“The Jazz Singer” at Bligh’s Capitol Theatre

   

Above is an advertisement for the musical program, The Jazz Singer, at Bligh’s Capitol Theatre in Salem Oregon. This advertisement was published in the Statesman Journal on 22 July, 1928.

In relation to other advertisements on the page, this one was the most eye-catching due to its boldness. A disadvantage to this advertisement is it does not have any information about the price and dates of showing. It might have been at the bottom of the advertisement, but overtime and through digitizing it’s no longer there. 

This advertisement is interesting, particularly because of the program. The Jazz Singer was the first feature film with synchronized speech, which explains the use of ‘vitaphone’ and ‘movietone’ across the middle of the advertisement. The exhibitor wanted the focus of the advertisement to be on the brand new kind of program viewing in order to get the maximum amount of viewers. This also attributed to the popularity of the program. The Jazz Singer, was released in October of 1927, which means this program was available in Salem in less than a year. This further illustrates the programs level of popularity, considering the population and Westward location of Salem.

This program also had a big-time entertainer, Al Jolson. While Jolson was extremely popular among program goers, it is also important to acknowledge the racism embedded in the entertainment industry. Al Jolson did the majority of his programs in blackface, and at the time this was not a problem. Jolson used racial stereotypes, and was still considered to be the ‘greatest entertainer’ of the time. While blackface is not encouraged in the entertainment industry anymore, it is still important to recognize how it was sensationalized and welcomed at one point in time.

 

        

For context, Bligh’s Capitol Theatre was located on State Street in Salem Oregon in 1926. It was built in 1926, and burned down in 1935. It was then rebuilt and stayed open until it was closed in the early 1990’s, and eventually torn down in 2000. Throughout its lifespan the Theatre remained in the same location but the street names changed over time. 

 

Cited:

Statesman Journal, 22 July. 1928, pg 2.

Digital Sanborn Maps. Sheet 109. Image

Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society. “Capitol Theatre (Salem).” The Oregon Encyclopedia, oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/capitol_theater_salem_/#.WuDvEYjwZm9

“Al Jolson Biography.” Biography, www.biography.com/people/al-jolson-9356888

Live Vaudeville Performances and Film: Linking Past with Future

“VAUDEVILLE AND MOVING PICTURE SHOW,” an advertisement in the November 27, 1909 edition of the La Grande Evening Observer describes a mixed-bill of upcoming entertainment to be viewed at the Scenic Theatre in all capital letters to grab readers’ attention. This cross-promotion of live and recorded entertainment is highly intentional.

In his article “Film Exhibition in Vaudeville: What We Learn From Keith-Albee Managers’ Reports”, scholar Michael Slowik argues that by “placing films within a vaudeville program, vaudeville lent film the early identity of a ‘vaudeville act’. As a vaudeville act, film was expected to be a culturally respectable entertainment that appealed to a diverse group of patrons.”

Slowik’s concept of promoting film alongside live vaudeville acts to increase audience recognition of film as a valid and celebrated form of entertainment in the early 1900s is made apparent in the La Grande Evening Observer Scenic Theatre advertisement. The advertisement reveals the double feature of vaudeville performances “O’NEAL AND MARION Burlesque on Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “THE KENMORES. Willie and the Dolls” alongside “two reels of moving pictures.” The vaudeville performances would likely draw the crowd in for the film to follow, with hopes of building a future audience for film-only events that would potentially cost less money and require less organized planning than live vaudeville performances.

In addition to the format of the Scenic Theatre’s bill of upcoming entertainment, the content itself is worth discussing. With O’Neal and Marion’s burlesque show’s titular reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an audience member would likely expect elements of blackface minstrelsy and other racially charged material. (Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’ became synonymously used a derogatory term describing a subservient black man.) As cited by historical records in Oregon Blue Book, “African-Americans were unequivocally not wanted.” Exclusionist and Free Soil beliefs solidified Oregon’s early attitude on race, declaring it both ‘anti-slave’ and ‘anti-black’. Material such as blackface minstrelsy would likely be unsurprising and well received in an Oregon community such as La Grande, even in the early 1900s.

Examination of the Scenic Theatre’s advertisement in the La Grande Evening Observer offers primary insight into both the movement to use live vaudeville performances to draw audiences to film, as well as to the frightening reality of Oregon’s roots in racism. In this way, it is clear that live vaudeville performances had the capacity to act as agents of change towards the future, as well as pieces of historic preservation highlighting a problematic past.

REFERENCES:

Beecher Stowe, Harriet. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. John P. Jewett and Company, 1852.

La Grande Evening Observer, 27 Nov. 1909.

Oregon Blue Book: Oregon History: Statehood to Present, bluebook.state.or.us/cultural/history/historypost.htm.

Slowik, Michael. “Film Exhibition in Vaudeville: What We Learn from Keith-Albee Managers Reports.” Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, vol. 39, no. 2, 2012, pp. 73–92. Manchester University Press, doi:10.7227/nctf.39.2.5.

 

Movie Flourishes in the Jungle

Caption reads: “Testifying again to the popularity of the movies, here is a movie theater in a jungle. The “Louris Kinematograph” is situated in Rabaul, New Guinea. Every Saturday night, a show is held and the laughter of the savages can be heard for great distances.”

The “ad” for a theater that I have chosen to analyze today will actually create more questions than answers about the particular theater, setting, and the politics related with such. In the September 24th, 1920 Issue of Independence, Oregon’s “The Polk County Post”, included is a photo of a moving picture theater located in Rabaul, New Guinea. The title of the theater is is “Louris Kinematograph”, and why the theater was constructed as well as for what purpose it was included in this particular paper are inquiries worth pursuing.

We are given essentially no context for why this snippet was printed. The most likely case is that there was room on the page that they needed to fill and this sounded like an interesting, maybe “exotic” (exotic in a racist sense, as evidenced by the final sentence of the caption) tidbit to print. Interestingly, the first sentence of the caption sheds light on the relevance of film in society in general for that time with “Testifying again to the popularity of the movies…”. This implies that moving pictures were so socially relevant at the time, that the fact that this seemingly non-sequitur-esque snippet was included was inherently contextual in that movies were in the forefront of most people’s minds at that time.

The theater itself is, as much as we can discern from the photo, in an area lush with vegetation, which apparently gave the editor the freedom to imply that the theater is located in the wilderness, despite the fact that this is not the case in all likelihood. The caption tells us that the theater plays shows every Saturday night. As we have learned so far in class, movie theaters ironically used to be more multifaceted in their utilization than they are presently. Often theaters were the sites of social activities, other forms of art/entertainment, etc., which leads to the question of: What was this space being utilized for when it wasn’t a Saturday night?

Something else to investigate would be who was attending this theater. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that the area was captured by the British Empire during the 1910’s in a war-related acquisition. Could the venue have originally been constructed to provide troops entertainment on Saturday nights as opposed to catering to the Native population?

What is revealing about this is the blatant racism on display in the final sentence of the caption. So flippantly referring to the people of Rabaul as “savages” puts into perspective how socially acceptable such mindsets were in the early 20th century, and compounded with Oregon’s ironically anti-progressive history with the treatment of minorities and non-Western peoples, it’s certainly worth taking note of. Overall, it’s fascinating how the history of moving picture exhibition can lead to such intersectional inquiries and discoveries.

Sources:

“Movie Flourishes in the Jungle”. The Polk County Post, 24, Sept 1920.

“Rabaul” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabaul