Saturday, October 04, 2014

Vitaphone Prelude

Shooting the Vitaphone short Quartet from Rigoletto ("Bella figlia dell'amore") with Beniamino Gigli
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
Eventi speciali / Special Events
Serata inaugurale / Opening Night Programme

E-subtitles in Italian, Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 4 Oct 2014

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014 sono dedicate a Peter von Bagh
The 33rd Pordenone Silent Film Festival is dedicated to Peter von Bagh (1943-2014)
"We are the last generation which could know everything"
- The slide before the start of the show

Catalogue: "This year’s opening event is an exact recreation of the programme of the Selwyn Theatre, New York, during the first run of Alan Crosland’s When a Man Loves, starring John Barrymore, in February 1927. As then, the show commences with three shorts demonstrating the marvels of the Vitaphone sound system, with films of great operatic stars of the day alongside the comic singers Van and Schenck. The feature film is accompanied by an important score by Henry Hadley, performed by the Vitaphone Symphony Orchestra, under its director Herman Heller."

Preludio Vitaphone / Vitaphone Prelude
Catherine A. Surowiec in the Catalogue: "One fateful day in 1925, Major Nathan Levinson, a sound expert who had helped the Warner brothers launch their Los Angeles radio station KFWB, returned from a trip to Western Electric’s Bell Laboratories in New York, exclaiming, “I’ve just seen something that makes the Wizard of Oz look like kid stuff! ... A talking picture!” Sam Warner, the most visionary of the brothers, took the train East to see a demonstration, and was bowled over by the new sound-on-disc process in development, Vitaphone. Warner Brothers was soon in the sound business, operating under its own production entity, the Vitaphone Corporation. At first the Warners regarded Vitaphone’s main potential as making pre-recorded orchestral accompaniment and effects soundtracks for feature films available to cinemas all over America. But they also started filming live-action shorts featuring classical music, popular songs, and vaudeville numbers. These were made at the Manhattan Opera House, at 311 W. 34th St. in New York, in a studio converted from a grand ballroom rented by the Warners, supervised by Sam Warner and Vitaphone’s music director Herman Heller. In mid-1927 Vitaphone production would move to Warners’ new soundstage at their California studio, where the supervision of the “Vitaphone Varieties” shorts was taken over by former vaudevillian Bryan Foy."

"Most of these early shorts were static, with very little movement. Any sound was picked up by the sensitive Vitaphone equipment. Cameras were soon cocooned in booths, stages were draped and padded, and hissing arc lights were replaced by incandescent bulbs. Many shorts were shot at night, and during filming members of the crew even removed their shoes. Performers often took silent bows at their end of their numbers. Primitive as some of the films look today, they are a fascinating and valuable record of performers, repertoire, and performance styles of the time."

"By the summer of 1926 the Warners were ready to showcase Vitaphone, and they prepared their programme carefully, for maximum impact. John Barrymore’s swashbuckling period romance Don Juan was presented at a gala screening in New York on the evening of Friday, 6 August 1926, with a score recorded by the New York Philharmonic, and accompanied by a prologue consisting of six Vitaphone music shorts, with a spoken introduction by Will H. Hays, President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. Variety reported that the launch of Vitaphone was the talk of Broadway, with the public storming the theatre all that weekend to get in."

"Two other special Vitaphone showcase programmes followed in the coming months. The second, with the Syd Chaplin World War I comedy The Better ’Ole at the Colony Theatre on 5 October 1926, catered to more popular tastes, with Elsie Janis, Willie and Eugene Howard, George Jessel, and, prophetically, Al Jolson singing in A Plantation Act. The third and final Vitaphone special gala featured the John Barrymore-Dolores Costello costume romance When a Man Loves, which premiered at the Selwyn Theatre in New York on 3 February 1927. The three Vitaphone shorts we are presenting were all shown with it on that historic occasion.
" Catherine A. Surowiec

QUARTET FROM RIGOLETTO (Warner Bros./The Vitaphone Corporation – US 1927) D: ?; M: Giuseppe Verdi; libretto: Francesco Maria Piave; C: Beniamino Gigli, Giuseppe De Luca, Jeanne Gordon, Marion Talley; filmed: 1927; rel: 3.2.1927; © 4.4.1927; Vitaphone n. 415; 35 mm, ca. 810 ft (250 m), 9' (24 fps), sd.; print source: UCLA Film & Television Archive, Los Angeles.
    "The Warner Brothers, with an eye (and ear) for high culture, cannily negotiated a contract with the Metropolitan Opera; several early shorts featured the tenor Giovanni Martinelli, one of the stalwarts of the Met. This film of the quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore” from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto has two of the Met’s biggest male stars: the immortal lyric tenor Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957), a bel canto legend, sings the part of the Duke of Mantua, with Giuseppe De Luca (1876-1950), one of opera’s leading baritones, as the cloaked Rigoletto. Canadian-born contralto Jeanne Gordon (1884-1952) sings the role of Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena, here seated next to the Duke. Rounding out the quartet as Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, here disguised as a man and wearing a cloak, is Marion Talley (1906-1983), the pride of Kansas City, whose signing by the Met at the age of 19 made the cover of Time magazine. At the time she was the youngest prima donna ever to make a debut at the Met in a leading role, so she was very much in the news, but she was thrust into the limelight too early and her career would be short-lived. The quartet is filmed mostly in long shot, on a set with a wall jutting in the middle, which creates almost a split-screen effect, separating the two couples. The accompaniment is by the Vitaphone Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Herman Heller." Catherine A. Surowiec - AA: An electrifying performance of "Bella figlia dell'amore". Beniamino Gigli, the loveliest honey tenor ever, at his best. Plan-séquence.

CHARLES HACKETT. TENOR CHICAGO OPERA COMPANY (Warner Bros./The Vitapone Corporation – US 1927) D: ?; M: Giuseppe Verdi; libretto: Francesco Maria Piave; C: Charles Hackett; filmed: 1926; rel: 3.2.1927; © 12.3.1927; Vitaphone n. 392; 35 mm, ca. 630 ft (192 m), 7' (24 fps), sd.; print source: UCLA Film & Television Archive, Los Angeles.
    "Charles Francis Hackett (1887-1942), born in Worcester, Massachusetts, won early acclaim for his beautiful lyric tenor voice, and was one of the first American tenors to establish an international career, performing in Milan, Rome, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London. Hackett made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1919. He signed with the newly formed Chicago Civic Opera, and was one of its leading stars from 1923 to 1931. He rejoined the Met in 1934, leaving in 1939 to teach voice at the Juilliard School. Hackett was also a busy concert, radio, and recording artist.
    Hackett appeared in several Vitaphone operatic shorts between 1927 and 1930. Here he sings two arias from Verdi’s Rigoletto, in Renaissance costume as the Duke of Mantua, accompanied by the Vitaphone Symphony Orchestra conducted by Herman Heller. “Questa o quella”, from Act I, begins with an orchestral prelude, with Hackett entering onto a set populated with extras; he then comes
to the foreground to perform the aria. The second aria, from Act III, features Hackett alone in a tight shot sitting on a rough wooden table, drinking from the traditional “empty cup” of opera props as he sings “La donna è mobile”.
" – Catherine A. Surowiec - AA: More highlights from Rigoletto: "Questa o quella" and "La donna è mobile", but Charles Hackett has the unenviable situation of being played after Beniamino Gigli. From a full shot to a medium shot.

VAN AND SCHENCK. “THE PENNANT WINNING BATTERY OF SONGLAND” (Warner Bros./The Vitaphone Corporation – US 1927) D: ?; C: Gus Van, Joe Schenck; songs: “Me Too (Ho-Ho! Ha-Ha!)” (M, lyr: Harry M. Woods, Charles Tobias, Al Sherman), “Hard to Get Gertie” (M: Milton Ager, lyr: Jack Yellen), “Because I Love You” (M, lyr: Irving Berlin), “She Knows Her Onions” (mus: Milton Ager, lyr: Jack Yellen); filmed: 1927; rel: 3.2.1927; © 2.4.1927; Vitaphone n. 395; 35 mm, ca. 810 ft (250 m), 9' (24 fps), sd.; print source: UCLA Film & Television Archive, Los Angeles.
    "Gus Van (1887-1968) and Joe Schenck (1891-1930), a popular comedy and song act in vaudeville, on Broadway (they were featured in the legendary 1919 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies), and on early radio, perform four musical numbers representing their easygoing close harmony style and typical repertoire. Friends from childhood, they grew up in Brooklyn, forming a vaudeville act around 1910, and by the mid-1910s were headliners. Baritone Gus Van specialized in dialects, here displayed in two numbers, “Hard to Get Gertie”, done in the style of the famous black entertainer Bert Williams, and “She Knows Her Onions”, a rube characterization. Tenor Joe Schenck tickled the ivories at the piano – “Because I Love You” demonstrates his unique style: he could sing while playing with his back to the keyboard!"
    "Van and Schenck were keen baseball fans; their billing, “The Pennant Winning Battery of Songland”, reflects their effectiveness as a team at putting over a song (in baseball, the term “battery” refers to a pitcher and catcher who work together closely). After Schenck died suddenly of a heart attack on tour in June 1930, Van continued for years as a successful solo entertainer, billed as “The Melody Man”. This short gives a flavour of their act, period slang, dialects, eccentric piano style, and all."
– Catherine A. Surowiec (The Catalog) - AA: Straight record of a performance of four songs, Schenck at the piano, Van just singing, also in the black idiom ("Hard To Get Gertie"). They are dressed in suits and bowties, but they also perform in very earthy styles ("She Knows Her Onions"). In medium shots.

At Teatro Verdi, it was a nice idea to start the festival with three famous Verdi songs.

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