BACKSTAGE WITH GERSHWIN IN 1929

Here’s an extraordinary piece of film. Apparently in December 1929, footage was captured of George Gershwin at rehearsals of his show ‘Strike Up The Band’, complete with chorus girls and a pre-rehearsed patter with star comedians Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough. We see George playing the piano as well as a gaggle of chubby chorus girls shot from two awkward but interesting angles; one from a side angle on the stage and the second from the rafters. The sound is actually synced though the angles prevent us from matching lips to words–it’s the gesticulation of the principals involved that makes it clear that it’s not an overdub. (IMPORTANT NOTE: you must watch this in full screen–if you don’t the top of the frame will be lopped off leaving you with only a bunch of torsos to look at).

All of this leads us to the main question which is: who the hell shot this stuff and what was it for? A YouTube commenter makes mention of the Fox Movietone process being involved and I think they’re right–just around the time this was shot the Movietone sound-on-film process began being used, largely for newsreels and experimental exterior footage. So perhaps this was a test of some sort–a little spec footage shot by the crew to see if there was a whole short film to be made out of the backstage shenanigans at a Broadway rehearsal. If a fuller more formal version of this exists I have a feeling it would have come to light by now. Meanwhile this precious fragment survives, courtesy of the late Edward Jablonsky (Gershwin’s biographer) and pianist/composer Jack Gibbons.

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