Each year Turner Classic Movies (TCM) presents 31 days of Oscar nominated movies from February 1st through March 3rd in anticipation of the Academy Awards. The 85th Academy Awards presentation will be broadcast on Sunday, February 24th. All 349 movies in the TCM lineup were at least nominated, and many won in one or more categories. This year the movies are grouped according to the studios that made them. For example, Warner Brothers movies will be broadcast from February 1st to 5th, Allied Artists movies will be broadcast on February 5, and Universal Pictures movies will be aired on February 6th and 7th. Other studios featured include Lux Film, Twentieth Century-Fox, RKO Radio Pictures, Selznick International Pictures and Paramount Pictures. The movies include 42nd Street, Key Largo, Cabaret, The Night of the Iguana, Imitation of Life, The Sting, Hello, Dolly!, Little Women, Gone with the Wind, Singin’ in the Rain, Gigi, Doctor Zhivago, From Here to Eternity, and Dead Poets Society.
Appropriately, the first film to be broadcast (at 6:00 a.m. ET on Friday, February 1st) will be Warner Brothers’ groundbreaking movie The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. This 1927 film is considered the first “talkie,” though that is only partially correct. Much of the film is silent with the normal dialogue cards. However, you do hear music in the background, and you do hear Al Jolson singing at various points in the film.
In the 1920s most film makers were happy making silent films, and could not conceive of the advantages of adding sound. Sam Warner, one of the brothers Warner, had a different idea. He thought that sound would be the next big thing in movie making. After much discussion he talked his brother, Harry Warner, into buying Vitaphone – a company that recorded sound on 16 inch discs, and played them back at 33 1/3 rpms (the same speed at which LPs were played). Since film did not contain a soundtrack at that point, it was necessary to synchronize the film and the discs. But, if the film broke and had to be spliced back together, or if the record skipped or stuck in one groove, you had chaos. In fact, this chaos is comically displayed in the great musical Singin’ in the Rain (to be broadcast at 2:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, February 16th). It’s interesting to note that each disc had 20 boxes on the label. Each time the disc was used, a box was checked. When all 20 boxes were checked, that disc was replaced with a new one in order to minimize the above-mentioned problem. Later, when the film soundtrack was invented, the synchronization problem went away.
Tragically, Sam Warner, the person most responsible for bringing sound to movies, died on October 5, 1927 – the day before the New York premier of The Jazz Singer. He was only 40 years old. Complications from a sinus infection cause his untimely demise.
If you’re interested in films, you will enjoy the American Film Institute (AFI) site. There is a lot to explore there including lists such as AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies, AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains, and AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars. All of the lists were presented on TV specials over the past ten years or so.