English 209: Film History
The Advancements and Importance of Films in The Great Depression
“During the Depression, when the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid thing that for just fifteen cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget its troubles” – President Franklin Roosevelt.
For the world of Hollywood the year 1929 was full of substantial technological achievements, joyful singing, and wildly successful productions. However, for the rest of America, 1929 was a year of substantial unemployment and unsuccessful investments. It was the year that started the Great Depression. Hollywood was finally adapting to the latest phenomenon of films with sound, or “talkies” as people referred to them as. The talking pictures brought in record high audiences to the theaters, which made people believe that Hollywood was “Depression-Proof”. People used the movie theaters to escape the Depression, but as the Depression worsened, people couldn’t afford their usual movie-going habits and it started to affect the major studios of Hollywood. The movie industry had to think of ways to get people back into their movie theaters or else they would lose all of their businesses within a few years. Hollywood in 1929 started off loud and colorful, but by the end of the year and further into the Depression things would only get worse.
Although sound-on-disc had been used in 1927, most popular with Warner Bros. “The Jazz Singer, the key transition year was 1929 when all the major studios announced only sound films for their 1929-1930 release year. It all began when Warner Bros. teamed up with Western Electric and created the Vitaphone in 1926, which was first tested on the film “Don Juan” that contained a synchronized musical score with sound effects. From there they updated their recording techniques and made the first feature with talking sound “The Jazz Singer”. Actor William Haines described the opening night of the “The Jazz Singer” as “the night of the Titanic all over again, with women grabbing the wrong children and Louis B [Mayer] singing ‘Nearer My God to Thee’” (Pasquarello).
Talking pictures became the next best thing as silent films started to fade out of the theaters. However, problems arose during production of talking pictures because “talkies in 1929 were rushed and cobbled together to meet the unexpectedly strong demand for talkies” (Crafton, 14). People referred to early sound films as “teacup dramas” because the performers had to stand next to the microphone, which resulted in static films due to no movement by the actor or the camera. Other problems with the early sound films were the long static takes, poor quality of recordings, and badly written dialogue because screenwriters weren’t used to the transition yet. One of the biggest problems with these films was the voice acting, because most actors did not ever have to talk during their silent film careers. The problem was that “speaking styles were too slow and had too much emphasis on ‘enunciated’ tones that the microphone was supposed to favor” (Crafton, 14). In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s popular 1952 musical “Singin’ in the Rain” they poke fun at the early films of the sound era. There is a scene in which Lina Lamont can’t seem to understand the position of her microphone and her voice puts so much emphasis on the words with “t’s” and the “ch”. The sound films of the 1929-1930 year were bad but attracted audiences because of sound and most films were advertised with the “You can’t miss this” slogan (Crafton, 271). The new sound films caused everyone to keep wanting to go to the movies to see the new best thing. The industry claims that film attendance had skyrocketed from 55 million in 1925, to over 110 million in 1929 (Fuller-Seeley, 188).
Even though there were numerous imperfections with talking pictures things would get better for productions.