Publication Details

Yecies, B, Talking salvation for the silent majority: projecting new possibilities of modernity in the Australian cinema, 1929-1933, in Damousi, J and Deacon, D, (eds), Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity: Essays on the History of Sound Canberra, ANU E Press, 2007, 133-158.


This chapter analyses the distinctiveness of the coming of permanent sound (the talkies) to the Australian cinema in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The coming of sound resulted in fundamental, but not uniform, change in all countries and in all languages. During this global transformation, substantial capital was spent on developing and adopting modern technology. Hundreds of new cinemas were built; tens of thousands were wired with sound equipmentthat is, two film projectors with sound attachments, amplifiers, speakers and electrical motorsand some closed in financial ruin during the Great Depression. The silent period ended and sound became projected as a symbol of progress in the metropolis and beyond. As Nowell-Smith and Ricci (1998) and Higson and Maltby (1999) point out, this incredible shift was driven principally by Westernin other words, American and Europeanfilm producer-distributors who retained a dominant influence because of their individual, and at times common, efforts to modernise their production, distribution and exhibition methods. The coming of sound, however, also gave rise to the development of local responses to these technological trends. It is the aim of this study to show how the global transition was more local than previously thought, challenging conventional assumptions about global and local business interests in the cinema industry.