5/30/14

VITAPHONE OF IT ALL PART DEUX: THE GUS ARNHEIM DANCE PARTY

Here's a very early Vitaphone short--1927--of popular bandleader Gus Arnheim and his Ambassador Hotel Orchestra. As with the short I posted the other day, you again are simply in the environment of the 1920s, as all cinematic technique is eschewed and the band is captured, impassively, as it would be seen in a hotel ballroom. I find this stuff mesmerizing and I must not be the only one since a great organization called The Vitaphone Project has made it their mission to restore these one-of-a-kind short films, which are virtually a visual history of vaudeville and popular live entertainment of the period. Click here for a history of Vitaphone and how their early sound/film system worked. It's quite unbelievable as the sound existed on a disc separate from the film. The recording playback device was attached to the projector, which somehow synced up the mute film with the record. Oy. For many years the films, thought to be worthless, were scattered to the wind and it's been the Vitaphone Projects mission to find the discs and the films that go with them (they usually wound up in different places through the years) and reunite them.

The band features, among other things, a guitar and a banjo as well as three reed players who--surprise!--jump up toward the end and form a snappy singing trio. Arnheim presides at the piano and remains wordless, taking two bows and letting the music speak for itself. I've not been able to find the names of any of the players which, in a sense, makes this film something of a ghost story; who were these men, where did they come from, how did they get hired and where did they wind up? It's just another trippy aspect of these shorts...could any of them have predicted, on the day this film was shot eighty-seven years ago, that there would be visual proof of their existences beyond whatever snapshots their family members (assuming they had any--they were musicians, after all) might have saved? And that we'd be watching it on something called a computer?

Arnheim, it turns out, wrote the popular hit song "I Cried For You" which Judy Garland sang in one of those "Babes In/On..." movies with Mickey Rooney. Surprisingly (to me), the song turns out to have been written in the early 20s, though its bigtime era was the late thirties/early forties. If you go to this site, somebody has posted a bunch of very clean recordings of Arnheim's orchestra, apparently having cleaned up the audio using a special feature on Goldwave, which takes old vinyl and tape recordings and enables noise reduction of buzz, hiss, crackles and clicks that usually mar these old records.




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