Sunday, 1 September 2013

Harold B Franklin's Sound and Motion Pictures

Following on from the previous blog in our series on Harold B Franklin's 1929 book Sound Motion Pictures this post will take a closer look at what made the author so well placed to write about the motion picture industry.
Harold B Franklin

His IMDb page states that Franklin was a booking agent and then theatre manager prior to becoming involved with Famous Players-Lasky, Fox and, later in his career, Columbia. This was, by anyone's standards, an impressive CV. The chronology suggested here also places Franklin at Famous Players-Lasky (later named Paramount) at another pivotal point in motion picture history as the firm began its policy of vertical integration and block blocking, which ultimately came undone in the courts in and around the time he must have started on his book.

This involvement with three of the 'big six' motion picture companies saw Franklin well placed to observe the practices and progress of what was still at that stage a fledgling industry. Although he may have recorded some of his own activities, the Harold B. Franklin collection certainly sounds interesting but sadly does not appear to contain anything especially revealing about the author or his work. Which is a shame as Sound Motion Pictures certainly suggests that his insights into the industry were not confined to theatre management or business practices:

Voice problems were given serious consideration, and after much experimentation and many tests by qualified university men  it was found that the greatest success was attained by players who read their lines with perfect naturalness. It was also demonstrated that, though the legitimate drama had to take into consideration the fact that the voice must carry in a theatre, this issue was not of importance in the making of motion pictures, since the microphone used in the recording of dialogue for the latter was able to pick up even the slightest whisper. If actors of the speaking stage are thus finding a new field for their talent, actors of the silent screen equally are showing amazing versatility. They are finding their voices, so to speak, and are discovering in talking pictures a new form of expression that lends greater scope and variety to their art.

So, away from the money-making aspect of the movies it seems Franklin also understood the artistic potential for actors to express themselves as well as the benefits of natural performances in contrast to the 'pantomime' of silent cinema. Despite this it wasn't until much later in his career that he got involved with the creative side of the business.

Given his interest in sound, both of Franklin's own forays into movie production are particularly interesting; the lead actor of Gambling (1934), George M.Cohan, was a songwriter whose credits also included The Jazz Singer whereas The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940) featured one of silent cinema's biggest stars- Buster Keaton.  Directed by long-time Keaton collaborator, Edward F Cline, and written by an Elbert Franklin (surely a relative of the producer) The Villain Still Pursued Her  is an odd yet interesting film. A metafictional parody of melodrama (it's practically a filmed pantomime), the characters ham it up in ways that are the antithesis of the 'naturalness' its producer had stated was required for talkies. The large amount of physical comedy and use of inter-titles though suggests that the satire here was aimed just as much as silent film as melodrama. Although nowhere near as inventive or sophisticated as Sherlock Jnr. (1924) Keaton in particular shines, and the film's playful and creative use of sound (diegetic applause and hissing from the audience) hints that Franklin's interest in the subject was something which ran deeper than just its academic study. 

Inter-title from The Villain Still Pursued Her

Good, old-fashioned slapstick 

Buster Keaton in The Villain Still Pursued Her

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