Friday, July 19, 2013

"Talkie" Triumphs and Technical Tribulations: THE COCOANUTS

Our "Mad for the Marx Brothers" series continues this Saturday, July 20, with the Marx Brothers' first feature film, The Cocoanuts!

"Talkie" Triumphs and Technical Tribulations: The Cocoanuts
By Kerri Grogan, BMFI Staff Assistant

Before the Marx Brothers released their first feature-length film, The Cocoanuts, producer Monta Bell wanted Groucho Marx to discard his signature grease paint mustache, citing that it was too "phony-looking" for audiences to believe. Groucho's response? "The audience doesn't believe us anyhow. All they do is laugh at us, and isn't that what we're being paid for?"

Filming The Cocoanuts (1929) for the silver screen had its pitfalls. Trying to record singing, music, and zany antics in the early days of sound films was tricky. Cameras were noisy--so noisy that they had to be placed in soundproof cases so that the camera noise wouldn't be recorded by the external microphones! Microphones were stationary, too, meaning that in order to stay within the recording area, actors had to keep a limited range of motion.

Another problem was recording sensitivity. If camera sounds were being recorded, you can bet that other noises were, too. One of the most notable problems was the rustling of paper props. At first, shots including them were re-recorded, very carefully, to minimize the sound that they made. Then someone had the bright idea of soaking all the paper props on set in water!

Does this map look a bit soggy to you? Chico and Groucho Marx look over blueprints for the Hotel de Cocoanut.
Rumor has it that director Robert Florey was also put into the soundproof camera chamber once or twice. Why? He had never seen the Marx Brothers in action, and couldn't stop laughing while the cameras were rolling.

Fun fact: The ink that Harpo drinks in the hotel lobby was actually Coca-Cola. Delicious!

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

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