Rouben Mamoulian, who had been a fantastically successful theater director in New York, was wooed by Hollywood to make his first film, Applause, in 1929. This Pre-Code film won rave reviews from the urban critics for its audacious angles and then-unparalleled sleazy atmosphere (unfortunately, the film was only in theaters for a few weeks before the stock market crash turned audiences off downers for nearly a decade). But half of the credit for the success of Mamoulian’s cinematic debut needs to go to Helen Morgan’s ferociously unbridled, Greek-like tragic performance as the long-past-her-prime fat performer. Plot wise, Applause was little more than an early incarnation of the sinful maternal sacrifice films that would flourish during the Depression; Morgan’s full-tilt blitzkrieg of self-pity while left forgotten and alone in her apartment brings to mind the recent Ellen Burstyn’s Oscar-nominated tour-de-force in Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (both got to wear fright-wigs). Practically as flamboyant was Mamoulian’s camera, which prowled every which way to mirror the brassy mise-en-scene. Even more impressive was its (pre-Freaks) sympathetic portrayal of a shunned community in all its self-contained, lip-biting game-face pride.
Kino tried, but the elements just weren't there. Applause's print is as hampered with dirt and wear as Love Me Tonight's is peachy clean. Fortunately, so is Kitty Darling's apartment, so the transfer isn't too distracting. The film's complex sound design (Mamoulian insisted on placing microphones everywhere to capture the full effect of off-screen noise) is faded but still strong.'
Here's where the disc earns it. Outdoing even the Love Me Tonight disc (excusing the lack of a commentary track), Applause includes two clips of Helen Morgan singing, the first in her debut Paramount musical, the other in a newsreel excerpt. Also included is a filmed salutation to the Directors Guild (c. 1986) from Mamoulian, in which he espouses the value of entertainment as art. As if that wasn't enough, Kino also provides full annotation in the form of a cache of photos, documents and text excerpts.
Still recovering from Ellen Burstyn's Sara Goldfarb? See her cinematic
grandmother's career as a hoochy-koochy derail itself right into a
bottle of poison. And call a suicide hotline in the morning.