- Paperback: 504 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2 edition (November 11, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195377346
- ISBN-13: 978-0195377347
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,350,848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film Paperback – November 11, 2009
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"This lively, intelligent and well-researched survey tells the tumultuous and often delightfully absurd saga of the film industry's frantic, disaster-laced efforts in the late 1920's and early 1930's to fabricate a new, lucrative product -- the movie musical -- as part of its effort to come to grips with the new technology of sound. Mr. Barrios makes clear that contrary to myth The Jazz Singer, featuring the overbearing Al Jolson, was neither the first major motion picture to use sound nor the first to make notable use of music. A Song in the Dark deals engagingly with its colorful and fascinating subject, and it is illuminating not only on artistic concerns, but on business and technical ones as well, including the process by which many of these films, previously declared lost, have been found and restored. It makes an effective case for a re-examination of this audacious, excessive and underappreciated moment in motion picture history."-New York Times
"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 Magazine
"Richard Barrios provides an in-depth look at Post-Depression Hollywood."--Tutti
"Anyone interested in the Broadway and/or movie musical will find this history as engrossing as it is informative...One must be grateful to the author for bringing to life a faraway, misunderstood time of trial and error and turning both the triumphs and the misfires of early movie musicals into fascinating history." --Fontes Artis Musicae
About the Author
Richard Barrios has lectured extensively on film, served as a commentator on numerous DVDs, and co-hosted a series on Turner Classic Movies. He currently lives outside Philadelphia.
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This starts the reader through a three year journey of all the major studios groping to see what does and doesn't work, their many flops, and their few artistic triumphs. What got the studios through the early days was the novelty of sound attracting audiences regardless of the quality of the film, and the author does a good job of being thorough without being dry. His descriptions of some of the early sound musicals, some of the strange decisions that were made, and the early technical obstacles and their solutions are outright hilarious. The author describes how all of the bad products and bad decisions eventually cause audiences to have had their fill of musicals by 1931. Then he describes how "42nd Street" revives the genre, the lessons that were learned, and how the musical was ultimately reborn as a popular artform.
You can read this book all the way through, but more than likely you'll have to read it more than once to get everything out of it since it is densely packed with information about individual films as well as overall trends. I highly recommend it if you are interested in the early talkie musical and its history.
He has been watching these movies since his early childhood and he has been reading about movies and the Hollywood scene also during his growing years. Join him on this journey to the past, in a time and place that exists no longer, but still influences our 21st century culture. If you love music, the musical theatre and especially those gems from the past--you will love Richard Barrios' "A Song in the Dark."
I was rather perplexed by the previous review that stated this book had no central thesis. It is, I believe, a serious misreading of the book. Barrios states quite clearly that the first generation of movie musicals were a matter of trial and error. Hollywood needed to find out what would--and what would not--work on FILM regarding musicals. This is one of the reasons why Barrios's analysis is so insightful. Busby Berkeley, for example, is such a great choreographer precisely because he realized that FILM choreography is a different art form from dancing on stage. His wonderful combination of vision and movement *as captured ON FILM* continues to delight us today. But Berkeley could not have known this without the previous examples of movie choreography that was filmed as if it were a theatre performance. Hollywood learned from its mistakes.
And Barrios's writing is quite simply a delight. So much film analysis misses the popcorn for the postmodern theory. Whereas even a truly awful film can be a secret delight (as Barrios acknowledges over and over again), really dry criticism is like week old popcorn: pretty tasteless and hard to swallow. But I must admit that I laughed out loud again and again as I read about one disaster after another, all preserved on film for us to gaze at in wonder (as in "I wonder how in the world they thought THAT would work on film?"). And his analysis of the great musicals of the period made me long to be sitting in the third row from the back, transported to another world as only a really wonderful movie can do. The book is extensive in witty and incisive reviews of the good, the bad, and the truly ugly of early music musicals precisely to bear out Barrios's central thesis: that Hollywood did not approach the movie musical with preconceived notions of what would work like gangbusters on the screen. Rather they learned from their mistakes after watching gangs bust out in unintended laughter at some of the real bombs of the musical genre. And Barrios's book is the only one I am aware of that so truly captures the spirit of the age: hey guys, let's film a musical and see if it works.
The auteur theory, while often instructive and interesting, has done some serious disservice to film criticism. It has led us to believe that directors all have these preconceived, "unified visions" that are applied to every film project they undertake. But I believe that Barrios is far closer to the truth: Hollywood laid some eggs and THEN learned to make some delicious omelettes.
And Barrios is something that most film critics and historians are not: as much fun to read as the movies he analyzes are to watch. Put some butter on the popcorn, put your feet up and enjoy a book that is truly a joy to read.