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° a m T ° 21 The Innovators 19: jazz has Inthe 20s Hollywood was not interested in the talkie: Then Sam Warner saw the potential for “canned vaudeville”, and made it happen. By Laura Mulvey The brothers Warner as inno tively to any entrepe Nowadays lack wh ferro Dise Sam arver, 2cs the US esomomy was ‘peste. inew be wrton booming, with confidence Aree pred The high asthe boom hadbeen eSige left Gathering momentum since the Depression of thers. The Bm ndstey had growa up within thee conditions, had become ollywood, and had by and lage consolidated into anoligopoly of ve major studies with vertically inte trated contol of production, distibution and exh ‘These stodioshadnointrestin rocking their success fal indus by fooling around with new technologie and had tumed thir back o thee of ling pe tures. So it was the hungry outsiders ~ the brothers ‘Wamnerand Wiliam Fox who were prepared tke chances nthe hope of breaking nto the closed cide ofthe major Aithe ephnning of 1925 Warner Bos had no fist aecesiies for major profits and satus Hay, who had ran the brother nance since Sam acquired thee ft poetort exhibit The Get Tan Rolo in 903, wasn the ook ot for large amount ofou sid investment to fund his expansion plans. A the Same time Wad Catching, an investinent banker ‘with Goldman Sachs wasn the lok out for another buitable business to launch into a major national errs ie hadaleady masterminded the growth fof Woolworths and Sears Roebuck) He approved of the way Hany ran Warner Bros. and ape t ast tank ret wo nance a master pla of expansion and to join the Board of directors Catching’ Wall Set cre opened the doors of banks that ‘he film industry. During 1935 Warner Bros acquired the old Vitagraph Company, including it Brooklyn studio its distribution structure and ten major the anes In this phase ofthe expansion the question of Sound never aos, but sound was the bass for what ‘wast become the second phase inevitable by the mid 208 that sound fm would become reality On the one hand by 2924 the Base technology was in place developed in Bell abs, the research wing of Western Electr, On the other the dominated by new ound technologies Bao andthe record companies had opened up mass market for poplar mesic while dancehall and vader wee Booming Afterall, this was the face age~ and the movies were geting behind, out ofsynch wit the rusiesuffsed atmosphere ofthe times As pat ofits fist expansion plan Warner Bros scquted a ado sation, the fist Holywood studio to oso. KWDCrmarked the transition to phase two. The 4 flation gave Sar, who ran i, the opportunity to Warner sound vehicle, represents a key moment in expecting Sam and Abe join them fom Las Ange- develop his interest in electronics. He became pe ‘the history ofthe US entertainment industry and le Rut Sm wa in hoeptl after an operation on his sonal fiends with the Westen Electric repent record the tensionsin US popularcultueata trans chronic sings condition reveled a serious mastoid in Los Angee, Nathan Levinson, who invited him to onal moment. Andthirdistheway heperonalcon- infection. He died, aged 42, only houre before his demonstration in New York ofthe results of the tribution Sam made to the coming af synch sound brotheremanaged toreach the WestCoast. wae gen. company's researchanddevelopment intosound syn wea dramaticaly realised erally believed that the gruelling task ~ fom June chronlsation for fm. Sam sav immediatly tht SamvsssteleverHedvewhinod inte weds 5 Ober spy ef sound cul fer he compete eg hat woud of contemporary Warner Bro. technician, “ok launching Warner fist take Wamer Brox beyond Harry safe coune of Tne and sinker into sound cinema taking esonst AN SOBSOM nd pictures had liter expanded vera ntegation neal he pitfalls and biiyforpodacngalthestuivseadypoganmes, OUGHE tO Sty kei im posites mor nancial gable His problem inating inhisticesssypendsinct the podac Hollywood ut tefore Sar could woul be to convince ary thee wasafutce nay: tan of Teer Shs opening. in Wares? NEw ae fect toe Warnet Be, chroied sons i York theatre, was timed to coincide with the Day of tin-pan alley story Harry had to estab- 1¢ various stories of how Sam tricked Harry into | Atonement which ome the backdrop tothe trys AMM EME MEW Fn sold economic base attending a demonstration a el Labs in May 1935 narrative climax Hany and ck were in New York, BHCHCHHMUSEE for expansion. In he md arenow partofmovielegend Hany shared eres > “4 ofthemovieindusuy’sopinionoftalking pictures: both his and Sam's accounts of what happened ‘confirm that any iden of "talking™ was avoided Sam pesuaded Hany to attend a demoastation of "an instrument that wou bring the best music, the best soices and the best instrumentation to the smallest places in the world” The demonstration fm ‘cluded a small ban playing jazz Sar recalls “He fell harder than ai” Torthe Warerssynchronised sound didnot mean the talkies it simply meant the adition of ong and msi to motion pltues, Harry, who with his siter Rose had won dance championships in his yout, i said to have remarked evealingly to Catchings “Hit ‘an talk, then it ean sing” This sentiment was cer tainly in keeping with the ve peformanceisreen croesover spirit of an era when twas customary for exhibitors to put on vaudeville acts as prologue toa sain feature. At the same time Broadway wae wit nsising a series of smash hit variety shows, and to lm thet popula song and dance numbers would be to extend these lve acts into mechanical reproduc tion and mas distribution The fist intended we of sound cinema therefore, was or"canned vaudeville ‘After Warners and Westem Electrics fist agre rentinune 1925 Sam devoted himselfo the process fof learning about sound recording and to making ‘hom flins as prlogues. Warner Bros and Western lecrc formed the Vitaphone Corporation in April 1926 giving Warners the exclusive licence to record andseproduce sound fs on Wester Electic equip ment, Sound technology evolved out of electronics, snd one ofits key elements wa the audion vacua tube originally developed by Lede Forest for amp fying sound in cinemas, For cording, Westen Elec: tric concentrated on the sound on die method. ‘Wester Hlectee was owned by ATET, which by the mid 208 was on of the largest companies inthe ‘world Not only had itbeen able to fund esearch and evelopment at Bell Labs, but itcould buy up patents, Fight off challenges fom other patent holders and ‘most imporanty activate the conversion of theatres to sound, providing skied technicians and where ccesirysdning exhibitors who cold not afford to have their theatres wired. Ultimately it would prove impossible for Warner Bros. to maintain an cTusve licence on the production of Wester Elec tric sound films, but by that time the studio had reached equal stats with the big ive and moved ts ‘ound operation from New York wo Holywoud ‘The Jaz Singer was 2 Topical extension of the “eanned vaudeville” idea But forthe fit Vitaphone programme Sarn had compiled a series of shorts that tended towands high caltue, sing sar singers frm the Metropolitan Opera and adding a specially com posed soundtrack ~ played bythe New York hikar ‘monic Orchestra tothe fon Barrymore feature Dat Jur. Warners publicity drew attention othe educa tional. democratsing aspects ofthe new invention" will makeit possible for small own theatres to have ‘he same musical accompaniment a that enjoyed by ‘he biggest theatres the word over lions of peo ple wil be educated toa inr appreciation ofthe best, ‘sic that has everbeen writen. ‘The second Vitaphone programe, backing the ‘Sydney Chaplin feature The Bete’ Ol clued jazz quartet anda short called Al aso ina Plantation Ae. Jolson was big star eho had taken blackface into ‘mainstream vaudevile performance. Sm pad him ‘525.000 for his appearance. The programme azo es tured Gcorge Jessel who was appearing on Broadway atthe me in The faze Singer. With this programme Warners moved beyond showcasing is new product to finding a place for it within existing popular ive cententinmenteultue The choice of The faze Sher forthe next Warner ros-soundfeature-and the subttutionoffoson for Fes, who had originally een contracted to star ~ reflected the transitional state of US popular culture The film ie by no means a masterpiece it cannot be compared to Murnau’ Suri A Song of Tus Humans (aay which Wiliam Fox would produce with no- dialogue soundtrack to showcase his sound.on film ocess Movietone. Nor di it represent the 208 new ‘eave thich wa taking the entertainment indstry Dy storm: back perfonmers who were bringing a2? culture into the mainstream, But it does drama, ‘unlike anyother movie, the way poplar alr con tebuted to the Decoming'American’ process for immigrant communities, and the place of lewish ‘entertainers within it AsScotByman ay<"The azz ‘Singer marks one ofthe few ies that the Hollywood Jews allowed themscives to contemplate thei own central cultural myth andthe conundrums that 20 svithit” Michael Rogin, in Blacfce, White Noe, gives a compelling analysis of this phenomenon. He ab points out thatthe fils stor of generational conflict, between jewish blackface vaudeville stat aki Rabi nowite and his patiarchal cantor father not oaly drawson the proces of asinsiation ~the move outof the Jewish gheto into showbusinss and Broadway — bot pushes the pastpresent conflict into the criss of cinema itself He cites Robert Sherwood 1927 com ‘ent=‘Al sit down atthe piano and sings BlueSky" (Gi) to his mother His father enters the room and realises thathishouseis being profaned with jazz and shouts Stop! Atthis point the Vitaphone withdraws. Sams own Ey marriage to jaiymonttuitinostors a Ziegfeld girl echoes Jakie’s in double migration that of heir families to the United States and of their {industry o California. Ca fornia represented a new ‘the film newness inwhichthe East Coasts pheton ethnic ties and tadion could fast Cont th be left behind. From this perspective The fc Singisaretur of the epee ‘ut o keping ith the elegant and energetic in rate moder Holywood asin the rss of Per fectng Jolson brought th himall th eonance of the Lower Bast ‘Sie and np lly, the plylt sting potandonlysemakvowledged inten thenew uanblack mus Blacksface and intel acts weretoalintens and rose thing ofthe poston the New York tag, eve by Joins sce and then gven another tes of eb his aval on the Holywood screen Meanwhile, the boom inthe music busines was pening up a pce for lack artists apd thei music Hany nd Sam choice of Te fz Sige was om thi penpectve both conervaive and ail Joon sas fhe adored tar of thet youth; New York and above roadway, was the obvious pact look fr sound; which wa tl fr them, ong But wih che retumio New York the Warners ret othe sce the Je cla es that Hollywood had scendedAndthe olson lao asthe question of what woud iced blackface ss Hollywood earned tosing? Could th Black ace oon become aie ino Holywood fr actual ack peeormes some ang ack ae had aleay been or lackenteain ers on the stage? The answer isin Hollywood feo the ich posites ered by Black per formersin the carly yearsfsound ‘Sam Warner sown martioge prallelakie'sin The Jazz Singer although he ded some ine before Holy wood’ response f sound woald be arcu Re Erodes the other strand of The fre Sor story andsomethingofhe industry ltimateretirn othe wie metho marked mage of pre ale dys In The Jc Shige’ ia ea With Jew ish pst repsented by his romance with Mary (May McAvoy) teal American gene costar fi Branay show: The story reflects generational split within the Warner fail als Harywasextemely Conscious of hs ewihnes and aware ofthe need do constant bate gains ant Seti Sa onthe contan, aot only allowed his lewshnes to £0 ‘marke, bt tothe horror of hi family mare Lina Baguette gente anda fel gil bathisage whom esawon tage the eles ing thet New York n which Har decided Sum toy phono papi would be the fture of moving pstares Lina Snd Mary epitome the whiteness Hllwond would Ths cia was followed bythe Wall Suet crash, which i the entrainment busines hard, most of AI ts ling lack conser marke. The black performers signed up to do vaudeville shorts and fen for ashor pra atresrepesentedome of the bet in showtusines~ Bat nt fr Holywood. sam Warnes sgienee forthe arial ofsound JnHolywoodisdu party tbispersnalenthusiam, forthe ew technology, hi faction as wager for the new age hat was aleady waiting fn he wings ‘This he historical side of the story the meting tetween eas and economies personel by the els tlonhip between Sam and Harry and thee soe f Guent negation of a technology into a Showbasinss reality. But hese two Ware oes £ ‘nc also emblematic ofthe confit of tanstonl ‘omen in US popular entrain hat wes 5c thn cltzeslont tothe maintcam i Mares bon Al ason ef wa the adored star Sam andar Waar