Rouben Mamoulian

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Alexander Bakshy

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There are two reasons why Rouben Mamoulian's "Applause" … is one of the most significant talking pictures that has yet been produced in this country. Its first claim to distinction is that rare thing the artist's touch, a quality which proclaims a cultured and sensitive mind attuned to the medium of its expression. Its second claim rests on its convincing demonstration of the ability of the talking picture to create drama which is not modeled after the stage….

Perhaps the most striking achievement of Mr. Mamoulian is the sustained sense of unity, of an atmosphere, with which he infuses his play as a whole. The sordidness of its realistic detail is not to be gainsaid; yet how mordant and spicy it is, how different in its imaginative treatment from the countless scenes of chorus girls on the stage as found in even the best of Hollywood's films! Particularly striking, also, is the opening sequence showing a desolate street with bits of paper blown by the wind, then a solitary dog running this way and that, then groups of excited children and, finally, as a climax, the street parade of the burlesque troupe, with the volume of sound rising from scene to scene until it swells to a cacophonous blare of the actors' trumpets. Since Mr. Dudley Murphy's "St. Louis Blues," a very remarkable little picture in its own way, this is unquestionably the most satisfying instance of cinematic treatment of sound. Another instance, even more important in its implications because of the far-reaching developments it foreshadows, is to be found in Mr. Mamoulian's use of the "split screen"—that is, two independent scenes shown side by side. Taken as a whole, however, "Applause" is not free from some important defects. The dramatic values of its dialogue are not so well brought out as are those of the visual images, and there is a consequent loss of emotional effect. Nor is Mr. Mamoulian's almost continuous use of the moving camera wholly convincing. It slows up action where an imaginative "cutting," like that in Eisenstein's "Potemkin," would have given speed and concentration of interest. Besides, with its bouncing horizon and its emphasis upon the outline of the picture, the moving camera gives a view of the world as it might be seen by an elephant out of a closed car, rather than by a human being walking in the open.

Alexander Bakshy, "The Talkies Advancing," in The Nation (copyright 1929 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 129, No. 3356, October 30, 1929, p. 503.

[Applause] shows much that is distinctive by way of retaining the cinematic method of the silent screen and applying it to the screen of the sound film. In this one perceives a further step in blending the technique of both in that composite method which apparently is to furnish the picture art of the future. Finished composition in the photography has been striven for and camera invention to a very large degree retained for the narrative manner. Quite apart from sound and dialogue effects, this film "says it with pictures." Here a great superiority has been achieved over most of the current talkies. Were sound omitted from Applause, it would still have coherence and a story-telling power of its own through its pictorial interest….

[The plot] is time worn, turned into a little different shape here and there…. The strings are pulled in the same old way and the mechanism of jazz and show girls, which proved so appealing to the populace in Broadway Melody , is not overlooked in the theatre sequences. But there is...

(This entire section contains 811 words.)

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a difference, because these things are done with cinematic meaning as well as with sound enhancement. And the sound finds elaboration, and gains in naturalness, through subordinating to or mingling of dialogue with the pervading noises of the places where the action takes place.

Technically Applause is often surprising; the sound track has been carried through dissolves and fades and camera shifts with telling effect and gives almost the same flexibility aurally that the film possesses visually. The camera speech itself gets close to the virtuosity of a Variety or The Last Moment, and the speed, ease and fluidity of the film are among the marks of its cinematic virtue….

[The] direction, given a story which is somewhat squalid and brutal, shows reluctance to over-state, dramatic judgment and tenderness. One of the loveliest sequences yet to find its way into the talkies is that composed of the shots of the boy and girl finding the shy utterance of their awakening love under the towering arches of Brooklyn Bridge, with the night sounds of the river coming up to them, becoming a part of their feelings, their reticent speech, so in keeping with their isolation, their shadowy selves, the dim city they have for this haunting and magic hour escaped.

"'Applause'," in National Board of Review Magazine (copyright, 1929), Vol. IV, No. 9, November, 1929, p. 11.




Thornton Delahanty