The Broadway Melody (1928)
A lot of the reviews of this film I have read dismiss it quite early on. For some reason they seem to think that a film rooted in spectacle isn’t enough of a justification to earn it Best Picture (check out Rotten Tomatoes). Sure this statement is probably true of today’s filmmaking, but lets not lose sight of the fact that the entire early film industry grew from the thrill of spectacle. Early cinema audiences were fascinated by the excitement of the chase or comedy sequence. Can we really fault the Academy for awarding Best Picture to a film whose success hinged on the novelty of singing and dancing? Of course not.
The Broadway Melody was released just as ‘the talkies’ were becoming popular around the world. With the advent of synchronised sound, Hollywood Cinema was fundamentally altered in terms of creativity, technical production elements and audience expectations. This is why The Broadway Melody is such an interesting watch. We’re seeing some of the first song and dance numbers in the history of cinema – what a priviledge! Setting this film apart from their competitors, the numbers were integrated into the story with simplicity and a fair justification.
The story itself is relatively bland by today’s standard, but we can forgive this because watching the film in the twenty-first century we’re probably expecting it to be a bit of a time capsule. Two lasses, sisters actually, head to New York to make it big on Broadway. Maybe a dated premise today, but many of us will still be able to connect this to our own lives, if not in literally wanting to conquer Broadway then to be figuratively heading towards some sort of higher achievement or goal.
The two girls (Bessie Love and Anita Page) are gorgeous looking and the girl playing Hank is one fantastic actress. I loved the costumes – imagine an era where people wore top-hats and still took themselves seriously! And the show costumes – I totally digged them.
Some may disagree, but on the whole I found the representation of women in this film to be subtely progressive. Sure, the girls careers are at the mercy of big-shot Mr Zanfied, the producer, but their love lives are their own. They have the right to choose who they date – a couple of characters have an argument because they don’t want Queenie to date one particular rich guy. ‘You can’t choose him!’ they cry, firmly implying that it is her choice to date whomever she pleases. A fair and rather balanced representation for the 1920s, if you ask me. Debate welcome.
Of course, there’s no denying that the musical numbers aren’t that good. The dancers are out of time and the singing isn’t all that great, but considering that most of the filmmakers and performers working on this project have never worked with sound before, I’m willing to forgive them and be thankful for the chance to observe a film which captures a glorious moment of revolution in Hollywood, and even world, cinema.