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The Translation of Films, 1900-1950$
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Carol O'Sullivan and Jean-François Cornu

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266434

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266434.001.0001

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Universal language, local accent: Music and song in the early talking film

Universal language, local accent: Music and song in the early talking film

(p.111) 7 Universal language, local accent: Music and song in the early talking film
The Translation of Films, 1900-1950

Geoff Brown

British Academy

With dialogue in early talkies complicating international product exchange, the film industry cherished the notion of music as a ‘universal language’. But this music required degrees of translation, both in the literal textual sense and in the matter of adapting ‘foreign’ customs, cultural and social, and musical styles. This chapter explores the issues principally through case studies of five key singing stars of early American and European sound films: Al Jolson, Maurice Chevalier, Carlos Gardel, Marlene Dietrich, and Richard Tauber. German producer Erich Pommer’s goal of combining universal appeal and nationalistic attractions, most evident in the multilingual Congress Dances, is also explored. After the mid-1930s, film music’s universal language significantly changed in response to technical developments, Hollywood’s solidified world power, and its development of a pervasive orchestral soundtrack style partly shaped by exiled European composers. European elements and local accents remained, but were now subsumed in a global American product.

Keywords:   Al Jolson, Carlos Gardel, Congress Dances, early talkies, film music, Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier, multilingual versions, Richard Tauber, The Blue Angel

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