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Ben Bernie and All the Lads (1923)

 -  Short | Music  -  15 April 1923 (USA)
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The Ben Bernie and All the Lads band, featuring pianist Oscar Levant, perform songs by Vincent Youmans and George Gershwin in a short film produced in the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process.

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The Ben Bernie and All the Lads band, featuring pianist Oscar Levant, perform songs by Vincent Youmans and George Gershwin in a short film produced in the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process.

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15 April 1923 (USA)  »

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Awesome stuff!
12 July 2007 | by (Vermont) – See all my reviews

Where to begin? Viewing clips of this time capsule gives me goose bumps every time I watch them. Here is a young, energetic band leader in his prime, obviously enjoying his role. He dances in place, he alternates from playing his violin to conducting with his bow; he is suave; he is charming. His band is so polished that they use no sheet music. The steady beat of the bass drum is hypnotic. The rhythm is so infectious that I defy you to listen without tapping your foot. Here is an audio quality unheard of on phonograph records until the introduction of electrical recording later in 1925. An added bonus is the occasional glimpse of the teen-aged Oscar Levant at the piano!

Furthermore, the clips show that De Forest knew what he was doing with sound-on-film, and his process was at least as good as the later Vitaphone shorts. Yes, there is some audio distortion, but other electronic devices, such as radio and loud-speaking systems, were still in their infancy.

Four complete musical selections from this Phonofilm session exist, totaling 13 minutes. This suggests that either the runtime shown here is incorrect, or that there were two short films made from this one session.

It has also been suggested that the 1923 date is wrong, and I concur. One of the tunes ("Craving") was a Bernie composition. Although he had been recording for the Vocalion label for well over two years, he did not make a record of the song until January, 1925. Other companies did not record the title until the spring of 1925. Therefore, it seems more probably that this film was made in either late 1924 or early 1925.

The four clips from this Phonofilm may be viewed at http://www.redhotjazz.com/berniephonofilm.html -- if you're an impatient sort and don't want to wait for them all to download, the best of the lot is the aforementioned "Craving." As I said, it's Bernie's own composition, and he gives it his all, including a Charleston rhythm for the last chorus. He ends this piece (as he does most) with a last-second ingratiating twirl towards the camera, a flourish with his bow, and a broad smile. Dare I say it? The man has sex appeal!


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