When Hollywood found its voice in 1927, the first thing it did was burst into song. Al Jolson’s performance in Warner Bros.’ “The Jazz Singer” thrilled and delighted audiences that, until then, were used to their films being silent.
The Crestview Public Library features a new exhibit about the American movie musical on the Sandra Dreaden Gallery Wall and in the lobby display cases through January.
When the “talkies” premiered, moviegoers’ rush to embrace the new technology turned the film industry on its ear. Studios cranking out silent films ground to a halt in mid-production while engineers rushed to install audio recording equipment and cinemas worked as hard to install sound playback capabilities.
That revolution in film technology and how studios adjusted to it is the central topic of one of Hollywood’s greatest musicals, “Singin’ in the Rain” (M-G-M 1952). An original 1952 poster — poorly scanned and adapted by Turner Classic Movies for its 2010 rerelease — is included in an exhibit now mounted at the Crestview Public Library.
Called “Singin’ on the Screen,” the exhibit includes original posters for movie musicals including “The Sound of Music,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “The King and I,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Gypsy” and “Victor/Victoria,” among others.
A few musicals that bombed with audiences are also displayed, including “Hello,Dolly” and “Mame,” which showed how having a much-loved star — Barbra Streisand and Lucille Ball, respectively — doesn’t necessarily translate into box office gold.
In the same vein, also represented is the early ‘70s remake as a musical of “Lost Horizon.” Though packed with a plethora of screen legends, few of them could sing and the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs were so syrupy that the whole film was laughably dismissed as “Lost Investment.”
In the library lobby, a collection of original soundtrack recordings includes “That’s Entertainment,” a compilation of classic M-G-M musical numbers that saved the studio from bankruptcy in the 1970s. Other classic soundtracks on display include many from a collaboration between Rhino Movie Music and Turner Classic Movie Music that featured remastered soundtracks culled from studio archives.
Sheet music from earlier movie musicals is also displayed, including classic songs such as “Ol’ Man River” from “Show Boat,” “I Ain’t Down Yet” from “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”
Movie musicals periodically lose popularity, only to bounce back in a new incarnation. For example, the action no longer suddenly stops as actors burst into song. Instead, songs in contemporary musicals are often featured as performances within the film.
Even for patrons who aren’t necessarily enthusiasts of the film musical, the exhibit now mounted at the Crestview Public Library through January is a glimpse at a uniquely American genre of movies and the often magnificent artwork used to promote it.
Singin’ on the Screen
What: Exhibit of movie musical posters, soundtracks and sheet music
Where: Crestview Public Library, 1445 Commerce Dr. (behind the post office)
When: During normal library hours, through January
Notes: Celebrate the American musical film genre in this eclectic exhibit from a private collection