director of Union Theatres, Stuart Doyle, had made comments in a similar vein:

SOUND WON'T OUST ORCHESTRAS AND ORGANS

There was indeed no lack of enthusiasm when Frank Lanterman and René Lees stunned audiences at the State Theatre, Melbourne, on 27 February, 1929, by playing duets on the only dual-console Wurlitzer installed in an Australian theatre. With four manuals and twenty-one ranks of pipes, plus a grand piano attachment, this was the largest, and only dual-console Wurlitzer ever installed in a theatre outside America. Lanterman was right - the instrument was to be featured and enjoyed by audiences for the next twenty-seven years!

Wurlitzer had, however, felt the chill wind of cancelled orders in America, and published the following very curiously-worded advertisement:

TALKIES

SYNCHRONISED MUSIC

It is difficult to determine exactly what Wurlitzer was advertising. Could it have been an organ???

Hoyt's countered the State Theatre, Melbourne's Wurlitzer with a virtually identical instrument, but with only one console, at their new Regent Theatre, Melbourne, which opened on 20 March, 1929, with Stanley Wallace at the console.

The Regent Theatre, Sydney, organ referred to here is not the eight-rank instrument with which the theatre opened, but a magnificent fifteen-rank Wurlitzer which replaced it in March, 1929.

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