The Jazz Singer (Dir. Alan Crosland)
The Jazz Singer (dir. Alan Crosland) released in 1927, was a movie that focuses on a young man who wishes to one day achieve his dreams and become a successful jazz singer. The movie, directed by Alan Crosland, showed new technological advancements from the 1920’s. During this time, many new elements of genre and ways to structure film were being introduced one of them being the introduction of musicals. In terms of the production of The Jazz Singer, it used new advances of the decade and incorporated them into each scene. The first words ever said in a feature motion picture was from Al Jolson’s character Jackie to his mom “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” When we think about the history of film, the dialogue that Jackie has with his mom has a double meaning. The first being that his mom hasn’t heard the best that he can do, and the other was that the world had yet to hear what films and sound would accomplish in the future. With these new developments in sound and production it became the first feature talkie or sound synced film. By using these new advances in the early days of cinema, Crosland’s movie changed the way film would be seen forever.
Another Film that impacted sound in film industry was Fritz Lang’s M. The film M is a commentary of the nationalist environment of pre World War Two Germany. Since the end of the first world war, German nationalism had been suppressed by the rest of the western world. Then in the early 1930’s, the Nazi party’ was beginning to gain control. M was able to predict the lynch mob mentality of Hitler’s agenda. The film enjoys a distinctive place in the history of cinema and particularly the history of German cinema. At this point in time filmmakers and studios were more concerned with simply using the new technology of sound. Fritz Lang was incorporating it into his films to create a new artistic element in his work. Almost all of the movie pioneers of early sound films felt that they were obligated to use sound as much as they possibly could in their films. Fritz Lang used sound because his story called for it, not because it was a new innovation. None of his films were dictated by the need of sound in each scene and each take. The most powerful and important scenes and shots in the film M had absolutely no sound and the silence was more effective to the progression of the film and to Lang’s message than any amount of dialogue or sound track.
Both of these films impacted the way Production takes place in Cinema. Both Fritz Land and Alan Crosland used sound as plot devices that were needed in order to progress the story or capture the audience’s attention. M set the foundation for sound in film in many ways, because it goes back and forth between the silent non diegetic sound mixing and diegetic or dialogue also known as a talkie. It meshes dialogue sequences with silent sequences containing music or sound effects. Lang mixed the sound in the same way as the visuals, by using them only when it was to progress the plot and achieve practical specific effects. The Jazz Singer was a typical Hollywood production that was going to do whatever it was to generate revenue. The Jazz Singer used sound because Warner Bros had invested over three and a half million dollars to utilize the Vitaphone which was a small disk that was able to record sound simultaneously to film.
The visual aspect of having diegetic sound in the Jazz singer was so the audience could see the performance that the characters were putting on was an actual recorded live performance that required the actors to not only act but also sing. The Jazz singer only has diegetic sound for approximately twenty five percent of the film. This was because of the hardships that it took to actually produce a semi talkie with a high production quality. After the Jazz singer was produced many studios made talkies to simply show off how they had the ability to do diegetic sound. This caused the production quality of many movies to tank. Many actors who were phenomenal at miming or silent acting had no vocal or voice training. The Jazz Singer caused Hollywood to change its ideology of what an actor was able to accomplish. No longer did visual appearance matter as much as did before, the audience wanted actors with presence and charisma who could convince them through their dialogue that they were portraying a natural human being. Comedy became dialogue driven as opposed to the classic slapstick or physical comedy that Charlie Chaplin loved doing so much.
Fritz Lang’s M came four years after the Jazz singer, the artistic purpose of this film had motivated sound as opposed to most movies that were being made at this time. This film created a foundation for how sound should be used in movies. It’s political commentary on the idea of fascism is also seen in the film, making it one of the first european movies to use cinema as a political platform. Nazi Germany later on in the decade and as well in the 1940’s used cinema as a propaganda machine, as going to movie theatres became a common household activity in the western world. The Jazz Singer also had political commentary about the current stance it had toward african americans, using black face as a way to portray them. This became an infamous part of cinema history as well as american history to show the institutionalized racist attitude that the so called progressive’s of this time still had. It wouldn’t be until the 1950’s that films and animations would stop using black face as it became clear that people wanted racial stereo types to have no place in entertainment. African American actors however did not gain screen popularity until later in the 60’s because of Hollywood’s idea of White America.
It’s important for all filmmakers to have the knowledge of what the film industry’s social standards were all throughout it’s history. Film clearly takes several mediums to fully grasp the importance of how the characters and plot are portrayed. Genre itself uses different mediums that we are able to identify and connect with. It’s important to distinguish a movie’s purpose and place in time because without it cinema wouldn’t be as innovative as it is currently. Artist’s would have less inspiration to create because the boundaries that hold different art forms would collapse. Categorizing and defining art for what it is and what it did creates the possibilities of finding new ways to communicate what is going on in our world as well creating new mediums of art for the future.