A Song in the Dark

A Song in the Dark : The Birth of the Musical Film

4.37 (29 ratings by Goodreads)

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It was the most chaotic era in the history of American entertainment, possibly its most dynamic, and in some ways its least understood. In a stunningly brief time, as the Jazz Age roared to a close, the art of the silent film became extinct, thrown over in favor of the unknown, virtually untested medium of talking pictures. Leading the way was a brand new American art form: the movie musical. Taking off like a shot from day one, this new genre instantly became the a quintessential form of American entertainment. Here for the first time is the story of this fabulous, forgotten age when the movies learned to sing and dance.
Chronicling the early musical film years from 1926 to 1934, A Song in the Dark offers a fascinating look at these innovative films, the product of much of the major experimentation that went on during the development of sound technology. Illuminating the entire evolution of this new sound medium, Richard Barrios shows how Hollywood, seeking to outdo Broadway and vaudeville, recruited both the famous and the unknown, the newest stars and the has-beens, the geniuses and the hustlers. The results were unlike anything the world had seen or heard: backstage yarns, all-star revues, grandiose operettas, outlandish hybrids--some wonderful, many innovative, a few ghastly. He recalls, for example, such monumental films as the 1927 hit The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson, the first feature film to include both talk and song. Corney, hokey, and repellently manipulative, it was by most accounts, even by 1927 standards, a poor film. Yet, showcasing the spectacular and extremely popular Jolson, it created a new dimension of intensity that silent films could not duplicate, playing to over one million people per week across the country only three weeks after its release. He discusses such memorable releases as The Broadway Melody (winner of the Academy Award for best film in 1929), the first true musical film that established movie musicals as potent and viable entertainment. Barrios goes on the offer in-depth discussions of innovative films such as The Desert Song, and On With the Show!, the first all-color talkie, as well as the more mature musicals of the 1930s including the Warner Brothers' "backstage" musicals of 1933-34 that started with 42nd Street and the Gold Diggers films. And, of course, he talks about the famed Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire collaborations, such as Flying Down to Rio, which, with their sophisticated style and technique, established them as the premier film musical team.
Throughout, Barrios highlights the careers of the original great musical stars like Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Busby Berkeley, and Maurice Chevalier, and presents the films of newcomers such as Jeanette MacDonald, Bing Crosby, and Ruby Keeler. The fickle public rushed to see these stars--talking and singing and dancing across the screen--then suddenly turned away. It took the Depression to bring back musicals, bigger and brassier than ever. The triumphs, disasters, and offscreen intrigue are all here in a fascinating story told with a blend of scholarly research, engaging writing, and cogent criticism. With more than fifty photos, extensive annotations, and a discography, A Song in the Dark memorably recovers this vital and unique film heritage.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 512 pages
  • 155.2 x 232.7 x 32.3mm | 935.58g
  • Oxford University Press, USA
  • New York, NY, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • Illustrations, black and white
  • 0195088115
  • 9780195088113

Review quote

"For anyone who is drawn to the American Movie Classics channel on cable, or the "Oldies" shelf at the local video store, Richard Barrios and his book will serve as a hugely well-informed and immensely authoritative...companion."--Los Angeles Times
"Fascinating and exhaustive....The general reader will find immense pleasure in the wealth of detail the author provides about those films that are long-forgotten and in most cases completely lost to the movie student."--The Stage
"With his definitive A Song in the Dark...Richard Barrios fills the gap with a zestful account of the teething problems the cinema encountered when it first found its voice and out on its dancing shoes....Informative and hugely entertaining."--The Sunday Express
"This book fills an important gap in literature on the early days of the musical film, and charts its rise in detail."--BBC Music
"Richard Barrios provides an in-depth look at Post-Depression Hollywood."--Tutti
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About Independent Scholar Richard Barrios

Richard Barrios is a film historian, musician, and freelance writer. He live in New York City.
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Rating details

29 ratings
4.37 out of 5 stars
5 48% (14)
4 41% (12)
3 10% (3)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
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