In 1929, America was going through many difficult times with Prohibition, the Great Depression and most importantly the transition of silent to sound films. In New York at Paramount’s Film Studio (now Kaufman Astoria Studios), film director Rouben Mamoulian released his first ever film, “Applause”. Some viewers my consider this film to be a musical, a tragedy, or a drama, but it’s just about a dreary backstage life moment story about an actress named April who went through a wave of emotions trying to become involved in the show business.
The transition of sound film was on the rise during the late 1920s and at the same time, America was going downhill economically so many viewers in theaters had mixed feelings about the overall story because the storyline was uninteresting, but the camerawork and techniques used were innovative, especially for a first-time filmmaker. “Applause” was one of the most innovative early sound films for viewers to hear the actors and music to help understand what is going on in the movie better. An issue Mamoulian ran into during production was that he wanted to use one microphone to record the main character, Kitty Darling, singing a lullaby and the daughter, April Darling, murmuring a prayer, but both sounds would not pick up on the one microphone. Instead, he decided to use two microphones and successfully synchronized the recordings in the editing room which also drew attention to many viewers and other film critics because this was the first time that has been done.
There was a point in the movie where April was sexually harassed by her mother’s boyfriend. In 1929 sexual harassment was not a crime, so there was nothing she could do about it other than leave. Since this was before Hay’s code in 1934, films were allowed to portray these actions. After 1934, any films with content relating to negative or contradicting issues in the American society were censored. The content was censored in some regions where it was either banned completely or cut heavily.
On the other hand, “Applause” is a remarkable achievement for a motion picture made during this time with the use of close ups, unusual camera angles and lighting effects that were unusual for a film in 1929. Mamoulian made the scenes to be dramatic and visually striking by using overhead shots and filming frequently from the knees down. The audience was made to feel uneasy at moments to replicate how April must have felt when she first set foot in the theater. He achieved this mood by showing intense close-ups of unattractive performers and patrons.
Looking ahead to 2022, viewers may have a difficult time hearing the film, but eventually viewers would pick up on the dialogue as the story progressed. This was all because Mamoulian and Paramount Pictures were able to work together, and the production team was able to make an innovative early sound film. Although this film had an unappealing storyline, there were many innovative moments with sound and cinematography that impressed the viewers. The innovations and what films were like in 1929 made it possible for “Applause” to be one of the most striking films in the transition to sound era between 1926 and 1930.