Abstract: The Risk of Noise: ''Talkies,'' Market Speculation, and Dangerous Animal Spirits

Carolyn Biltoft


In 1928 the League of Nations created an International Educational Cinematographic Institute to support the widest possible circulation of films that promoted the ''Spirit of Geneva.'' The institute endeavored to negotiate a reduction in tariffs for qualifying films, accomplishing in one sweep the League's dual mandate of facilitating international cooperation and supporting freer trade. And yet, the League's efforts played out not only in the context of global depression, but also in a moment of rapid changes in the film industry. This paper uses the records of the League to explore critiques of ''noise'' as a dangerous feature of modern cultures and economies between 1929 and 1933. Linking the role of the spectator to that of the speculator, noise emerged in multilateral conversations as something that both produced (in the case of talking films) and was produced by (in the case of market speculation) unruly crowds. Furthermore, fears emerged about the extent to which noise in both films and markets could create globally contagious strains of political or economic disorder. These discussions led to debates about the extent to which populations, markets, and borders should be regulated. The League of Nations engaged with and influenced these trends until the time of the Cinematographic Institute's closure in 1937.