1930 is a year that’s memorable historically because it’s smack-dab in the middle of the transition to sound. The Jazz Singer comes out October 1927. Hollywood only starts getting into talkies in 1929, because it took them the first year to clear out the inventory and start new. The transition to sound is a fascinating era. Because first it’s all about showing films with sound. A lot of them are plays, with tableau staging and very theatrical stories and performances. Then slowly, as techniques begin to be developed and technology gets better (because remember, in order to shoot sound at first they had to keep cameras — which were very loud, as were the lights — stationary and had giant soundproof booths just to pick up everything), they start to get more advanced. By 1932, they’ve basically perfected the sound technology and are moving into narrative advancements.
But in 1930, you have an interesting mix of films that are just learning to use sound. Still a smattering of silents, but mostly talkies. And the talkies you see that do well here are of very specific genres: comedy, western, war, musical. The quintessential genres. You also see a very specific genre emerge: Pre-Code films. Now that Hollywood has the use of sound, they have much more leeway on dialogue. And they’re starting to go into some pretty dangerous territory, which will get them in trouble in a few years and lead to a self-censorship that prevented them from going into the subjects of sex and addiction and all that good stuff.
It’s an interesting year. There’s some good stuff in it. A lot of stuff that only works when you understand the era, but this year did give us an all-time great film. Like legitimate all-time, still holds up today, still one of the greatest films ever made. And the fact that it happened during the transition to sound is all the more impressive. (more…)