KING OF JAZZ (1930)

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King Of Jazz - CoverCriterion have just released a re-mastered edition of the 98-minute musical revue, 'King Of Jazz'. It was directed by John Murray Anderson and starred Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, John Boles, Jeanette Loff, Laura La Plante, Glenn Tryon, William Kent, Slim Summerville, The Rhythm Boys, and Kathryn Crawford. Plus, as a special bonus, the film is complemented by expert commentary, featurettes, documentaries, video essays, deleted and alternate scenes, as well as two cartoons featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Please enjoy.


King of Jazz (The Criterion Collection)


THE STORY:
Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I'll be your host this evening, me, Charles Erwin, and I will try my best to introduce you to the following gala production. Or as my pal Paul likes to call it, 'The Paul Whiteman Musical Revue', which is a fairly lavish production that features a wide range of musical tastes, comedy skits, elaborate dance routines, and even a cartoon featuring a very animated Paul.

You might also like to know that the music performed in this show was composed by a number of greats in their field, like George Gershwin, Milton Ager, Jack Yellen, Harry DeCosta, Henry Busse, Henry Lange, Lou Davis, Phil Baxter, Fritz Kreisler, Vincent Rose, Harry Owens, Ludwig van Beethoven, Mabel Wayne, Billy Rose, Sebasti├ín Yradier, Stephen Foster, Al Koppell, Billy Stone, John Philip Sousa, Zo Elliott, Harry Barris, and James Cavanaugh. 

So what do we have in store? Here, check this out...

Now the first act we're presented with is a cute-cartoon where we see Paul, an animated version of Paul, in deepest, darkest, Africa, running away from a very rhythmical lion, where together they sing and perform...
  • My Lord Delivered Daniel: Sung by Bing Crosby.
  • The Mosquitoes' Parade: With music by Howard Whitney.
  • The Streets of Cairo: Also known as "The Hootchy-Kootchy Dance"
Up next is a segment Paul likes to call, 'Meet the Boys', where he has the opportunity to introduce some of the members of his orchestra, who play...
  • Hot Lips: Performed by Harry Goldfield on the trumpet.
  • Wild Cat: Performed by Joe Venuti on the violin and Eddie Lang on the guitar.
  • Piccolo Pete: Performed by "Red" Maier on the piccolo.
  • Nola: Performed by Roy Bargy on the piano, Chester Hazlett on the clarinet, and Wilbur Hall on the trombone.
  • Linger Awhile: Performed by Mike Pingatore on the banjo.
  • Caprice Viennois and Tambourin Chinoise: Two songs performed by the Violin Sextet: Kurt Dieterle, Matty Malneck, John Bouman, Joe Venuti, Ted Bacon, and Otto Landau. 
At this stage of the production, we are welcomed to an ornate wedding sequence called "My Bridal Veil", where we see a group of dancers dancing; while hearing two songs...
  • Minuet in G and My Bridal Veil: Performed by Jeanette Loff with The Paul Whiteman Orchestra. 
After that, we see another musical act based on the lives of different people, named, "It Happened in Monterey", where we hear...
  • La Paloma:  Performed by The Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
  • It Happened in Monterey: Sung by John Boles and Jeanette Loff; performed by The Paul Whiteman Orchestra; and it was danced to by The Sisters G, George Chiles, and the Russell Markert Girls.
Soon after that's finished we're introduced to the comic, Jack White, who has an act set in a dilapidated warehouse. Here, he and The Paul Whiteman Orchestra perform five songs...
  • Old Black Joe, Semper Fidelis, and There's a Long, Long Trail: Three songs played by The Band. 
  • Oh, How I'd Love to Own a Fish Store: Sung by Jack White. 
  • The Stars and Stripes Forever: Sung by Wilbur Hall.
Now some of the other songs featured throughout this show include:
  • Mississippi Mud and So the Bluebirds and the Blackbirds Got Together: Two songs which were sung by The Rhythm Boys. 
  • Has Anybody Seen Our Nellie?: Sung by a barbershop quartet comprising of Frank Leslie, Churchill Ross, Walter Brennan, and John Arledge. 
Plus let's not forget about the numerous miscellaneous songs played by The Paul Whiteman Orchestra either. Such as:
  • Rhapsody in Blue: Accompanied by the Russell Markert Girls and The Sisters G dance troop.
  • Music Has Charms: Sung off stage by Bing Crosby (during the opening credits).
  • Ragamuffin Romeo: Sung by Jeanie Lang and George Chiles, and danced to by Marion Stadler and Don Rose.
  • I Like to Do Things for You: Sung by Jeanie Lang, Grace Hayes, William Kent, and Nell O'Day, and danced to by Nell O'Day and the Tommy Atkins Sextette.
  • A Bench in the Park: Sung by Stanley Smith, Jeanette Loff, the Brox Sisters, and The Rhythm Boys, and danced to by the Russell Markert Girls. 
  • Happy Feet: Sung by The Rhythm Boys and The Sisters G; and danced to by Al Norman and the Russell Markert Girls.
  • Song of the Dawn: Sung by John Boles. 
The last act in the show is a grand extravaganza called ‘The Melting Pot’, where we see a procession of different countries each singing their respective national songs, one, by one, by one, until eventually they all fall into a big pot on stage and come out the other end as American Jazz. FIN.





THE REVIEW:
Before I begin, please allow me to give you a couple of reasons why I think I’m qualified to talk about this film, the ‘King of Jazz’. Firstly, I can play the B-flat clarinet, the tenor sax, and I’m fairly proficient on the cornet and the piano. Secondly, I can read music and was once a member of the South London Philharmonic Orchestra. Thirdly, I love listening to and playing music of all genres, and on numerous occasions have paid tribute to Benny Goodman, the great clarinetist, along with a number of other musicians. And last, but not least, I like to think that I know about film and have some historical knowledge of its development over the years.

King Of Jazz - Old Poster
So, with that said, did I like this film or not? Well, if truth be told, yes, yes I did like it, quite a bit in fact, although I have to stress that I don’t think it will be everybody’s cup of tea. After all, it’s eclectic, it’s varied, it’s very much of its time, and most importantly of them all, it doesn’t have a story but it does have style. You see, what you have to remember is that this production was made a few years after the development of sound (in movies) and a few years before Busby Berkeley broke onto the scene with his more elaborate musical numbers. I’m not saying that this is a bad film, mind you, but, in a strange way, it’s like a time capsule, a snapshot of the era in which it was made, all because of the scope and quality of what it ultimately featured. This includes comedic segments, homages to other productions (All Quiet on the Western Front), dance routines, amazing costumes, operatic sequences, elaborately staged set pieces, jazz music (more swing than be-bop), traditional music, Big Band numbers, vaudevillian styled skits, featured presentations, as well as an introductory cartoon. 

Yes. That’s correct. This is a lot of stuff to cram into one single film, yet it manages to do so with an elegance and a style that’s purely its own. A style, I hasten to add, that comprises an assortment of varied techniques which I’m sure were way ahead of their time: Such as overhead crane shots of people moving in synchronised formation, tight close up shots of each musician playing their respective instrument, clever camera effects that either used transparency or an unusual perspective, mood lighting, atmospheric lighting, plus other optical paraphernalia.


King Of Jazz - Bing Crosby


As for the music, on the other hand, yeah, I liked listening to that too, more or less. Even though I'm personally not a big fan of those operatic set pieces, such as ‘My Bridal Veil’ (those wedding veils were massive), I really, really, really loved those segments that showcased: ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ (a piece of music that inspired me to learn the clarinet), ‘Happy Feet’ (Take that, Pharrell, you won't be able to outshine the rubber-legged dancer), ‘Ragamuffin Romeo’ (a fine song that goes with an amazing dance sequence), plus anything that featured Bing Crosby (What can I say? I’m a big fan). 

King Of Jazz - Musicians
In fact, the music was so good and so diverse, I now feel compelled to present you with the following filmic facts: (1) Universal first screened this two million dollar production at the Criterion Theater, downtown Los Angeles, on exactly the same day Clarence DeMar won the 34th Boston Marathon. It was on the 19th of April, 1930. (2) During pre-production, this flick was given two working titles, 'The King of Jazz Revue' and 'The Paul Whiteman King of Jazz Revue'. Then over a year later, when it was released in Greece, they re-titled it, 'The King of Kiss'! (3) The entirety of this revue was shot on 'Sound Stage 12', located inside Universal Studios, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California, America. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture was: 'A NEW ERA in sound and color entertainment!'. (5) Originally this movie was conceived to be a narrative film, either as a fictionalized biography focused on Paul Whiteman or as a romantic musical featuring Ruth Etting as Paul's love interest. But, due to creative differences, these ideas were eventually scrapped in favor of a revue-styled premise. (6) According to the animator, Walter Lantz, the cartoon showcased in this film was the first one ever to be made in Technicolor. Also, the voice of the lion heard in this animated sequence was provided by Bing Crosby himself. (7) One of the singers featured in this film was none other than the great-uncle of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the grunge band, 'Nirvana': Delbert Cobain. (8) Unfortunately, this feature performed poorly at the box-office because of a variety of different factors. This includes the stock market crash, the overall cost of production, delays in filming, plus the general public began to grow tired of the deluge of movie musicals produced since The Jazz Singer, circa 1927.

King Of Jazz - Dancers
In closing, I think it only right that I mention a couple of things about the ‘King of Jazz’ which are well worth mentioning. For a start, the Technicolor processing technique used to develop this film doesn’t show a full range of colors. At best you can most probably identify four different hues, ranging from black, white, flamingo-pink, and a shade of light-blue that seems more like bold-cyan.

I would also like to mention that some of the humor featured in this flick is somewhat cheesy, corny, and can be offensive to those people who are overweight or of a darker complexion. Well, as I said before, this film is very much of its time, and unfortunately, American history can be as subjective as art itself. Some people may like it, some people may hate it, but more or less it’s self-contained, like a time capsule, for people to either praise or frown upon depending on their own personal preferences. 

Along similar lines, I wasn’t quite sure about the narrative approach this film took either. It didn’t quite work, not totally, anyway, because each musical or comedy set piece was meant to represent a page in a book that celebrates the life and times of Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra. But, due to the eclectic scope of this project, these events didn’t make sense within the overall plot. Therefore, it felt more like a collection of acts rather than a showcase for a cohesive musical revue. Not that this is a bad, bad, thing, as you can still watch this movie and appreciate it for what it is rather than what it’s not. Know what I mean? Happy?




THE RATING: B-

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