Der Brandstifter

Watching quiz shows can be interesting: a Flemish knowledge quiz once asked the question what the first words in “The Jazz Singer” were:

a. You ain’t heard nothing yet
b. A hard man is good to find.
c. Are you talking to me?

… but much more important was the introduction to the question. It told us “The Jazz Singer” (1927) was not the first film with sound. The Germans were first in 1922 with a film called “Der Brandstifter”. It wasn’t a success, unlike “The Jazz Singer”, which is why that film is now seen as the first movie with sound.

Okay, it’s an odd subject for this silent section, but on the other hand it still took the cinema a few years to incorporate sound and vision.

So back to “Der Brandstifter”. I had never heard of this film (not even in books about film history), so I wanted to share this piece of information.

I found some info on it: “In 1922 the FIRST sound-on-film was presented at the Alhambra Kino in Berlin before an audience of 1000 people who had been invited to watch films made by the Tri-Ergon process. It was called Der Brandstifter (The Arsonist) and Erwin Baron played seven of the nine parts.”

In 1922, the Tri-Ergon Light-Tone process, which inscribes sound as a light track on the edge of filmstrips, is first presented in Berlin and becomes in its time one of the leading sound-movie techniques. The name Tri-Ergon refers to its three inventors: Vogt, Massolle und Engl. (Media Art Net)

I dug up some more info on the Tri-Ergon process, but that’s in German:

Das Tri-Ergon-Lichtton Verfahren Im Rahmen einer Matinee wird im Berliner Alhambra- Lichtspieltheater am 17. September 1922 der Film “Der Brandstifter” uraufgeführt. Er ist der erste Spielfilm mit integrierter Lichttonspur. Die Erfinder der neuartigen, ‘Tri-Ergon’ genannten Systems sind die deutschen Ingenieure Hans Vogt, Jo Benedict Engl und Joseph Massolle, die von der Radiotechnik zum Film gekommen sind.

Ihr neues Verfahren ermöglichte eine zeitliche Übereinstimmung von Bild und Ton und geht damit weit über die u.a. von Oskar Meßter und Léon Gaumont entwickelten Methode der Koppelung von Filmprojektor und Grammophon hinaus.

Das Tri-Ergon-Verfahren beruht auf dem Prinzip der Umwandlung von Schallwellen in elektrische Impulse, die wiederum in eine Lichtspur transformiert und so auf dem Filmtonstreifen festgehalten werden. Beim Abspielen werden dann die auf dem Filmband festgehaltenen Signale in elektrische Impulse zurück verwandelt, die ihrerseits die schallerzeugendie Membrane zum Schwingen bringen.

Die Filmproduzenten sind zu diesem Zeitpunkt jedoch nicht an dem Verfahren interessiert, weniger aus technischen als vielmehr aus künstlerischen Gründen. Tatsächlich kann sich der “tönende Film” aus diesem Grund noch nicht durchsetzen.

A site called Film Sound History explains the Tri-Ergon process:

Three German inventors, Josef Engl, Hans Vogt, and Josef Engl patented the “Tri Ergon” process. In 1922, Tri-Ergon announced the development of a glow lamp light modulator for variable density recording of sound. The Tri Ergon Process uses a technology known as variable density, which differed from a later process known as variable area. The Tri Ergon process had a pattented flywheel mechanism on a sprocket which prevented variations in film speed. This flywheel helped prevent distortion of the audio. Tri Ergon relied on the use of a photo-electric cell to transduce mechanical sound vibrations into electrical waveforms and then convert the electrical waveforms into light waves. These light waves could then be optically recorded onto the edge of the film through a photographic process. Another photo-electric cell could then be used to tranduce the waveform on the film into an electrical waveform during projection. This waveform could then be amplified and played to the audience in the Theater.
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