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The Coming of Sound to Film

In: Film and Music

Submitted By businesschool2
Words 1869
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CHAPTER 5: THE COMING OF SOUND * Films were produced with sound by 1930; to get movies across to non-english audiences subtitling and dubbing was used * Jazz singer- premiered October 6th 1927. Released by Warner Brothers- First sound film * THE IMPACT OF SOUND * Increasing costs: the synchronization of the production of the movie with the production of its sound was very costly. Needed to go to Wall Street to raise funds * More Concentrated ownership in the Industry * The language barrier ( Temporary decline in foreign film rentals) the advantage of films being silent made it universally acceptable, but with sound, Hollywood lost that advantage temporarily till they tried multi-language productions. By 1933- dubbing was used to get to their non-English audience. This was expensive * Development of new genres (music and film): new genres emerged with sophisticated comedies replaced silent comedies of Charlie Chaplin; Hollywood musical period emerged; existing genres transformed. There were also new kinds of genres in music. (Hollywood music popular in late 1920’s to early 1950’s) * Transformation of employment structure (musicians vs. script writers): musicians weren’t needed as much, which was a blow (Depression time). Screenwriters were more in demand, so writers moved towards California. They needed better writers; movies could have proper scripts and all. Journalists became sought after and established authors were hired by studios. * The Star System: they were tied to long contracts, not allowed to switch between them, but could be fired anytime - studios successfully kept costs down and controlled performers this way. THE PRODUCTION SYSTEM COMPANIES 1. The big 5 - vertically integrated companies: production, distribution & exhibition Produced movies in their own production facilities - controlled distribution systems across the country - owned many first-run theatres in huge cities. They were the most profitable: Warner Bros Metro Goldwyn Mayer (merger of several companies) Paramount Radio Keith Orpheum 1928 (only one that doesn’t exist today in some form RKO is owned differently)2 0th Century Fox. They had elaborate studios, made films throughout the year. Most theatres showed different movies each other week. 2. The little 3: production and distribution 3 studios: United Artists, Columbia, Universal: production and distribution but not as powerful as the big 5. 3. The Poverty Row: production The little 3 and big 5 could not alone meet public demand, so the poverty row only focused on production and managed the gap. - Disney, Grand National, Mascot, Producers Releasing Corporation, Monogram Republic. They generally focused on one genre. In 1930s, Disney made only one movie, in 1937 that was Snow White At first the Depression didn’t affect them much because people watched movies to get away from their realities, but by 1931, it led to reorganization. - They made more “B-movies”- low budget, formulaic films of 60 mins. - They wanted to improve the value offered to the audience and offered b-movies as part of “double-feature” (two films) model. - All the companies made B-movies. The Oligopoly Structure: the big 5 and the little 3 dominated the film industry of the US. This move was accelerated by the coming of sound - because of the cost of recapitalization (the costs of refitting production/exhibition facilities for shooting and synchronized sound were high). Thus decision making power moved to NY with Wall Street investment houses who had the money to keep the movie companies running - “advanced capitalist” (Janet Staiger). Capitalist vs. Advanced Capitalist (From 1919 to 1935) - Capitalist: the person who owned the production, had control over it - Advanced: divorce between ownership (joint-stock companies) and operation control (carried out by managers) Financing structures - Stocks: spreading ownership and earning investments - Distributors deposit: the exhibitioners would pay some of the costs, acting as finance arrangers (as they earned back the money when they exhibitioned the film). - Loans: by loan sharks, private individuals or investors

CENSORSHIP (major issue in 1920’s and 1930’s) The production code administration Hollywood wanted to have its own body of censorship so that it could reduce costs that were wasted if its movie got banned or had scenes cut. In the 1920s, the MPPDA attempted self-censorship, but because it was voluntary in nature, pressure from outside sources (Church, etc), continued. * 1930s: creation of a Production Code: a list of long dos and don’ts. Why PC wasn’t successful: * Declining profits due to the Depression: made films that were more questionable than before thinking it would attract more people - church reacted more, lobbying govt for change. * 1934: PCA (appointing Joseph Breen, newspaper man and Roman Catholic) to enforce the production code * Scripts were sent to his office and then changes/cuts/whatever were suggested and once the PCA approved, the producers went forth. Even after completion of production, PCA made sure nothing changed and then it was given a seal of approval. A movie without the seal was subject to an enormous fine and prevented from being screened. This affected moral content so much that historians divided it into Pre-Code and Post-Code periods of the 1930s.

The production Code Administration * Established in 1934 as a solution to the censorship debate- run by Joseph Breen * A form of industry self-censorship * List of Do’s and Don’ts * Lasts until 1966

THE GANGSTER FILM Always popular: like the Black Hand during silent films. But they’re so controversial that they’re the biggest reason behind the PCA. Intro of sound, as well as social problems like Prohibition and Depression transformed this genre. The big 3 gangster film: “Little Caeser,” Public Enemy, Scarface: the rise and fall of criminals. They always got punished, but the reason they were controversial were because in the midst of the movie, it’d be really glamorous. Why were Gangster films so popular? 1) Class Context - Great depression, stories of hope, for poor people who saw people amongst them become successful; social experiment going on “prohibition” 1919-33, an amendment that was passed to prohibit alcohol. This encouraged the conditions for organized crime and delegitimize the law. This is why it was appealing to the general population, but was worrisome to the authorities. The poor were able to relate to it and it looked really appealing at least until the end when the crime was usually punished. — Prohibition (1919 – 1933) — The Great Depression (1929 – 1939) — Stock Market crash —all of these echoed financial concerns and the movie joined in and made it relatable. 2) Powerful allegories: class mobility and the American Dream. In Scarface, Tony makes the “The World is Yours” ad outside his home his motto. The gangster pursuit of wealth and success is extremely important in American popular culture. Scarface was banned for more than 20 years. James Cagney, the gangster hero of The Public Enemy, later emerged as a cop in G-Men. PATTERN: ruthless ambitious gangster shoots his way to the top and dies violently at the end. They favour flashy clothes, treat women (except their mothers) poorly and show disdain for law enforcement. In 1934: The production code administration: List of Dos and don’ts. For instance, if you show a crime, the criminal should be punished. Many filmmakers ignored this form of self-censorship. Eventually however, due to religious parties, the filmmakers would submit their scripts to PCA and have it regulated in order to avoid economic loss after getting it banned if it was controversial.

CASE STUDY: THE UNITED STATES & LATIN AMERICA - American military and economic power dominated Latin America - 1823: US declared its right to intervene in the affairs of the Americas - Monroe Doctrine - 1820s: colonies of Spain wanted independence and the US wanted to keep out the Europeans who’d want to take Spain’s colonies - thus, the US was involved in the Cuban independence struggle: Spanish-American War of 1898 - 1836: Texas independent of Mexico, joined the US 9 years later leading up to the Mexican-American war of 1846-8 which Mexico lost and gave the US California, Arizona and New Mexico. - 1903: Teddy Roosevelt rebelled with Panamanians against Columbia to allow the construction of the Panama Canal - and was successful. - 1903-1934: the US regularly invaded/occupied several Latin America countries: Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico Thus, Latin Americas resented the US. They also hated Hollywood because they were represented as villains and in negative roles. Will Hays, the leader of MPPDA in 1922, had to deal with a protest by the Mexican government. - Mexico threatened to stop the import of all American films. - American film industry took Mexico seriously because 20% of foreign revenue came from there. - 1934: under the Roosevelt Administration, their attitude towards Mexico changed. The Musical 1927-mid1950s - The Jazz Singer (1927): more musical with bouts of talking Performances of dance and song crucially important to the musical genre. * Golden age of this genre in between 1927 until the mid 1950s Characteristics 1. Most films avoid drawing our attention to the fact that we’re watching a film, but musicals demystify it but proceed to add in a seamless final performance that creates a couple or something in the end 2. Musical and dance: popular cultural practices of the society 3. Seamless professionalism: they make it look effortless and enjoyable 4. Extension of music in everyday life: they took every kind of human activity and made it a basis for the musical; scenes happen everywhere, on stage and on the streets 5. Cue audience behavior: when you see audience in the movie applaud a performance, you appreciate the performance too. The Backstage Musical 1929, the Broadway Melody (movie) used the integration of backstage story with the song/dance numbers performed by protagonists to create a celebration of work on broadway/hollywood. It made $4m and won Oscar for Best picture 1929. * Representation: Class relations in America in the 1930s These movies showed the struggles of chorus girls with bossy stage directors wanting to squeeze as much labor as possible. They have male and female leads working their way up the ladder with hard work, talent anf luck. * “Don’t complain: or you’re not a team player, sabotaging everyone’s career.” Important message by Warner Bros as their employees wanted to unionize. Contradiction: they act out their struggles and all oblivious to the audience/camera, but then they do a musical number where they acknowledge themselves as dynamic entertainers and perform directly to the camera/audience. 3 Major movies of this type: - 42nd street: Cinderella-like, rise to stardom of a character with the heroine winning the heart of the leading male. - Gold Diggers: starts with chorus girls singing about having to sell themselves in various ways to survive. This start ends contrastingly with them in seamless spectacles. - Footlight Parade: from the view of a businessman who owns an almost bankrupt musical theatre. He comes up with an idea of live musical prologues before films and this is successful. —> shows the concerns faced by movie businesses. What these movies established: 1) Symbiotic relationship b/w theatre and movies: Broadway performers wound up in Hollywood, vice versa 2) Concerns of Great Depression 3) Struggles against declining box office receipts Warner bros tried to cut wages by 50%, producer of 42nd street left the studio to oppose this. Cagney, a big star, fought against these too even though he was on contract. Cagney took the studio to court and won.

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