Il re del jazz. US 1930. D: John Murray Anderson. SC: Harry Ruskin. Cinematography: Hal Mohr, Jerome Ash, Ray Rennahan. ED: Robert Carlisle, Maurice Pivar. AD: Herman Rosse. M: Milton Ager, Harry De Costa, George Gershwin, Billy Rose, Mabel Wayne, Jack Yellen. C: Paul Whiteman and His Band, John Boles, Laura La Plante, Jeanette Loff, Glenn Tryon, William Kent, Slim Summerville, Merna Kennedy, The Rhythm Boys featuring Bing Crosby. P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. [The film was not released in Finland]. DCP. 100′. B&w .
Two color Technicolor – 1,2:1
DCP from Universal Pictures
Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years
E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra
Cinema Jolly, 30 June 2016
James Layton and David Pierce (Bologna catalog): "After years of being available in only poor quality and incomplete copies, Universal has digitally restored King of Jazz closer to its original form. Using the original soundtrack negative as a guide, the new restoration aims to recreate the film’s 1930 general release. The two-color Technicolor camera negative (cut for a 1933 reissue) was scanned at 4K resolution and then blended with additional footage from multiple dye-transfer prints. A small amount of missing footage has been reconstructed with stills over the original audio. For the first time in close to 85 years, audiences will be able to see and hear King of Jazz in a form more faithful to its original length, running order and visual quality."
"King of Jazz was one of the most ambitious musicals ever to emerge from Hollywood. Universal’s super production brought together Paul Whiteman, leader of the country’s top dance orchestra; John Murray Anderson, director of spectacular Broadway revues; a top ensemble of dancers and singers; sparkling early Technicolor; and a near unlimited budget. The end result was a unique mixture of the stage and screen – with no plot and nearly no dialogue – presenting an unparalleled cinematic interpretation of jazz music and stage spectacle."
"At the time Paul Whiteman was at the peak of his celebrity, having recruited the country’s premier roster of jazz performers, including a young Bing Crosby on vocals. The rotund orchestra leader signed with Universal for an extraordinary $200,000, but the studio struggled to find an appropriate story. After two stalled attempts to make the film, first as a biopic, then as a backstage drama, Universal eventually settled on the revue form. With Flo Ziegfeld unavailable, the studio approached the next best: John Murray Anderson, the man behind the innovative Greenwich Village Follies series on Broadway. Anderson – who had no prior experience with film – enlisted a host of exceptional stage talent to realize his vision for the film, and teamed them with Universal’s contract stars. At a total expense of $2 million, the film stood no chance of returning its costs. It performed poorly in the US – where musicals were no longer in demand – but found its audiences internationally, raking in $1.2 million." – James Layton and David Pierce
AA: One of the greatest restoration projects of recent years, a dream come true for lovers of the film musical. King of Jazz was a case of une folie de grandeur of Universal Pictures, a giant musical spectacle released at a moment when the market was over-saturated with musicals, a half a year after the stock market crash. Commercially King of Jazz was an expensive flop, but the result was also a lasting achievement, a fascinating anthology of American popular music, although the lapses of taste and judgement are also monumental, starting with the title of the film.
King of Jazz is one of the foundation works of the grand revue format of the Hollywood musical, still followed by MGM in Ziegfeld Follies fifteen years later in which comedy sketches and huge production numbers alternate in the same way. In the beginning Paul Whiteman opens his scrap book – which turns out to be the very movie we are watching.
King of Jazz is all Technicolor, an important achievement in the development of the two colour Technicolor film. A special feature is a Technicolor animation right at the start, full of crazy transformations. Paul Whiteman "in darkest Africa" is there crowned King of Jazz.
The players in Paul Whiteman's orchestra are introduced, as are the chorus girls. Between popular music numbers are also passages of classical music ("Danza degli spiriti beati" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice). A magnificent wedding fantasy is among the first production numbers. Among The Rhythm Boys we detect Bing Crosby in his first film performance. His strong screen presence is already evident. The imagination sometimes borders on kitsch, and sometimes indulges in it. There are straight overhead shots of a complex choreography executed in the same way that Busby Berkeley would soon cultivate into a form of art. Paul Whiteman's face transforms into a Mélièsian moon. Before becoming a Howard Hawks regular Walter Brennan was a vaudeville veteran among many other things; he was also a war veteran. He had also made a fortune in real estate and lost most in the Great Depression. Here he toils in several numbers.
"Rhapsody in Blue" had been commissioned by Paul Whiteman from George Gershwin, and perhaps the most valuable asset of King of Jazz is the performance of this great composition by the original band.
King of Jazz climaxes with "The Melting Pot of Music". "Melodies of all nations" form a new rhythm: jazz. There are tributes to music from Britain, Italy, Scotland, Spain, Russia, France, etc. There is a special effects passage about the magic cauldron which leads to the grande finale of melting metal, and kaleidoscopic visions – leading to the birth of jazz in the reign of the king, Paul Whiteman.
Impressive, and offensive. No Africa, no New Orleans in the melting pot of jazz. It cannot be said that King of Jazz totally ignores the black origins of jazz. There are references to Africa and the black man in the "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence and the animation in the beginning. But when a film is called King of Jazz with such a huge cast of musical talent, and not a single black artist participates, it is deplorable.
The two colour Technicolor of course has its limitations. The colours are red and green, no blue. This famously creates a problem with "Rhapsody in Blue".
The restoration is marvellous, and visually the film is a great pleasure to watch.