Hollywood, curiosity. It was a historic milestone

 Hollywood, not just a southern district of California, Los Angeles but a whole Universe by itself. With the beginning of the film industry in Nineteen Hundred and Eleven no one knew what it had the potential to become, initially banned, this fourth world was frowned upon just before it took the whole world under its umbrella. To write history in the books of cinema a lot of smart producers, directors and technicians had to be on the same page for the sake of art and needed to think-alike in order to make Hollywood  the torch-bearer for world Cinema. Such major motion picture corporations that facilitate the requirements of a film with financial, social and economic backing are called Film Studios.  We focus on two special decades for the industry that are the 1920’s and 1930’s, which have been singled out as the “Golden age of Hollywood” by film historians. The Hollywood studio era can be traced back to the start of sound in film. Hollywood took its baby steps towards the transition to sound with Western Electric. Corporation In 1925 Brooklyn, a company that was one of the firsts to understand the potential of this ground-breaking new technology of Vita-phone sounds which could now make the “pictures that talked,” talking of firsts we now focus on “The Jazz Singer” a 1927 megahit feature film by Alan Crosland that had given birth to an era of curiosity. It was a historic milestone in the cinematic landmark due to its synchronized musical scores and it was also the first full length feature “talkie” film based on a short story under the authorship of Samson Raphaelson.  Only a few years before the film was released, it was also adapted as an onstage musical in 1925

Mary Pickford the famous Canadian-born actress that made it big once said, ”It would have been more logical if silent pictures had grown out of the talkies instead of the other way around” disagreeing to her liberating and debatable statement , as an artist the discovery of sound was like unblocking and expanding a new sensory experience for the audience. Conversation between characters now had an implied sense of meaning, in the film ‘The Jazz Singer’ there’s a famous line by superstar Al Jolson that says ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!’ where ‘heard’ is implied as ‘seen’. This was the first time the American audience had to put in some effort to understand what is trying to be conveyed by the makers of the film, and it only made the films more intriguing. In the time of the silent cinema, film-making it-self was a technological marvel, but just like all the technological advancements, even this was to be sold like goods. Hence, came in the         star-system just like any other tricks by the film studios to drag the audience out of their comfort zones to the theatres by casting actors that are loved by the masses again and again in similar roles and popular genre films. Actors were portrayed as perfect role models for the audience with demi-god like bodies and lavish lifestyles. The viewers had just begun idol-worshipping the ‘stars’ and the early Nine-teen hundreds were the silent calm before the storm. With the enunciation of the late 1920’s, the year when the bottom dropped out of the worldwide economy, as a result it was crippling for a huge number of individuals. This colossally affected the vast majority through provoking mass joblessness, brought years of hardship and even suicides for the West. Consequently, it had an inverse effect on the American cinema as Hollywood entered an exciting and illustrious age. The approach of ‘The talkies’ helped regenerate the medium and also the audience. The then president of the United States once said, “During the Depression, when the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid thing that for just 15 cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.” Despite the fact that America was somewhere down in profundities of the Great Depression, approximately sixty to eighty million Americans went out for a movie once every week or significantly more, and back in those days they truly got an incentive for their cash.

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The introduction of sound in the film and theatre was a big investment and hence an advancement towards the future. This required huge capital and vision to embark with, and hereby the studios decided on a financial backing from the Banks, the Wall Street and angel investors that believed in the mere magic of cinema. Almost instantly after the release of the first talkie, film theatres were wired with a sound system and the silent era immediately died over night. With the new wave of technological advancement Sound was not the only advancement that Hollywood had made possible. In the earliest of the Cinema days the use of colour was appealing to the audience by Hand tinting and methods of painting, however it was to a great extent illogical, laborious, and unrealistic in a lot of ways. Hence a practical and new process called Kinemacolor was used with a motion picture camera and projector as both exposed and anticipated high contrast film through exchanging alternate red and green filters creating a mesmerizing virtual product. The graphics were in demand and catered a younger audience, which is why the technology of two-colour and Technicolour came to reality.


 Hollywood cinema was an oligopoly integrated production system which was dominated by the ‘Big Five’ studio houses. These studios were ranked in terms of profitability that was closely related to market share and largely stayed consistent during the Golden Age. The ‘Big Five’ consisted of Paramount, MGM, Warner Brothers, FOX and RKO that were vertically integrated, which means that a mutually agreed partnership in one organization of two or more stages of production that are normally operated by separate firms. Also, there were the ‘Little Three’: Universal, Columbia and United Artists. Metro-Golden-Mayer (MGM) was found by Marcus Loew and was the reigning king of the ‘Golden Era’ since it was one of the few film studios that remained confident about their production system and its capacity to get a return on the number of profits, popularity and appreciation from the critic reviews for the studio. They followed Hollywood’s famous commercial aesthetic of ‘To make money, you have to spend money’ and produced lavish dramas, backstage musicals that were popularly chosen by the mass movie-goers as the best form of entertainment in the nineteenth century like ‘Torrent (1926)’ and ‘The Hollywood Revue (1929)’. Whereas Warner Bros. were a bit more rational and experimental with their method rather than being cliché about it and ‘putting money on the screen’ to attract mass audience attention. They were first in the ‘Big Five’ studios to introduce sound and then went on to adapt a short story by  Samson Raphaelson called, “The Day of Atonement” into one of the first full length talking film ‘The Jazz Singer’. In the desire to target a particular kind of audience the Warner Bros. majorly devised Genre-special dramas and street romances. With a few backstage musical romances and being the band wagon of the gangster films, Warner Bros. have had a vast and ever expanding choice of film productions which have promised a certain financial return and critical acclamation too. One of the often observed principal of the Warner Bros. by the film executives is that they never distract from the consensus narrative, which here refers to as the generally accepted and approved story telling system. As it is can be identified from ‘The Jazz Singer’ where the son of ‘Cantor Rabinowitz, a priest becomes rebellious and against his stern father who wishes his son to be a Cantor too since it’s a years-long family tradition. The son is strictly against the fact of devoting his life as a Cantor, and therefore aspires to become popular face in the world of Jazz. Now by keeping the family drama and patriarchal consensus in the plot, the story is virtually more appealing to a wider range of audience. As the story continues and the child protagonist ‘Jakie Rabinowitz threatens his father: “If you whip me again, I’ll run away – – and never come back!” and as the plot thickens we see with one final grasp and kiss from his mom, Jakie helps through on his risk, opposing his dad’s desires and fleeing from home to London.” Since The Jazz Singer was the first of its type, it definitely was not possible to make every scene dialogue coordinated and externally recorded with the vita-phone technology. Referring back to ”The Jazz Singer” About a decade later in the story, Jakie has changed his name to the more absorbed and catchy Jack Robin. Jack is called up from his table at a cabaret to perform on stage. Jack wows the crowd with his power packed performance. Afterward, he is introduced to the beautiful Mary Dale which is played by May McAvoy, a musical theatre dancer. “There are lots of jazz singers, but you have a tear in your voice,” she says, offering to help with his budding career as a struggler. With her help, Jack eventually stumbles on his big break in the show business for a leading role.” Watching films where the protagonist achieves his or her dream and projects a hero-like image makes the younger generation believe in the stardust and gets them google-eyed and stuck to the screen. The phenomenon of the strong, manly tough-guy is a huge driving factor for male centric films even today. The image of an actor is decided and assumed the way media projects him or her. That is also why the film studio houses pay a huge sum to the media and paparazzi to maintain an ideal image and buzz about the ‘star’. This commercialization of the actor as a commodity of the film studio is also called the ‘star-system’ in the showbiz language.  

Film-makers manipulate the audience with a lot of emotional content that we all somehow believe in our subconscious mind. For example in “The Jazz Singer” back at the family home in the New York ghettos Jack left long ago, the elder Rabinowitz instructs a young student in the traditional cantorial art. Jack appears and tries to explain his point of view, and his love of modern music in the hope that his father would praise the beauty of the art, but the appalled cantor banishes him: “I never want to see you again — you jazz singer!” As he leaves, Jack yells out, “I came home with a heart full of love, but you don’t want to understand. Someday you’ll understand, the same as Mama does.” Somewhere deep down, the audience relates back to their own experiences and incidents from emotional memory and whatever clicks with the viewer makes the film even more special. As the climax approaches Jack realizes that he is stuck in a momentous dilemma where he says: “It’s a choice between giving up the biggest chance of my life – and breaking my mother’s heart – I have no right to do either.” Dialogues with such a deep sense of meaning when said with the intensity of an actor changes the experience of watching a film for the audience altogether. Then the curtain calls, an announcement is made to the audience: “Ladies and Gentlemen, there will be no performance this evening – – ” For one night, Jack becomes Jakie Rabinowitz, singing “Kol Nidre” in the synagogue in his father’s place, forcing the opening night cancellation of the show. His father listens from his deathbed and realises that his son has understood his teachings now. Since his son is reconciled to the family values, Cantor Rabinowitz’s last forgiving words are: “Mamma, we have our son again.” In the background we see a splitting image, we see the spirit of Jack’s father at his side in the synagogue. Mary then describes Jack perfectly: “- a jazz singer – singing to his God.” Bringing the film to a happy ending and a moral high for the viewer about the family values, father-son bond and a restoration in the faith of all is well that ends well. “The Jazz Singer” lives the viewer with a lingering thought and an hour and half of Warner Bros. finest piece of art.


To explain why Hollywood studios developed distinct identities in the 1920s and ’30s is long and involving but to put it in a nutshell. Any industry in an economy be it Information and technology, telly-communication or even agriculture is running for financial returns and also to make a dent in the history books. Hollywood was the pioneer of the studio system not just because they hired the best team to put up an amazing show but also because billions of dollars of the tax payers money was riding with it, because the studios were ultimately backed by the banks and the wall-street. For each studio to leave a mark in the history of Hollywood, there had to be something unique and vaguely appealing for the audience to follow their work. Where studios that were huge in size and amount of capital invested, dealt with higher risk and therefore needed utmost confidence for the anticipated financial returns, Independent film-makers were away from such risks since their capital invested were negligible compared to the industry giants, giving them even more reason as to why they could be more experimental and fresh with their ideas and did not exactly need much of a distinct identity to prove their metal. With “The Jazz Singer” Warner Bros. played much of a high end gamble by investing in the then new Vita-phone sound equipment, but it payed off and instantly became a raging sensation in the world of entertainment. The film did not turn out to be the best venture for the Warner Bros. though since Harry Warner lost his life due to the sheer exhaustion caused in the production. But for Hollywood “The Jazz Singer” was a beginning of the end of the silent era. The foreseen future of the American Film Industry was jubilant as more than sixty percent of the unemployed population was now employed due to the film industry and more than five hundred films were under production in the year 1939, which was also the ‘best year’ for Hollywood .