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Fox News: The Mightiest of All Newsreels

The Silent Years 1919-1926

The silent newsreel Fox News was established in 1919 by William Fox, the founder of the Fox Film Corporation. Though Pathe, Vitagraph, and Hearst Newsreels all had a head start producing short documentary news films, otherwise known as actualities, the Fox production became the longest continuously running newsreel of them all, operating from October 11th, 1919 to September 26th, 1963.

Along with the nascent radio industry, the newsreels were widely seen as ushering in an era of immediacy and transparency; according to the journalist Lowell Thomas (the original 'anchorman' of Fox Movietone) the newsreels were for prestige more than they were for profit. President Wilson, in his letter of congratulations to Fox wrote 'The motion picture industry as an educator and as a power for good can be made of the greatest service to the nation and to the world and I congratulate the company on it's public-spirited plan".

Prior to the advent of sound, text was required to describe the scenes at hand. These intertitles not only provided context for the silent images onscreen but they made the world wide distribution of newsreels economical, as editors simply subsituted english intertitles with the regional language. Thus, Fox News was distributed to a world wide audience.

Unfortunately, due to the instability of nitrate film stock, most of the early Fox Newsreels are forever lost to history. In addition to being combustable, nitrate produces oxygen as it burns, making nitrate fires extremely hazardous and difficult to extinguish. It is surmised that over 90% of all early nitrate films made prior to 1929 have been destroyed. The bulk of the silent Fox News nitrate collection is held by the University of South Carolina's Newsfilm Library.

Fox Movietone News: It Speaks for Itself

The Advent of Sound 1927-1963

Over the years, various attempts were made to bring sound to the motion pictures. Live musical accopaniment was a mainstay of cinema's theatrical experience (thanks in part to the Fox practice of hiring organists to play in their theatres) but by the mid 1920s this remnant of vaudeville was being phased out.

In 1926 Warner Bros. developed the Vitaphone sound-on-disk system which involved the use of a phonograph, requiring a projectionist to match a cue frame at the head of the film to a start groove on the corresponding record. The two devices were then mechanically sycnronized to produce early sound pictures. However, in order for the brain to perceive sound and picture in unison, they must be synchronized within a few milliseconds or the experience is disconcerting- the gramaphone solution proved too idiosyncratic to meet those exacting tolerances.

In 1926 William Fox partnered with Theodore Case and Earl Sponable to form the Fox-Case Corporation. Case and Sponable had been working on a optical sound sytem which translated audio directly from the filmstrip and synchronized it with the image. The technological elegance of the sound-on-film system proved itself an industry standard, which saw Fox buying the patents outright from the inventors. Thus Fox Movietone News was born. The first newsreel ran on NOVEMBER 1927.

Movietone News opened production offices in New York, Great Britian, France, Germany, and Australia. By December of 1928 fifty six field units were cranking out newsreel coverage from thirty different countries. In 1929 Fox Movietone joined into a partnership with Hearst Metrotone News forming the Fox-Hearst Corporation lasting five years. In 1934 the partnership disolved and Fox Movietone News retained the lions share of the footage, having secured the released newsreels and outtakes from both the Hearst and Movietone productions.