Sunday, September 21, 2014

History of Movie Theaters and Organs

Ten years after Thomas Edison's decision to sell a small number of Vitascope Projectors in 1896, the number of nickelodeon theaters mushroomed. (Edison was just the manufacture, it was invented by C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat. (DaN)) These were small neighborhood film theaters in storefronts with a minimum of amenities such as hard wooden seats. They continuously showed 10- to 15-minute films that covered a wide range of topics. I have to remember that this would be before radio, let alone TV, was available. So sports highlights, newsreels (especially during WWI), "actualities" (precursor to documentaries), and "scenics" (views of the world from moving trains) complemented entertainment features. About ten years later (1913), nickelodeans were in decline -- a victim of their own success. The trend was to larger motion picture theaters and longer films that told a story, that is, feature films. (Or at least the old feature films told a story, now it seems they just wreck skyscrapers.) The first feature film was The Birth of a Nation launched in 1915. Another source claims The Squaw Man in 1913.

While the movie industry was developing, Vaudeville was going strong. It started in the early 1880s as a cleaned up and sober version of the variety shows that had been popular in saloons. Its target audience was the entire family that was visiting a large city to do shopping. The railroads made it possible for a performer to appear in many cities as part of a 42-week "circuit." Thus a performer could achieve regional, even national, fame. One estimate was that Vaudeville was employing over twelve thousand people. Females became valued performers, but not because of their talent or high singing voices. Vaudeville began to decline in the 1910s because of the growth of the lower-priced cinema outlets. But it provided a rich talent pool for the movie industry. And it was easier for performers to have films of their acts shipped across the country rather than have their body shipped across the country. On the other hand, they discovered that they had to invent a lot more jokes or other acts to keep their show fresh. The introduction of talkies in 1926, broadcast radio, and the depression caused the decline of Vaudeville. The conversion of New York City's Palace Theatre to exclusively cinema presentations on November 16, 1932, was the death knell.

Because a vaudeville magnate would own many of the theaters that was toured by his circuit of performers, he had the wealth needed to build large and fancy theaters at his best locations. These theaters, along with opera houses, developed the architectural foundation for the movie palaces built between 1910s and 1940s with the peak between 1925 and 1930. And air conditioning added to the feeling of being treated like royalty at affordable prices. The first public (non-industrial) installation of air conditioning was in the Rivoli Theater in Times Square (Slate). Theaters quickly adopted this technology because it brought in the crowds during the summer time giving rise to the summer blockbuster.

The big Vaudeville theaters had 10- to 20-piece orchestras to support the live acts. So that when they started including silent films as part of the act, the orchestra would accompany the action. But an orchestra was a significant expense. So the innovations that Robert Hope-Jones had developed for the pipe organ to make it better emulate an orchestra found a ready market in America's "cathedrals of the motion picture." He teamed with Wurlitzer, and they installed The Wurlitzer-Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra in many movie theaters. These innovations included: (ATOS)
  • Electro-pneumantic action that replaced the rods and wires between the keys and pipes with electric controls. That is, they keys were just switches that connected to wires. This created a flexible connection between the pipes and console that allowed the console to be raised and lowered by a special-built elevator.
  • Unification allowed different ranks of pipes to be controlled by different manuals. And for multiple pitches to be installed in a rank. This was made possible by placing relays in the wires between the keys and the pipes.
  • A horseshoe console was another innovation made possible by introducing electrical controls with relays. Instead of pistons on either side of the manuals, the stops were a set of tab switches arranged on a curved panel around and above the manuals.
  • Traps and sound effects were added to aid the accompaniment of silent movies. Traps were musical instruments that used pneumatically activated hammers controlled by the keyboard such as a marimba, harp, xylophone, glockenspiel and chimes. Sound effects included surf, fire bell, steam whistle, car horn, bird whistle, triangle and crash cymbal.
  • More dynamic range because of increased wind pressure and swell shades.
  • Tremulants that were smoother and broader than those of the traditional organ.
  • New tonal colors to better imitate the sounds of real orchestral instruments and to expand the tonal palette. Important new stops were the Tibia Clausa, Tibia Piena, and the Diaphone.

No comments:

Post a Comment