‘When Sound Came to Keene’

Published: 4/5/2019 4:20:37 PM

The first general-audience movies with sound ever to be shown in Keene are being screened in a four-part series with Keene State College Film Studies Professor Emeritus and Film Historian Larry Benaquist at the Keene Public Library.

In 1929, the first “talkies,” films to include sound, came to Keene — this spring see four of these pioneering movies and hear firsthand some of the stories behind their production.

Benaquist plans to follow showings of each of these four early “talkies” with anecdotes and historical facts about the profound effect sound had on audiences, screenwriters and the studios themselves. Take, as an example, the Marx Brothers movie, “The Cocoanuts,” when newfound sound engineers had to modify fishing poles to suspend microphones to catch the dialogue of mobile actors.

Presented by the Historical Society of Cheshire County and the Keene Public Library, the movies will be shown Wednesday nights at the Keene Public Library auditorium, and include:

‘The Singing Fool’April 10 at 7 p.m.

Warner Brothers released “The Singing Fool” starring Al Jolson, on September 19, 1928. It was shown at the Colonial Theatre in Keene that year. This film, the follow-up film to The Jazz Singer, was even more successful than its predecessor. The Singing Fool has all of Jolson’s songs in synchronized sound, and many of the dialogue sequences as well as the music track.

‘The Trespasser’April 17 at 7 p.m.

Released on November 1929, “The Trespasser” screened at the Scenic Theatre in Keene on December 17 and 18, 1929. Ninety minutes in length, this was Gloria Swanson’s first talking film, and it was a tremendous success. The Trespasser is a melodrama in which Gloria is a secretary who marries a wealthy but weak-willed young man whose father forces his son to annul the marriage; however, she has a son, and gossip starts that she is a “kept woman.”

‘The Broadway Melody’May 15 at 7 p.m.

The Broadway Melody premiered in Keene in May 1929 at the Colonial Theatre, one month prior to its general release nationwide. It was the first musical to have music made just for the film. It was also the first film to pre-record the music before playing it back to the actors, who lip-synced while the cameras were running, a technique called post-synchronization. Bessie Love, in her first sound film, plays one of two sisters vying for the affections of the same man.

‘The Cocoanuts’May 22 at 7 p.m.

Keene’s Scenic Theatre first premiered this Marx Bros. comedy film in August 1929. An instant hit with local audiences, the theatre brought The Cocoanuts back on two more occasions that year. In the film, the Marx Brothers reenact many vaudeville routines from their Broadway show to create a film about a Florida land boom, a hotel, and a jewel robbery. The film crew had trouble following the Marx Brothers around with microphones in this movie as they tried to catch their dialogue. The grips, out of desperation, resorted to hanging microphones from fishing poles to create mobile mics.


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