Rouben Mamoulian Alexander Bakshy - Essay

Alexander Bakshy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 811 words.)