Sunday, July 20, 2008

#2: The Broadway Melody (of 1929) (1928/29)

The Broadway Melody

The Broadway Melody, later referred to as The Broadway Melody of 1929 to distinguish it from subsequent installments made in the 30s and 40s, won the Academy Award for Best Picture (which at the time was actually called Best Production) in the 1928/1929 Academy Awards, held on April 30th, 1930. It was the first non-silent film ("talkie") to win the award for Best Picture, and interestingly, it was originally planned to be partially silent, but things were going so well during the filming that it was decided to make the whole thing a "talkie." You can read all sorts of interesting stuff about it at IMDB, The Greatest Films, and Turner Classic Movies.

I watched it this afternoon, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved it or was mightily impressed, I liked it well enough. I thought it was a decent effort for a bunch of movie stars who were making the hard transition from silent films, who were apparently being combined with vaudeville stars who had experience doing things like singing, dancing, and, er, actually talking on screen. Bessie Love was my favorite, starring as "Hank," a tiny spitfire of a woman who gave a pretty decent performance, though in the end, she was all noble and self-sacrificing when her lousy boyfriend (IMHO) fell in love with her supposedly much more beautiful sister. Okay, let's just say this movie isn't extremely heavy on plot, but then that's not what you'd expect from a movie entitled "Broadway Melody" -- you'd expect a flimsy plot as a delivery vehicle for some singing and dancing. The singing and dancing was interesting -- somehow, I would expect 1929 to be more prudish, even though I know that's not really realistic. I also find that I relate better to movies from the 40s and even the 30s than I do to movies from the 20s. It's a strange phenomenon that I found a little bit while I was watching this show. It recalled to mind watching a Katherine Hepburn silent film with my grandma, who was born in 1923. The movie was probably made when my grandma was only a few years old, and she'd never seen it before. It was REALLY long. And neither of us really "got" it -- we just couldn't quite relate to it. In the end, I sort of shrugged and said, "Well, grandma, I guess it was just before our time." Which was funny, but maybe there's something to that.

At any rate, I'm just rambling, giving a stream of consciousness about my impressions of the film. I watched it on DVD from Netflix. You can read much more lucid reviews of the film elsewhere on the internet, such as through the links I've already given above. My most interesting piece of trivia that I took away from my web surfing about the film is that Anita Page, who starred as Queenie, is still alive -- she's 97 years old, about to turn 98 on August 4th, and she is considered the last living silent film star by some on the internet, at least. Also, she used to reportedly get fan mail from Moussolini.

At the very least, the film was worth watching. It's definitely a glimpse into an era that I know little about -- and I consider myself to be relatively well versed (at least more than most other people) in "old movies." This makes me realize that there are a couple eras of film that I know very little about, and I'd be interested to explore more.

PS - If you get the DVD, don't miss the special features. There's a very bizarre short, The Dogway Melody, which is a parody acted entirely by DOGS. I couldn't quite tell if they were walking the whole time like circus dogs, or if some of it was done marionette-style with wires, though I expect it was mainly the latter. I confess that I watched a lot of the Metro Movietone Revues in fast forward, but my personal favorites were the two performances from the Ponce Sisters. And it was interesting to watch the trailers for the future Broadway Melodies. Because for one thing, nobody in this film could hold a performing candle to some of the latter performers, including of course Fred Astaire. Okay, that's enough from me for now.

One film down, lots more to go. Next up: All Quiet on the Western Front.

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