Some rarities of the past are so deeply weird–so obscure and near indecipherable–that viewing/listening to them is akin to discovering hieroglyphics of long dead civilizations and attempting to translate them into something relatively meaningful. Which brings us to ‘The Voice Of Hollywood’, a series of short films produced by Poverty Row studio Tiffany Productions in 1930. (That’s according to the record books. The copyright on the above short is 1929). The shorts feature new one-set footage (a radio studio) interspersed with stock footage from current events. A guest host–in the above case cowboy star Johnny Mack Brown–sits at a desk and pretends to present a radio broadcast from station S-T-A-R in Hollywood, California (get it?). Dopey but intriguing acts then come on and do their thing–in this case a ‘blue’ song performed by a singer named Lillian Rich . The Duncan sisters then perform a number with stock footage mixed in from some sort of occasion in which Mary Pickford, Will Hays and Mack Sennett all welcomed then President Calvin Coolidge and Mrs. Coolidge to Hollywood for a tour of the studios. (One assumes Tiffany was not on the touring schedule that day). The awkward nature of the intercutting, the uncertain performances, the stock footage ‘novelty’ angle that doesn’t quite get pulled off…all of these combine to make ‘The Voice Of Hollywood’ a truly fascinating misfire. We can look at these shorts as a kind of bridge between the 20s and 30s, using the newly faddish radio technology as a way to bring the stars of the silent era into the present day. No director is listed, nor is it clear to me how many were produced. Start watching it–you’ll be tempted to turn it off after about one minute but give it another minute or two. I found myself strangely mesmerized by its off-kilter nature and even began to enjoy the edgy, home-made quality to it. Sometimes it’s the cruder objects of the past that tell us more about the time than the more polished surviving artifacts. If that’s true I don’t know how much cruder an object we can find in the world of short films than ‘The Voice Of Hollywood’.



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3 Responses

  1. Lordy, that ‘blue’ song by Lillian Rich – a foreshadowing of the cinema of Pre-Code? Considering the era, I’m surprised by its directness (“She’s wearing no ring,” we’re assured). And just who the hell were the Duncan sisters?

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