Janice Simpson (NBC Universal) and Dave Kehr (MoMA)
After years of being available in only poor quality and incomplete copies, Universal has digitally restored King of Jazz closer to its original form. Using the original soundtrack negative as a guide, the new restoration aims to recreate the film’s 1930 general release. The two-color Technicolor camera negative (cut for a 1933 reissue) was scanned at 4K resolution and then blended with additional footage from multiple dye-transfer prints. A small amount of missing footage has been reconstructed with stills over the original audio. For the first time in close to 85 years, audiences will be able to see and hear King of Jazz in a form more faithful to its original length, running order and visual quality.
King of Jazz was one of the most ambitious musicals ever to emerge from Hollywood. Universal’s super production brought together Paul Whiteman, leader of the country’s top dance orchestra; John Murray Anderson, director of spectacular Broadway revues; a top ensemble of dancers and singers; sparkling early Technicolor; and a near unlimited budget. The end result was a unique mixture of the stage and screen – with no plot and nearly no dialogue – presenting an unparalleled cinematic interpretation of jazz music and stage spectacle.
At the time Paul Whiteman was at the peak of his celebrity, having recruited the country’s premier roster of jazz performers, including a young Bing Crosby on vocals. The rotund orchestra leader signed with Universal for an extraordinary $200,000, but the studio struggled to find an appropriate story. After two stalled attempts to make the film, first as a biopic, then as a backstage drama, Universal eventually settled on the revue form. With Flo Ziegfeld unavailable, the studio approached the next best: John Murray Anderson, the man behind the innovative Greenwich Village Follies series on Broadway. Anderson – who had no prior experience with film – enlisted a host of exceptional stage talent to realize his vision for the film, and teamed them with Universal’s contract stars. At a total expense of $2 million, the film stood no chance of returning its costs. It performed poorly in the US – where musicals were no longer in demand – but found its audiences internationally, raking in $1.2 million.
James Layton and David Pierce
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Harry Ruskin. F.: Hal Mohr, Jerome Ash, Ray Rennahan. M.: Robert Carlisle, Maurice Pivar. Scgf.: Herman Rosse. Mus.: Milton Ager, Harry De Costa, George Gershwin, Billy Rose, Mabel Wayne, Jack Yellen. Int.: Paul Whiteman and His Band, John Boles, Laura La Plante, Jeanette Loff, Glenn Tryon, William Kent, Slim Summerville, Merna Kennedy, The Rhythm Boys featuring Bing Crosby. Prod.: Carl Leammle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. DCP. D.: 100′. Bn.
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