The singing films of tenor Joseph Schmidt. Finding a way to determine the different versions of his films. - Elisa Mutsaers 2006
In February 2004 Dutch television producer Interakt asked me to do research after the work and live of the Rumanian tenor Joseph Schmidt, who had been world famous during the thirties of the last century. The research was meant in order to be able to write a request for a development subsidy to make a documentary about the tenor. I only knew Joseph Schmidt as the interpreter of the Dutch song ‘Ik hou van Holland’ [I love Holland], but a first reconnaissance on the internet showed that the tenor was a real world star in his days. Besides having made countless numbers of radio and record recordings and stage performances in concert halls in many countries, it appeared that he had also made a number of films in the thirties. That was the period in which sound made its entry in film, and, as a singing tenor, Schmidt must have had attracted large audiences.
Because we were, as students of the MA ‘Preservation and presentation of the moving image’ at the University of Amsterdam, invited to participate in the Magis Spring School 2004 at Gradisca, Italy I didn’t have the time to really lose myself in Joseph Schmidt, but he was certainly at the back of my mind during the Spring School. Malte Hagener gave one of the presentations in Gradisca and he spoke about the films the Polish tenor Jan Kiepura made in the thirties. Some of Kiepura’s films can be named Multiple Language Versions. Because Joseph Schmidt was a tenor in the same period as Kiepura, and just like him made some films, I was wondering whether some of the films Schmidt could not be named MLV’s as well. And since quite a lot of the films talked about and shown during the Spring School were singing films, I was wondering whether there would be a relation between the genre of singing films and the existence of MLV’s. Not for nothing music is called to cross borders. Perhaps the genre of singing films made the production of MLV’s easier. All in all this has been the motive for writing my master thesis, which, on its turn, has been the base for this article.
Starting from the assumption (based on a rough internet research and the biographies written about Schmidt) that there were existing different (language) versions of the films Joseph Schmidt made, my research question was: How to localize and categorize the films of Joseph Schmidt, in order to explain the (probable) relation between the genre of his films and the existence of MLV’s. In my thesis I also paid a lot of attention to the search for the films, in this article I will focus more on the aspect of categorization of the films and the connection of the genre with the phenomenon of MLV’s.
Returning from the Gradisca Spring School at least one thing became clear: there has not been defined an indisputable definition of the notion MLV. Within film history the subject is relatively young and there are a number of elements that hamper research in that field. Only in the second half of the eighties the first specific studies were published and only for the last decade internationally more profound studies are done. It became clear it is impossible to speak about ‘the’ MLV. MLV’s seem to appear in many variations. Mainly because of big differences in the way they were produced, one could perhaps state that actually two different types of MLV’s exist, with of course many variations in between these two extremes: one the one hand the fast, almost assembly line kind of productions. In these cases the producers varied as less as possible with elements like scenery, costumes and dialogues. The only significant variation was the replacement of the actors from the ‘original’ version by actors from the export country. On the other hand some studio’s invested more time and money in the foreign language adaptations. They took in account the expectations and culturally defined taste of the audiences of the foreign markets by varying in each language version with costumes, make-up, the way of acting and scenery and of course the actors were replaced with foreign actors.
Despite all these variations I used the most general description saying that MLV’s are film versions in different spoken languages on the base of one and the same script as a starting point for my research. Even though attending the ten days Spring School in Italy might make one think that with the coming of sound for a few years the whole film industry was captured by the concept of MLV’s, it is important to realize that a MLV is only one amongst other solutions to the same problem: how to make films comprehensible and acceptable abroad?