- Cinema and Music (1937) by Ignacio Isaza Martínez
Ignacio Isaza Martínez (b. Medellín, 20 June 1907: d. 28 July 1997) was a mining engineer with broad interests in the arts, mainly music and literature. He is mostly known in Colombia for being one of the co-founders of the Sociedad Amigos del Arte de Medellín (Society Friends of the Arts of Medellín).2 The article proposed here in English translation was published in the cultural magazine Pan, created in 1935 by a group of intellectuals from the town of Popayán, in the south of Colombia, that went under the name of Nabisco (Alunno 2014). In this one-off reflection on film music, Isaza Martínez offered an unusually informed insight from a region of the world that was far removed from the main centres of debates about cinema. Colombia did not (and still does not) have a grounded cinema industry. Film production was limited to extemporary and frequently ill-fated ventures with no hope of establishing the country’s cinematographic future. Furthermore, the movie that is traditionally considered to be the first sound film produced in Colombia – the documentary Olaya Herrera y Eduardo Santos – was released only in 1937. Sound cinema, particularly of North American, Mexican, and Argentinean production, was already circulating in the country in the late 1920s, but the first sound system of Colombian creation took much longer to find a definite way to the screen (Martínez Pardo 1978: 153–55). Carlos Schroeder, a Colombian of German descent, presented his cronofotófono (‘chronophotophone’) for the first time on 8 November 1929. However, despite the success of the premiere, very few short films were made for the new device before the above-mentioned Olaya Herrera y Eduardo Santos (ibid.: 73–78).
In the same year this documentary was released Isaza Martínez theorised on aspects of film music that were still in the back of the [End Page 87] mind of many film critics in Europe and North America. For both these reasons we think it is worth bringing the reader’s attention to this curious, isolated piece of writing from an intellectual who is remembered by his widow as ‘a responsible, honest, accomplished, joyful, and supremely cultivated person’ (Pérez Salazar 2013: 70: author’s translation).
The editor of Pan introduced the original article thus: ‘The cinephile engineer, a passionate expert with a profound knowledge of the subject, promises to continue analysing in these pages the relationship of the Art of Cinema with other aspects of modern life … and provides the Editor with some illustrations from his collection … Hopefully.’
Cinema and Music
One notices something peculiar when he decides to study the development of the phonograph and the cinema. When Edison was working on his wonderful invention,3 back in 1887: he realised that the sound would be considerably more interesting if complemented by a series of images. With this idea in mind he built the Kinetoscope, but the result was so unsuccessful that he had to abandon it shortly afterwards. Then recording technique and sound reproduction achieved the perfection they currently possess, without anyone remembering Edison’s main concern. However, some years later, the situation was reversed. At its height, the realisation came that the images of silent cinema were more interesting if accompanied by a series of sounds.
There was, in fact, a cyclical tendency of sound towards sight and of sight towards sound as a product of a somewhat intimate union of optical and aural worlds. The same forces that engendered the theatre, the opera, and the Russian ballet engendered also the present cinema, which is, after all, nothing but the outcome of natural and persistent circumstances.
Establishing whether or not sound cinema is a new art form, substantially different from silent cinema, goes beyond our scope and there are many valuable opinions supporting both sides of the argument. Perhaps things would be more straightforward if one isolated sound cinema from talking cinema, for it is obvious that, by employing the voice in a systematic manner, cinema lost some of its most relevant artistic qualities. It lost its international character...