Phonoscenes is the name given by the industrialist Leon Gaumont to cinema films synchronized to phonographic recordingsaccording to the method of the Chronophone developed byGeorges Demenÿ , a defector of the “Station physiologique” (laboratory) of Étienne-Jules Marey , who were recorded in 1902 under the direction of Alice Guy , the first female film director . These are among the first examples of musical films , after those of Phono-Cinema-Theater .

The chronophone was based on an approximate timing of a phonograph with a camera shooting, first at size 58 mm Gaumont, then the international standard size, 35 mm of Thomas Edison . Synchronization was rendered by the same device during the projection. The start of each machine was done at the same time, but there was no link – mechanical or electrical – between the two, to ensure and maintain any synchronism of the course of the film with the emission of sound.

The technique of manufacture was first to record a song by etching on a cylinder of wax (and later on a wax disc) using a steel needle activated by the vibrations of sound on the membrane who was wearing it. Then, on the film set , we set the camera in motion at the same time as a phonograph: this is what we call today a playback ; the singer followed the recording of his own voice and the accompanying orchestra. The trick avoided to restart a shooting because of a problem of recording or interpretation. The phonoscenes are in the form of a footprint (called the middle plane) of about 3 minutes. For other performances than songs (sketches, monologues), the engraving was done on the set itself, at the time of filming 1 .

The production of phonoscenes can be classified into four categories: songs, popular opera arias, operetta tunes and finally a last category grouping dance scenes, monologues, skits, fencing assaults 2 . Another name, the filmparlants gathers comic sketches.

The era of phonoscène (1902-1917)

Experimental production begins in 1902. The first catalog dates from 1907 . Disappointed at the outbreak of the First World War , which destabilizes European cinema (discontinuation of Georges Méliès productions , for example), the dissemination of phonoscenes ceases permanently in 1917 3 .

Phonoscène of theater are presented at the 39 th  Street in New York on 5, 6 and 7 June 1913 4 .

Jean-Jacques Meusy estimates at 774 the number of phonoscenes produced by Gaumont 5 . The online catalog of the Gaumont-Pathé archives lists today 140.

Before the Scopitones and the Cinephonies , the era of phonoscenes presents one of the “paratactic histories” of the clip 6 , 1 .


Phonoscenes are first presented in exceptional sessions organized by Léon Gaumont at the Academy of Sciences . Gaumont reproduces the strategy of Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers  : to validate technical progress by learned institutions. From 1907, the diffusion widens (fairs, brothels , breweries, café-concerts …) at the same time as the cinematographic projection settles down . From 1910, the diffusion is at the same time regular (4 new phonoscenes per week) and massive (several thousands of spectators per day in Paris).


Besides the fairground projection, Martin Barnier evokes broadcasts the New Alcazar in March-April 1910 and at La Scala in the summer of 1912 until the declaration of the war of 1914-1918 7 .


Martin Barnier evokes a massive diffusion (thousands of spectators) at the Hippodrome de Montpellier around 1910. At the same time, regular projections and synchronizations take place at the Guillaume-Tell brewery.

Saint Etienne

Massive screenings in the Gaumont Hall of the city from 25 April 1913 until the declaration of war 8 .


The News (a time Gaumont cinema-News Boulevard Carnot, now closed) presents phonoscenes in December 1907 9 .


Between 1910 and 1917, four phonoscenes are presented each week in the first part of the program of Parisian Gaumont cinemas . Two at Gaumont Palace and two others (different) at the Cinema-Theater-Gaumont (7, boulevard Poissonnière), in Paris.


The realization of the phonoscenes is ensured at the beginning by Alice Guy then by Louis Feuillade .

According to Bernard Bastide 10 , Étienne Arnaud directed eleven operatic phonoscenes:

  • (n ° 301) Waltz taken from Romeo and Juliet Filming on January 9, 1907.
  • (n ° 302) Cavatine extracted from Romeo and Juliette Turning on January 9, 1907.
  • (No. 303) Rachel, when the Lord extracts from The Jewish Shooting on January 16 and 18, 1907.
  • (n ° 304) Cavatine extracted from La Juive – CAVATINE Shooting on January 16 and 18, 1907.
  • (n ° 305) God enlighten me excerpt from La Juive Turning on January 16 and 18, 1907.
  • (No. 306) Duo th act extracted from the Jewish Turning on 16 and 18 January 1907.
  • (n ° 308) Evocation of the Nuns extracted from Robert the Devil Turning on January 16, 1907; August 26, 1907.
  • (n ° 319) For so much love , excerpt from La Favorite Filming on March 15, 1907.
  • (n ° 320) O Mon Fernand , from La Favorite Filming, March 15, 1907.
  • (No. 321) Duo st act extract La Favorite Turning 15 March 1907.
  • (No. 322) Gardens of the Alcazar taken from La Favorite Filming on March 15, 1907.

In England, Artur Gilbert, on behalf of the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, synchronized 33 in 1906, 54 in 1907 and 15 in 1908 ref.  desired] . No doubt he attended the special meeting organized to present the invention to Queen consort Alexandra of Denmark , April 4, 1907, and at which are presented 11  :

  • Air of the Miserere (extract from Trouvère de Verdi)
  • The Captain Song (excerpt from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore operetta )
  • Tit-Willow (excerpt from the comic opera Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado )
  • This Little Girl and That (excerpt from Albert Vanloo’s The Little Michus, Georges Duval and André Messager)
  • Serenade from Faust

First exhumation

In the fifties, a “fiftieth anniversary of sound cinema” (in 1952?) Tries to rehabilitate the memory of phonoscenes during a special session presenting the Chronophone preserved at the Museum of Arts and Crafts or the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts <refnecf >.

Television broadcast

Late 1970s

Several phonoscenes were broadcast on television during the 1977-1978 season in the weekly program Dimanche Martin produced and hosted by Jacques Martin . The sequences “The Musical of the Beyond” or the “Grand Album” allows Pierre Philippe to “transform himself into a minor in the Gaumont archives” 12 . Long before historians are interested in phonoscenes, the general public gets acquainted with this very popular program. Pierre Philippe then directed for Arte a documentary in two parts, The novel of the music hall , broadcast in December 1993, in which are also presented some phonoscenes 13.


During a Thema evening devoted to the history of the clip at the end of 2005 , Philippe Truffault’s short documentary Clipausaurus Rex evokes phonoscenes (as well as song-slides) among the earliest ancestors of clip 14 . Some phonoscenes are later published on DVD by Lobster or Gaumont.

Some phonoscenes visible on DVD or at the French Film Archives

  • (No. 136) The anatomy of the conscript by Polin (on the DVD Gaumont Le Cinéma premier vol 1 )
  • (n ° 147) White lilac by Félix Mayol (visible on the DVD Gaumont Le Cinéma premier vol 1 )
  • (n ° 149) The Polka des trottins by Félix Mayol (visible on the DVD Gaumont Le Cinéma premier vol 1 )
  • (n ° 153) At the bamboo hut by Félix Mayol ( French Film Archives ) not available on the website réf.  desired]
  • (n ° 154) Indiscreet questions by Félix Mayol (visible on the DVD Gaumont Le Cinéma premier vol 1 )
  • (n ° 155) The Matchiche by Félix Mayol ( French Film Archives ) not available in the Online Catalog ref.  desired]
  • (No. 167) The True Jiu-jitsu by Dranem (on the DVD Gaumont The Cinema first flight 1 )
  • (n ° 168) Five O’Clock Tea by Dranem (on the DVD Gaumont Le Cinéma premier vol 1 )
  • (no. 635) What a Flag by Gaston Dona (visible on the DVD includes in The Mute Has The Word ) 15
  • (No. 672) Legend of King Gambrinus 1911 (visible on DVD Lobster Film In Search of Sound ).
  • (No. 710) Opium smoker by Adolphe Bérard , broadcast at Gaumont Palace May 16, 1913, visible on DVD 15
  • (No. 762) I have Cinema , the last phonoscene broadcast at Gaumont Palace on June 29, 1917 1 . visible on DVD 15
  • (No. 774) Chemineau chimine “, the last produced phonoscene 5 visible on DVD 15 .


  • Raymond Chirat, Éric Le Roy (coll.), Catalog of French Fiction Films from 1908 to 1918 , Cinémathèque française, 1995 ( ISBN  2-900596-11-4 )
  • Rick Altman, Silent Film Sound , Columbia University Press, New York, 2004 ( ISBN  0-231-11662-4 )
  • Edouard Arnoldy, For a cultural history of cinema: in front of “filmed scenes”, “singing and talking films” and musicals , ed. of CEFAL, Liège, 2004, ( ISBN  2-87130-181-6 )
  • Martin Barnier, On the Road to the Speaking: History of a Technological, Economic and Aesthetic Evolution of Cinema (1926-1934) , ed. of CEFAL, Liège, 2002 ( ISBN  2-87130-133-6 )
  • Martin Barnier, “Technological history: the example of her before the” speaking “,” modern and contemporary History Review os  51-54, April 2004, pp. 10-20.
  • Martin Barnier, “Leon Gaumont 1864-1946” in Jean-Claude Daumas (ed.), Historical Dictionary of French Patrons , Flammarion, 2010, pp. 316-317 ( ISBN  978-2-08-122834-4 )
  • Martin Barnier, Noises, screams, film music. Projections before 1914. Preface by Rick Altman, University Press, Rennes, 2011 ( ISBN  978-2-7535-1203-0 )
  • Bernard Bastide, Étienne Arnaud (1878-1955), a biography , dissertation for the DEA, University Paris 3 new Sorbonne, under the direction of Michel Marie, 2000-2001, 272 p.
  • Philippe d’Hugues and Dominique Muller (eds.), Gaumont: 90 years of cinema , ed. Ramsay & Cinémathèque Française, 1986 ( ISBN  2-85956-540-X )
  • Henry Keazor, “Introduction”, in Henry Keazor and Thorsten Wübbena (eds.), Rewind, Play, Fast Forward: The Past, Present and Future of the Music Video , Verlag (Bielefeld), 2010, pp. 41-57 ( ISBN  3-837-61185-X ) .
  • Jean-Jacques Meusy, Paris-Palaces or the time of cinemas (1894-1918) , CNRS, 1995 ( ISBN  2-271-05361-7 )
  • Martin Pénet (compiled by) and Claire Gaussian (coll.), The song memory: 1100 songs from the Middle Ages to 1919 , Omnibus, 1998 ( ISBN  2-258-05062-6 ) ( th ed. 2001)
  • Giusy Pisano and Valerie Pozner (ed.), The Mute was the Word, Theater and Performance at the dawn of the XX th century (with DVD), AFRHC 2005 ( ISBN  2913758789 )
  • Thomas Schmitt , “The Genealogy of Clip Culture”, in Henry Keazor and Thorsten Wübbena (eds.), Rewind, Play, Fast Forward: The Past, Present and Future of the Music Video , Verlag (Bielefeld), 2010, pp. 41-57 ( ISBN 3-837-61185-X ) article on Google Books  [ archive ]
  • Thomas Louis Jacques Schmitt , “Primitive scenes. Notes on some comic genre “inherited” the concert-cafe “, in 1895, review of the French Association of cinema history Research (AFRHC) , o  61, 2010, pagination [ref.necessary] (online abstract, full text september 2013)  [ archive ]

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Notes and references

  1. ↑ a , b and c Thomas Schmitt , “The Genealogy of Culture Clip” in Henry Keazor, Thorsten Wubben (eds.) Rewind, Play, Fast Forward , Transcript, ( ISBN 978-3-8376-1185-4 )
  2. ↑ Edward Arnoldy , For a cultural history of cinema: to meet “filmed scenes” of “singing and talking pictures” and musicals , CEFAL,203  p. ( ISBN 2871301816 , read online  [ archive ] ) , p.  39
  3. ↑ ( in ) Rick Altman , Silent Film Sound , Columbia University Press ,, 462  p. ( ISBN  9780231116633 , read online  [ archive ] ) , p.  158
  4. ↑ Martin Barnier , the way to the speaking: story of a technological, economic and aesthetic cinema (1926-1934) , CEFAL,, 255  p. ( ISBN  9782871301332 ,read online  [ archive ] ) , p.  35
  5. ↑ a and b Jean Jacques Meusy , Paris-palaces or the time of cinemas (1894-1918), CNRS Éditions ,, 561  p. ( ISBN  9782271053619 , read online  [ archive] ) , p.  334
  6. ↑ “This shows, HOWEVER, que la Music Video Has not one, goal Several stories, qui are separated by breaks, breaks, endings and starting points. Therefore, what we are Witnessing now May not be the symptoms of an irretrievable break, purpose Rather hath Where the clip – once again -. begins to change, Differentiate, evolve into something new This view is confirmed if we take a look at other stories of the music video in qui the antecedents of the form Did not tie into Each Other , aim Followed Each Other paratactically . For example, the early “phonoscène” after-qui Were Produced in 1907 with a clear routine and EXHIBITED has refined correlation entre the music, the lyrics and the pictures (see the paper by Thomas Schmittin this volume) did not directly lead to the “Sounds” of the 40s and 50s. ( In ) Henry Keazor and Wübbena , Rewind, Play, Fast Forward: The Past, Present and Future of the Music Video , Transcript Verlag,, 388  p. ( ISBN  9783837611854 , read online  [ archive ] ) , p.  41
  7. ↑ Martin Barnier, Noise, shouting, film music. Projections before 1914. Preface by Rick Altman, University Press, Rennes, 2011 ( ISBN  978-2-7535-1203-0 ) p.230.
  8. ↑ Martin Barnier, Noise, shouting, film music. Projections before 1914. Preface by Rick Altman, University Press, Rennes, 2011 ( ISBN  978-2-7535-1203-0 ) p. 229.
  9. ↑ La Dépêche du Midi , December 4, 1907
  10. ↑ Bernard Bastide , Etienne Arnaud: a biography , Paris 3 ,, 544  p.
  11. ↑ Gaumont is great publicity this session by reproducing the many articles that session sparked in the London press ref.  desired] .
  12. ↑ Cf . “Pierre Philippe: The Roman of Music Hall”, and “Pierre Philippe: a crazy Music Hall”, interviews put online with the permission of the rights holders  [ archive ] .
  13. ↑ Documentary published in video VHS (Video Arte K7165 and K7166).
  14. ↑ The film file on  [ archive ]
  15. ↑ a , b , c and d Giusy Pisano and Valerie Pozner , The mute has the word: cinema and performances at the dawn of the twentieth century , French Association for research on the history of cinema,, 351  p. ( ISBN  9782913758780 )

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