Applause (1929)

applause-1929Managers. Destroying families since 1929.

I fuckin’ love pre-Hayes’ movies. Sometimes it’s just scary to think what could’ve Hollywood turned into if it weren’t for that couple of decades governed by a notion of public outcry (in an unrelated story it’s scary to think what our civilization could’ve looked like if it weren’t for the cross-wielding guys in black robes running things for few centuries – but I’m awfully close to wishful thinking there so never you mind). Hell, in an era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie like this one wasn’t really possible. Imagine Ginger in some shabby apartment drinking the poisoned gin while Fred is playing hooky with a dame next door. Imagine Gene Kelly in a movie that doesn’t glorify the show business, in a movie that is well aware that Stars are but a few and are vastly outnumbered by those who didn’t make it. This kind of movie was possible in 1929. Despite bordering on the verge of melodrama it managed to glorify the fight instead of a winner which is something what won’t be done again for many years to come. Glorify may be poor choice of word there but let me try to explain.

bscap0002Digression: Another example of difference between Applause and later Hollywood takes on a burlesque drama is its relation to the book from which script was drafted. In a book by Betty Brown April is saved not by an ordinary sailor but by a wealthy socialite which is more in tune with usual narrative of this kind (consider Pretty woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts). This kind of de-glamorizing narrative became something like a taboo in later Hollywood productions.

So. Glorification. It doesn’t really apply to Applause. Applause is a drama. The heavy kind. Still, it works perfectly. It has a smart script, it opens up to different readings within different contexts and it introduces some elements which may be called, for lack of a better word, postmodern. This is some heavy artillery for a movie from the early sound era which were usually more interested in exploiting new technology than anything else. Helmed by Rouben Mamoulian who did a wonderful job with direction, camera movements, editing, montage, framework and filming on location Applause had a potential for a timeless classic which dissipated after the market crash and following depression. It didn’t lose its masterpiece aura, of course, but it wasn’t as influential as it could’ve been.

bscap0003 Notice how Mamoulian criticizes exploitation moments of sleazy burlesque (close shots of dirty old men) while at the same time he’s offering same moments to the viewers of his film. Notice how scheming, gold digging, Hitch isn’t “punished” but continues to work because he’s an integral part of show business without whom entire system collapses. Notice how female characters are both weak and strong, silly and smart, willful and meek which makes them live on the screen, notice how April – when she tries to bullshit Tony the most – offers up something that is far more rational (and only thing that is “acceptable” for our standpoint) than anything else she did before. Notice the subtle critique of Catholic morality which is disgusted by worldly matters by nothing more than a weak principle yet is forced to make a choice between aspiring to sainthood or struggling along and helping the ones in need, notice how April can break the vicious circle of sacrifice and indebtness only by stepping out from her role, by choosing to be (to have an identity) instead of choosing to suffer (which would be an imperative for a good Catholic girl), notice how all of that is skillfully interwoven in a movie that is just 80 minutes long, movie that doesn’t break a pace or is strangled by lengthy explanations or explanatory monologues. Notice how all of that is rarely found in modern mainstream filmmaking and you’ll notice how Applause was way ahead of its time because of which it functions perfectly even today.

Sure. I love a good drama but I can spot a masterpiece when I see one and Applause is just such a thing – a masterpiece of American cinema if there ever was one.

Directed by

Rouben Mamoulian

Produced by

Monta Bell

Written by

Garrett Fort
Beth Brown


Helen Morgan
Joan Peers


George J. Folsey

Editing by

John Bassler

Distributed by

Paramount Pictures


Try before You Buy


2 thoughts on “Applause (1929)

  1. Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had
    written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog
    writer but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you
    have any recommendations for novice blog writers?
    I’d certainly appreciate it.

    • Thank you for you support 🙂

      Anyway, I don’t really have any intelligent advice. Depends what you’re aiming at I guess. Since I’m not concerned with readers or making this blog popular (I’m doing this just to sort of ‘force’ myself to think about what I watch instead of consume-instantly forget thing that I caught myself doing), I don’t bother myself with stuff that are essential for that kind of exposure (SEO optimization, constant presence on social networks and so on).

      Most sensible advice I can give you is just write and try to control yourself with design elements until you get a grasp on how do they function and how they appear on other people screens. And have fun, the moment this becomes ‘obligatory’ or something similar to ‘work’ is a moment you need to step back. Unless you want to get something more (in a commercial sense) from your writing. But you’re on your own if that’s the case 😀

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