Monday, November 9, 2009

1930 - THE KING OF JAZZ starring the King of Jazz

By 1930 sound was here to stay. Early sound films virtually had no camera movement in them. As the novelty of people actually talking in movies wore off the studios hit on the idea of filming musical revues with popular Broadway and Vaudeville performers. A camera would be set up as if an audience were watching a play and it was deadly dull to watch as a film.
Coming in at the end of the "all singing all dancing all talking" film fad. Paul Whiteman "The King of Jazz," filmed his orchestra at Universal. Whiteman insisted on prerecording the music before filming started. He apparently realized that he would get better results with the sound quality that way. He also performed a highly abridged version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue which had he had commissioned for his orchestra in 1924.
This film is kind of a mess. Paul Whiteman actually seems to have pretty good camera presence. He is certainly more interesting than the colorless announcer who plagues the film. The Whiteman Orchestra is fun to watch (although they don't seem to be particularly jazzy) and some of the big production numbers are pretty over the top. Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys sing a couple of songs and it's easy to see why they were a successful act. Bing was apparently a big partier and gave Whiteman a lot of problems while he was in the band.
The problem with the film isn't so much the primitive film technique. The problem is the now forgotten vaudeville acts and comedy relief that are interspersed throughout the film. It appears they are forgotten for a pretty good reason, their acts are major endurance contest to and they really kill this film. If a viewer can tough it out, you will get to hear The Rhapsody in Blue performed as it was originally presented and before symphonic orchestras got their hands on it and drained the life out of it.

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