“The times, they are a-changing,” and as a writer, I am well aware of the confusion in the writing world. E-books and independent authors are turning the world of publishing upside down. Readers are awash in a sea of new authors, some excellent, some really awful, and how do they tell the difference?

The internet and e-readers have made a tremendous difference, but it’s far from the first time a technological advance has turned the way artists get their work to the public upside down. Look at what happened when synchronized sound came to the movies.

One of my favorite DVD’s is another with, and directed by, Gene Kelly – Singin’ in the Rain. It’s a movie about the tumultuous time when sound came to the movies. The film didn’t start that way. It began simply as a showcase for the songs of Arthur Freed.

MGM got into musicals almost as soon as movie studios began jumping on the sound bandwagon, and Arthur Freed began writing music for those musicals almost from the start of musicals. Around the middle of the 20th century he had the idea of a musical that would showcase a number of those songs, none of them new and some used in movies as far back as 1929.

The writers were at first at a loss. How were they to do a modern (at that time) musical, with a plot of sorts, with a group of songs written much earlier in the century? But then they came up with an idea: since the songs were written starting at the time sound movies were replacing silent films, why not design a plot around that time period? Specifically, why not center the film on actors and actress who were able to make the transition (Gene Kelly’s character, Don) and those who were not (Jean Hagan’s character, Lena?)

The result is now generally recognized as one of the best musicals of all time: Singin’ in the Rain. But a large part of the fascination of the film lies in the fact that at the time it was made and the story line was being written, many of the people who had actually lived through that transition were still at MGM. As a result, many of the anecdotes that made up the final film are based on the stories of people who actually observed them.

Many of the songs that were used were moved around in the shooting. “Singin’ in the Rain,” for instance, was originally planned to be a trio with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds in the rain with umbrellas – an idea that was retained in the opening title and the cover of the DVD. But as actually shot for the film, it was the wonderful sequence of Gene Kelly dancing alone in the rain, after the trio has come up with their idea to salvage the first sound film “Don” and “Lena” made.

Salvage it needed! Jean’s character was one of those beautiful women with impossible voices, and between the fact that the sound men were not used to microphones (which could pick up the most inappropriate sounds) and what I think would be described as a rather nasal Brooklyn accent, the movie was a disaster! I’m not at all sure that the idea of re-recording the dialogue was that early, but it certainly saved “The Duelling Cavalier.”

If you like musical comedies, this one is definitely worth watching. I may wear out my DVD!

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