Friday, September 5, 2014

This talking picture business will never get off the ground!

I am a serious student of strange, especially late at night when I should be sleeping. It does something to my brain, I suppose. For some reason I got on the topic of the very first sound film, knowing it had nothing to do with Al Jolson and that racist monstrosity he made in 1927. The Jazz Singer was nothing but a sampler anyway, a weak silent film with a few songs patched in.

When I get into these topics, I find clips from film archives that are heavily watermarked, or whatever you call it when there are labels covering the picture and numbers spinning all over the place. It ruins them, really, but in this case I have no choice. This is from Huntley Archives, whatever that is, and it looks like a headless mannequin standing on a stage whirling around while singing in a voice like a mosquito. The whole thing sounds like it's on the wrong speed, with the male chorus sounding like munchkins. Somebody's idea of a sound experiment.

But this one is even older and freakier - Edison's first attempt to synchronize film with a wax cylinder recording. They've recreated the cylinder in a way which is quite plausible, but naturally you can't hear it here. Suffice it to say that it's squeaky. I'm convinced the synchronization is real, however, as I used to play the violin and know what to watch for in fingering and bowing. The men dancing together tells us a bit about Edison's sexual orientation. I think it turned him on, and, let's face it, he was the boss.

My favorite part is where the guy walks into the frame on the left - hey, maybe that's Edison! - and just sort of disappears. Time traveller? You decide.

Where do I get this stuff? I found lots of film shorts, mostly of singers, which were made years in advance of Jolson's notorious "first sound film". Here we have another strange Jewish singer, Eddie Cantor, also known as Old Banjo Eyes. He had a strange manner on-stage, a sort of skipping around that wasn't quite dancing. The film and sound seemed perfectly synchronized to me.

Some weird German thing. Here the sound was on a phonograph record, I suppose recorded at the same time that they filmed this poor cuss wailing his brains out.  I don't know how they got it all to come out at the same time. I also don't know who watched it, as it was 56 seconds long. I mean. . . you'd go to the theatre; you'd pay your money. . . you hired a babysitter and everything. . . and it's all over before you have a chance to sit down and get comfortable!

I love logos and headers and countdowns and intertitles and even end credits, when they're done stylishly. I like the wobbliness, unsteadiness of this, the flickering (for some reason the flickering really turns me on). This was a Bing Crosby short, and the fact that it was Mack Sennett tends to say it's late 1920s. Crosby looks shockingly young and his voice has not yet reached full bloom. I've lost track of the YouTube video, but if I find it, I'll giff him for sure.

This is from another film, but it will have to do. He sang very slowly in those days.

POST-POST POST: It struck me this morning as a bit weird that I was posting silent gifs about early sound film. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I keep finding them, however - this one was made in the early '20s and represents a man reading a monologue by Dickens, but to me it looks like we're watching the old guy die.

Order The Glass Character from:

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Footlight Parade Redux: I can't wait to see it again!

And here are a few delicious gifs I made LAST time I saw it: