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1929: The Broadway Melody

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This is the second film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the first sound film to do so. (1928's Wings, which I have not watched yet, was first, and silent.) The historical context of this film is interesting. The first feature length sound film ('talkies') was released in 1927, and the film world was in the midst of the chaos of the switch. Silent movies were originally considered more artistic (getting across concepts without the benefit of speech or synchronized sound is certainly a different art-form more akin to stage acting than the realism we tend to expect in films these days), and sound films were thought to be a passing fad. And well into the thirties, talkies were often released in a silent-film version as well for all the theatres that had not yet converted.

So, being one of the first 'talkies' during this chaos, this film falls kind of flat to modern eyes and ears. As the name alludes to, this is a musical, and this helps makes the ridiculousness and emotional overacting feel a little less out of place.

The storyline follows two sisters (Hank and Queenie), who have come to New York to try to make it on Broadway, having been a moderately successful vaudeville sister act1 in their home town. With the help of Hank's boyfriend Eddie (a song and dance composer) they get a job with a Mr. Zanfield (an allusion to Ziegfeld, I'm sure). Eddie begins to fall in love with Queenie (the younger sister, who has filled out nicely since he last saw her, apparently). Queenie tries to fend off Eddie's advances, not wanting to hurt her sister, and so dates a man that neither Hank or Eddie approves of. Love-triangle and musical hijinx ensue.

The film was still enjoyable, despite it's ridiculous and (now) tired premise. I did find it interesting in the historical context, not only the above silent/sound film transition, but the 20s slang, women who universally had the bob hair-cut, and the occasional skyline shot.

1: Before this movie, I had never heard this term used seriously before.
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October 2011

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