JF Ptak Science Books Post 2162
"Motion-picture and method of producing the same."
I've written a note earlier on this blog about the history of word balloons--it is the stuff that we think of today as the little clouds filled with words over the heads of comic book characters and such, but which had a long history stretching back at least to the Renaissance when speech was illustrated in a similar way, but with lovely scrolls instead of blank clouds (as we see above).
See for example:
- The X-Ray of the Imagination: Internal Dialog, Demons, Humors, and Picturing the Stuff of Thought--On the outer shapes of the inner container
- Word Balloons (Continued): an Early Version in a Printed Book, 1523
- There's also a few posts on the visualization of thinking, which comes close to this topic but not quite, as illustrated in teh post on Francis Galton's groundbreaking and probably-the-first-paper-on-synesthesia Visualizing Numeracy)
The following illustrations though come at a great expense to the imagination, and were a weak but fully patented attempt to replace spoken-word captions in the pre-audio motion picture--that is silent films before the Talkies. In general I guess the complaint with illustrating speech during a photoplay was that the text card was a breakaway from the moving-picture part of the experience, necessitating a clean break from action so that the audience could read about what was being pantomimed.
Folks were well underway in processes to produce sound motion pictures, though up to this point--1917--the systems were separate recordings of sound and speech which would be played in conjunction/synchronously though not necessarily at exactly the right moments with the motion picture. Edison was hot on this trail but with blemished trials, combining his kinetoscope and phonograph in very early and novel attempts at producing a sound motion picture in the first decade or so in the development of moving pictures. The next 20 years in this development are fairly complex, but the matter is fairly well solved by at least three different technologies by 1923 with the production of successful continuous sound-on-film motion pictures, and then most famously and successfully debuting with The Jazz Singer in 1927.
And then there is this colossal bit of overdeveloped-underdeveloped thinking that would link the seamless word of not needing text card interruptions with non-spoken speech--and coming just this shy of not meaning anything at all. The work is that of Charles F(elton) Pidgin (1844-1923) who was a very successful author of genre/historical romance books (though he did have an interesting-sounding title in The Letter H, a Novel). He was also an engineer of some sort with some advanced patents in calculating machines and devices, which is the way I came to his name (via a letter I have written to him by the director of the U.S. Census rejecting his tabulating apparatus because it basically produced too much info for too much money, but that's another story).
Pigdin's idea--in short--was to have an inflating paper text bubble issue from the mouth of the actor during a scene--in that way the view could see what the other actors on the screen were "hearing".
[Source: the lovely Google Patents, here.]
I know this might sound as though I'm judging a technological effort from the vantage point of the idea's deep future, but I believe that this idea was a truly bad one right from the moment of conception, a two-beer idea that should've stayed in the bar, no matter if it was 1917 or 1967 or 2017. Sometimes bad ideas are just bad ideas, top to bottom--and some of them are timesless, like this one.
And from Pidgin's patent, explaining it all: