This early example of the "backstage" musical genre tells the story of Kitty Darling, a fading burlesque star who tries to save her convent-educated daughter April from following in Mom's footsteps.Written by
The film is remarkable for its creative use of sound in such an early period - the first all-talking movie had come out only shortly before this, and most other directors were concerned simply with providing audible dialogue and little else.
Mamoulian not only used complex background sound effect but also used them creatively and non-realistically in the case of Kitty's delirium. The technical aspect was very advanced for the time. The scene in which Kitty sings while her daughter prays was apparently the first time anyone had ever used two microphone at the same time.
He also made his staff move the large box in which the cameraman was enclosed during shots to provide tracking with sync sound - unheard of at the time.
Most of the sound effects were created in the studio at the time filming of the action took place. The train moving off is plainly an artificial sound effect, and most of the traffic sound is horns and motors in the studio. Despite claims elsewhere that the scene in the railway station contains sync sound it doesn't - indeed the filming of that sequence was visibly done with a hand-cranked silent camera, the sound being created afterwards. The scene near the end in the subway station is indeed local sync sound, done quite extraordinary well considering the equipment available at the time.
The music was all done live. The extended scene between April and the sailor in the café is all one extended shot because the band seen at the opening of the shot was actually playing in the studio at the same time - indeed the music almost swamps the dialogue. There is sophisticated use of the stage music early on, keeping it in the far background during dialogue in the dressing room - again, advanced use of sound for 1929. See more »
When April comes backstage to see Kitty after returning home from the convent, the shot from outside the dressing room shows Kitty sitting at her mirror and then turning to see April in the doorway. In the next shot, from inside the dressing room, she once again is sitting at her mirror and once again turns to see April entering. See more »
Mamoulian's brilliance has been noted here and elsewhere - and properly so. But it should not obscure the poignant, sensitive and altogether touching performance of Helen Morgan. Best known for her singing, Morgan revealed in a number of films that she was a better actress than she was a singer. Here, as in "Show Boat" and "Go Into Your Dance," among others, she plays a woman whom life has mishandled: not quite reputable, doing what she must to hold her life together, seemingly tough on the outside but vulnerable to the wrong kind of man. If her best performances were of a type, she wasn't the first performer to achieve success by doing one thing well.
While it's doubtful if anyone would remember this picture if not for Mamoulian's creativity, Helen Morgan's marvelous contribution should not be overlooked.
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