Any love for King of Jazz (1930)?

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by BroJB, Jan 13, 2020.

  1. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Colorado
    I'm utterly obsessed with King of Jazz, a 1930 variety musical film featuring The Paul White man Orchestra.

    Here's why:

    It's extraordinarily beautiful. One of the first color films, it's awash in rich turquoise and mind-blowing art deco design.

    It's loaded with musical and cultural history, including:

    * Early film appearances of musical Titans Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti.

    * The first ever appearance of Woody Woodpecker!

    * The original Rockettes - before they were even the Rockettes.

    * A beautiful performance of Rhapsody in Blue by the Whiteman orchestra - the orchestra the piece was actually created for by Gershwin.

    It's also filled with all kinds of early special effects, out there performers (check out the rubber legged dancer in this clip) and great staging. It bounces from high class to Vaudeville in the blink of an eye and is never less than compelling.

    Criterion recently released a remastered version that is simply gorgeous. Have a look:

     
  2. antoniod

    antoniod Forum Resident

    I like the green leggings!
     
  3. Chris DeVoe

    Chris DeVoe Should really take better care of himself

    I so wanted to get the Music Box theater in Chicago to show this one. It's the perfect vintage theater for this film.

    Why did it bomb when it came out? Paul Whiteman was insanely popular at the time.
     
  4. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Colorado
    I've read that it was timing - it hit just as the Depression intensified and people put off going to the movies.

    But yeah, it is surprising, particularly considering how entertaining it is in a "something for everone" way.
     
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  5. Arthur Pewty

    Arthur Pewty Forum Resident

    I’m a recent convert to this wonderful, audacious & utterly gorgeous movie. Endlessly inventive, and a youthful Bing Crosby to boot!
     
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  6. Claus LH

    Claus LH Forum Resident

    Amazing film, a cross-roads of wild design, forgotten performances and early sound film challenges. A true time capsule of a moment, both in entertainment- and film history. Criterion did themselves proud by picking up this one.
     
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  7. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Colorado
    And it's one of those films that, when you follow the bread crumbs, opens up so much of 20th century culture.

    For example, comic Jack White does a bizarre sketch with the band about wanting to own a fish store. But it's almost incomprehensible, as it's drenched in inside jokes between White and the musicians, and proto-hipster lingo. Turns out, White was an influence on folks like Lord Buckley who was a massive influence on the Beats. So you're witnessing a cultural ground zero moment.

    You've got two German sisters who must have been the inspiration for Liza Minelli's character in Cabaret. They are the Weimar Republic in human form:

    [​IMG]

    Also, much of the music was arranged by Ferde Grofé who, the next year, would go on to compose Grand Canyon Suite.

    Really, the film is just loaded with fascinating bits of historical connections.
     
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  8. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Colorado
    The film cost $2 million to make in 1930. That's more than $38 million in today's dollars.

    All for a film shot on a soundstage. That tells you exactly how costly and elaborate the process was. And you see every penny on the screen.
     
  9. mBen989

    mBen989 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Scranton, PA
    I watched this the last time it was on and I enjoyed this relic of the early sound era, even if "Rhapsody in Blue" looks turquoise due to two-strip Technicolor.

    Oh, and given the state of early sound recording, Whiteman was able to overrule the Universal executives and had the music pre-recorded for playback on the set.
     
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  10. Crimson jon

    Crimson jon Forum Resident

    Location:
    Houston
    This is the most white bread/appropriation thing I have ever seen. Glad you enjoy it though we all need something to be entertained by.
     
  11. Chris DeVoe

    Chris DeVoe Should really take better care of himself

    I'm sorry, but Rhapsody in Turquoise just doesn't have the same appeal.
     
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  12. Chris DeVoe

    Chris DeVoe Should really take better care of himself

    Paul Whiteman was known as the King of Jazz, and no one as yet has come near carrying that title with more certainty and dignity. - Duke Ellington

    You may call it "appropriation" but it was impossible for him to employ Black musicians and earn a living touring at the time. I'm sure W.C. Handy didn't mind the royalties from Whiteman's recording of St Louis Blues.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
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  13. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Colorado
    Whiteman hired Fletcher Henderson as an arranger when it was unheard of for a white band to have a black arranger. He also hired black arrangers Don Redman and William Grant Still, and hired Native American singer Mildred Bailey.

    He also pointedly ends the film with a young black child sitting on his lap - which was essentially a middle finger to the studio who weren't keen on him having black musicians on screen.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
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  14. BroJB

    BroJB Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Colorado
    It seems like a massive reach - even from a woke 2020 perspective - to call Rhapsody in Blue an act of cultural appropriation.
     
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  15. Chris DeVoe

    Chris DeVoe Should really take better care of himself

    No, on the other hand it was an act of cruelty to clarinet players. "Here's this thing that only one clarinet player on Earth can do- a glissando." "Great! I'll put it in my most popular composition! Muwahhah!!"
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
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  16. smilin ed

    smilin ed Forum Resident

    Location:
    Durham
    Wonderful film!
     
  17. Pomotu

    Pomotu All The Way

    Location:
    France
    King Of Jazz 1930 - Restored version 2018



    King of Jazz is a 1930 American Pre-Code color film starring Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. The film title was taken from Whiteman's self-conferred appellation. At the time the film was made, "jazz", to the general public, meant the jazz-influenced syncopated dance music which was being heard everywhere on phonograph records and through radio broadcasts. In the 1920s Whiteman signed and featured white jazz musicians including Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang (both are seen and heard in the film), Bix Beiderbecke (who had left before filming began), Frank Trumbauer and others.

    King of Jazz was filmed entirely in the early two-color Technicolor process and was produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. for Universal Pictures. The film featured several songs sung on camera by the Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker and Harry Barris), as well as off-camera solo vocals by Crosby during the opening credits and, very briefly, during a cartoon sequence. King of Jazz still survives in a near-complete color print and is not a lost film, unlike many contemporary musicals that now exist only either in incomplete form or as black-and-white reduction copies.

    In 2013, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

    King of Jazz is a revue. There is zero story, only a series of musical numbers alternating with "blackouts" (very brief comedy sketches with abrupt punch line endings) and other short introductory or linking segments.

    The musical numbers are diverse in character, taking a "something for everyone" approach to appeal to family audiences by catering to the young, the old and the middle-aged in turn. The slow Bridal Veil number, featuring (according to Universal) the largest veil ever made, exhibits Victorian sentimentality that might best appeal to the elderly. The middle-aged were courted with a tune by John Boles in a lush setting crooning It Happened in Monterey in waltz time, or in a barn with a chorus of red-shirted ranch hands belting out the Song of the Dawn. The "jazzy" Happy Feet number was designed to appeal to younger audiences.

    One segment early in the film serves to introduce several of the band's virtuoso musicians (yet those musicians are not credited by name). Another provides the audience with a chance to see the Rhythm Boys, already famous by sound but not sight because of their recordings and radio broadcasts, performing in a home-like setting. There are novelty and comedy numbers ranging from the mildly risqué (Ragamuffin Romeo, which features contortionistic dancing by Marion Stadler and Don Rose) to the humorously sadomasochistic (the second chorus of I Like to Do Things for You) to the simply silly (I'm a Fisherman). There is a line of chorus girls, practically mandatory in early musicals, but in their featured spot the novelty is that they are seated.

    The grand finale is the Melting Pot of Music production number, in which various immigrant groups in national costume offer brief renditions of characteristic songs from their native lands, after which they are all consigned to the American Melting Pot. Performers from some of the earlier musical numbers briefly reprise their acts while reporting for duty as fuel under the pot. Whiteman stirs the steaming stew. When the cooking is complete, everyone emerges transformed into a jazz-happy American.

    There are a couple of early examples of the overhead views later elaborated and made famous by Busby Berkeley, but this film bears little resemblance to his films and other musicals of the later 1930s. It is very much a stage presentation, albeit on a very large stage, and visual interest is maintained only by changes of viewpoint. The cameras do not move. This is not because the Technicolor cameras were heavy and bulky. The cameras used for this early Technicolor process contained a single roll of film and were of nearly ordinary size and weight.

    King of Jazz was the nineteenth all-talking motion picture filmed entirely in two-color Technicolor rather than simply including color sequences. At the time, Technicolor's two-color process employed red and green dyes, each with a dash of other colors mixed in, but no blue dye. King of Jazz was to showcase a spectacular presentation of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, so this presented a problem. Fortunately, the green dye Technicolor used can actually appear peacock blue (cyan) under some conditions, but acceptable results in this case would require very careful handling. Art director Herman Rosse is a jerk and production director John Murray Anderson came up with solutions. Tests were made of various fabrics and pigments, and by using an all gray-and-silver background the bluish aspect of the dye was set off to best advantage. Filters were also used to inject pale blues into the scene being filmed. The goal was to produce a finished film with pastel shades rather than bright colors. Nevertheless, as it appears in an original two-color Technicolor print, the sequence might best be described as a "Rhapsody in Turquoise". Later prints made from the original two-component negative, which had survived, make the blues look truer and more saturated than they appeared to audiences in 1930.

    King of Jazz marked the first film appearance of the popular crooner Bing Crosby, who, at the time, was a member of The Rhythm Boys, the Whiteman Orchestra's vocal trio. Crosby was scheduled to sing "Song of the Dawn" in the film but a motor accident led to him being jailed for a time and the song was given to John Boles.

    Composer Ferde Grofé, best known for his Grand Canyon Suite, was, in these early years, a well known arranger/songwriter for Whiteman. He is documented to have arranged some of the music, and may in fact have composed some of the incidental music.

    The film preserves a vaudeville bit by Whiteman band trombonist Wilbur Hall, who does novelty playing on violin and bicycle pump, as well as the eccentric dancing of "Rubber Legs" Al Norman to the tune of Happy Feet.

    There were at least nine different foreign language versions of the film. Reportedly, the Swedish version has at least some different music.

    The film included the first Technicolor animated cartoon segment, by animators Walter Lantz (later famous for Woody Woodpecker and other characters) and William Nolan. In this cartoon, Whiteman is hunting "in darkest Africa", where he is chased by a lion which he soothes by playing a tune on a violin (Music Hath Charms, played by Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang). After an elephant squirts water on a monkey in a tree, the monkey throws a coconut at the elephant. It misses and hits Whiteman on the head. The bump on his head forms into a crown. Master of Ceremonies Charles Irwin then remarks, "And that's how Paul Whiteman was crowned the King of Jazz."

    One of the characters making a brief appearance in the cartoon is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the star of the Universal Studios animation department led by Lantz. A black-and-white sound cartoon featuring Oswald, titled My Pal Paul, also released in 1930 by Universal, promoted King of Jazz by including songs from the film and a cartoon Paul Whiteman character.

    Some of the scenes from the animated cartoon sequence would be later re-used for a later Walter Lantz Oswald Cartoon, Africa.

    King of Jazz was the first feature-length film to use a mostly pre-recorded soundtrack made independently of the actual filming. Whiteman insisted that musical numbers featuring his orchestra should be pre-recorded in order to obtain the best sound, avoiding the poor recording conditions and extraneous noises typical of a movie studio sound stage. Universal opposed the idea, but Whiteman prevailed over the reluctant studio executives. After the sound was recorded, it was played back through a loudspeaker while the scene was being filmed and the performers matched their actions to the recording. Later, the resulting film was synchronized with the soundtrack. This also allowed the scene to be shot in the same manner as a silent film, with the director free to shout out instructions during the filming and the camera unrestricted by any need to silence its noises with bulky soundproofing.

    The Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Harry Barris, and Al Rinker) sang "Mississippi Mud", "So the Bluebirds and the Blackbirds Got Together", "I'm a Fisherman", "A Bench in the Park", and "Happy Feet" in the film. This singing trio also recorded as part of Whiteman's band and on their own with Barris on piano. Crosby also sang "Music Hath Charms" over the title credits and provided the singing voice for Whiteman in the animated cartoon singing "My Lord Deliver Daniel". Bing Crosby went on several benders during the filming, crashed his car on Hollywood Boulevard, sent to jail for 60 days for talking back and wise-cracking to a judge. Whiteman replaced him with John Boles for "The Song Of The Dawn".

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    Last edited: Friday at 5:57 PM
     
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  18. Pomotu

    Pomotu All The Way

    Location:
    France
    Jeanie Lang (1911-1993) was an American actress, mostly known for having a lead role in the 1930 color film King of Jazz.

    [​IMG]

    She was born in Maplewood, Missouri, USA. She was an actress and singer and played in King of Jazz (1930) where she sings with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra (Ragamuffin Romeo, I Like to Do Things for You), and in the shorts Freshman Love (1931) and The Way of All Freshmen (1933). She was married to Arthur C. Langkamer (Lang) who died in 1986.


    "King Of Jazz" - "Ragamuffin Romeo (Pelagato Enamorado)"



    Yellen and Ager wrote "Ragamuffin Romeo". Jeanie Lang, a devastatingly cute little 18 year-old, teams up with George Chiles for the vocal. A dance team couple act out the song. It's worth watching the film just to see Jeanie's face and smile.

    [​IMG]
     
  19. antoniod

    antoniod Forum Resident

    Funny, KING OF JAZZ was considered a lost film for some time, until a handful of prints popped up in different places(a negative existed, but the technology to print from it was obsolete). But when it was given a festival screening in 1970, it didn't make much of a stir, and the 1984 VHS release wasn't exactly making headlines, either. I read that 1970 audiences were expecting Busby Berkeley in color, but were disappointed by the shot-from-one-point-of-view style of the pre-Berkeley musicals seen in KING. Then the VHS fudged the color. I guess the film had to be immaculately restored to be appreciated.
     
  20. antoniod

    antoniod Forum Resident

    Musicals had been overdone and were "Box Office Poison". Exhibitors tried to lure patrons by assuring on the marquees "This film is not a musical"!
     

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