1928-1929 (which, for quick reference, use the year on the right side of the double years to know which year it’s really for) is the first really interesting year for the Oscars. The first one was just, “Let’s get this thing set up.” But now — now it’s a thing. Now there are now traditions to uphold and ideals to strive toward. That is — the first year was giving out awards. Now there are precedents. So you have the beginning of what will essentially be a trend that continues to this day, which is, do they vote with what’s best, or what fits in best with the Oscars? (Usually, it’s the latter.) 1928-1929 are the first years where films could be made with the goal of winning an Oscar. Which changes things.
The other reason this year is an interesting year is quite major, historically — sound. The industry as a whole was transitioning to sound. Several films have used the transition to sound as part of their narrative, the biggest probably being Singin’ in the Rain, with the whole “Talk into the plant!” thing. And then The Aviator hinted at it, with Hughes, after the premiere, saying he has to reshoot Hell’s Angels for sound. And then The Artist, of course, covering that period from a talent standpoint. This intro is basically going to be a history of the transition to sound, because I do like to educate as well as inform.
But what makes this period most interesting is that the transition to sound wasn’t this quick switchover . They had a lot of stuff to figure out, technologically. The entire industry was set up for silent films. And now, all of a sudden, they had to, on the fly, start making films with sound. Because that’s what the audiences wanted. And it was basically an experiment for like, four years, them figuring out how to successfully shoot films with sound. (This was even before learning how to tell a story with sound.) (more…)