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By Walter Santoro - International Carlos Gardel Foundation
In 1929 a new ambition took shape in his mind. The idea of filming Carlos Gardel obsessed him and, Argentina, seemed to be the obvious place to launch this new race . After the arrival of the new technology of the sound film in the mid-30s in Buenos Aires, Gardel along with José Razzano and Francisco Canaro created the “Unión Argentina on October 1 . Sociedad Diffusora de Obras Musicales y Cinematográficas” Days later he would be filming in Cinematgráfica Valle the famous “musical frames”, or “films with sketch”, directed by Eduardo Morera. The fact was transcendent, both in the life of the man we are concerned and in show business, marking a milestone at the dawn of sound cinema, and Argentine experimental television in 1931.
During the 1930 season, Gardel left his performances in Paris and Barcelona in order to update his presence among Argentine audiences doing theatre, radio and records. Between January and March he completed a tour of the interior of the province of Buenos Aires. In all cases he performs as a soloist accompanied by the guitar duo composed by Guillermo Barbieri and José María Aguilar, to which Ángel Domingo Riverol is added.
A new contract with the label Nacional-Odeón makes him record with his guitarists, forming a quintet with Rodolfo Biaggi on piano and Antonio Rodio on violin, and a sextet with members of Francisco Canaro's orchestra. With these formations they complete 87 recordings. The program comprises 48 tangos and 2 styles, including waltzes, fox-trots, fados and other rhythms such as milongas, rancheras, etc. Also, the success of youth, “Mi noche triste”, returned in the electrical system. In this creative context, at the edge of the forty, he made his debut in the talking cinema filming the so-called “short films of the 30”.
Other context data were economics and health. Despite an adventurous artistic career, his financial situation is complex, with his mother's house on Jean Jaurés street, mortgaged, and in debt for his race horses. On the other hand, he has a health problem. The throat. If Dr. Leon Elkin did not mediate a surgical intervention, Carlos Gardel's career would have collapsed in 1930. Overcoming the trance, the artist responds to the Montevideo press:
- Do you think you can still sing as usual?
- Yeah, che. After the operation I suffered on my throat, I looked like new.
- They say you've made a lot of money at the theater.
- It's true. I won a lot, very, incredibly much. But as a good creole, I was left with nothing.
- Aren't you afraid of the future?
- The future is the present. Whoever carries Creole blood won't be scared of the future.
After the birth of sound cinema in New York in 1927, the new technology came to Buenos Aires; and as everything had some resistance: the members of the tango orchestras believed that this would result in ruin for them. Despite the protests, the first sound equipment began to arrive in the country.In principle, the system that reached the most popular was Vitaphone, where the film was synchronized with discs. However, this procedure had several drawbacks. On many occasions the accidental loss of some frames in the film caused the synchronization to be malograted, with the consequent damage at the time of the screening. Much better was the optical sound system, where the sound track was built into the film. This format belonged to the Phonofilm De Forest, brought to Buenos Aires by the Corporación Argentina de Films in 1927. The problem with the De Forest was that he could only use small rolls, so it was suitable only for short films. It is for this reason that it was used for news or musical short films.
On October 1, 1930, Carlos Gardel, José Razzano and Francisco Canaro signed an agreement for the development of musical works and cinematographies, which read:
“ In the city of Buenos Aires on the one day of October 1930 (one thousand nine hundred thirty), among Mr. Carlos Gardel, domiciled in Jean Jaures street seven hundred thirty-five, José Razzano, domiciled in Esteban Bonorino street four hundred thirty-seven and Francisco Canaro domiciled in Tagle street two thousand eight hundred seventy-six in this city, the following is agreed: 1° The appointed constitute a company called “Unión Argentina”, the Diffuser Society of Musical and Cinematographic Works, which aims to: Represent, Manage, Perceive and Acquire musical works with or without lyrics, disseminate these on phonographic discs (by any mechanical or electrical procedure), in printed editions on paper, recordings in rolls for auto-piano and in all manifestations of the cinematograph”...
At the end of October they would be filming what they called “films with sketch”, or “musical frames” in the studios owned by Federico Valle, located in a humble shed in Mexico 832, between Tacuari and Piedras - had to be conditioned for the new experience. Because work with direct sound recording, some precautions were taken to ensure sound isolation, although the solutions chosen were quite primitive. Mulberry acquired a genus used for floor rag and coated it with a substance that firefighters used to circumvent the action of fire. The result of this simple procedure should have been encouraging since it was then applied in the studios of Radio Belgrano, and in those of the Rio de la Plata, by Francisco Canaro. To cover the sound of the Bell & Howell camera that was used in the shooting, a simple cushion was used, borrowed by a neighbor of the studio.
Gardel filmed a series of 15 short films, directed by Morera, but in the processing 5 were lost, 10 left for their exhibition; after the appearance a few years ago of the “quinielero” , number 11, four remaining lost. Artistically speaking, compared to certain aesthetic and technical advances generated during the silent period, the shorts involved a backward to linearity, due to the rigidity of the camera, flat light and theatrical performance coming from the mode of representation primitive or theatrical.
Gardel intended to use these films to promote not only his songs but his potential in acting. But he knew his future was in Europe. Julio De Caro would remember a night walk with Gardel, after his orchestra's performance at the Empire. When they shook hands to say goodbye, Gardel said to him (as Caro recalls): “Don't go, Julio. Look, Buenos Aires is a big city. I always long so long for those streets, friends, races, but in truth, when I find myself in it, they want me to go back, to go away... The public loves us very much, but it is very uphill to stay in Buenos Aires to earn the bread. Don't go, stay here and return to Buenos Aires from time to time, as I do” Gardel admitted that Argentina was no longer the center of his life and professional activity. It was a revealing confession.
The Mudo had discovered, from his first trips to the old world, that in order to conquer the European public, he needed to establish an image according to the place he wanted to conquer, without losing what had consecrated him. In this way he began to introduce tuxedo and costume in different performances, this together with his extraordinary charisma and voice, allowed him to reach a more select audience, and enter other spheres . This strategy first resulted in success in Paris on 28, and then, when he began to perform in exclusive locations.
He was already successful in Parisian theatres, but the cinema could project his image, and his voice, to every corner of the planet. And the immediate opportunities included the Morocho del Abasto were on the outside. American film companies were very interested in preserving the hegemony they had exercised from the beginning in the Hispanic-American market, and for this they were willing to supplement their standard production with special productions in Spanish. Hollywood was already making some films in Spanish. The powerful Paramount corporation leaned strongly in that direction, with studies not only in New York and California, but also in France. The French installation of the Paramount was in Saint-Maurice, an anonymous suburb south-east of Paris . He produced films (or adapted soundtracks) in many different languages, and some films came out in up to fourteen versions. Critics have never had a high opinion of Saint-Maurice's contribution to film art. However, he would play an important role in the process of transforming Carlos Gardel into the most famous film star in Latin America of the 1930s.
On December 6, 1930, Gardel and his “brooms” departed for France aboard the Conte Rosso, arriving in Nice to continue the journey by train to Paris. On December 26, he performs at the Empire Theatre in Paris, where he again made contact with the French audience, performing at the music hall shows for fourteen days. This match was a decisive turn in his life; in the remaining years he would return only once to Argentina.
In February Gardel travels to Nice. Despite the Economic Depression, the Riviera remained the center of amusement for the rich and idle of Europe. Its winter season attracted a cosmopolitan horde of aristocrats, millionaires, well-off and even European royalty, as had been the case for a long time. In March, the singer had to perform with his guitarists Barbieri, Aguilar and Riverol, in the Mediterranean Palace, sharing the programs with the famous Mistinguett. At that luxurious Casino he has the satisfaction of dealing personally with a film genius, Charles Chaplin ; who at that time was one of the main references of the big screen. The newspaper “La Razón” of 20 February 1931 comments: “Carlos Gardel is currently in Nice giving auditions”
It is not easy to leave the Wakefield marriage out of this story, especially his wife Sadie Wakefield, who surely contributed from various points of view, to Gardel's position in the high spheres, we know from Armando Defino's letter when referring to George Wakefield, “This gentleman knew Gardel from his first trip to Paris, where he habitually resided” And if we listen to Manuel Pizarro 's testimony, “Gardel met Sadie on one of his trips to the Côte d'Azur, we could date this event in February 1929.”
Nor is it easy to argue about the facts, which have arisen from the rumors, which are really many and varied, but we can say that their friendship was well consolidated. Gardel spent his time in the company of the Wakefield, and it is likely that the Chrysler engine 12070 was a gift from Sadie, or the couple, as well as so many other gifts.
In the 31st season in Nice, Gardel used to visit Villa L'Oiseau Blue, the magnificent chalet that the Wakefield owned on Avenue Cap de Croix, Cimiez district. This estate, acquired by Sadie and her husband, was a splendid property with two floors, a large garden and tennis court.
The world's most famous film star Charles Chaplin, who started a peripatetic year away from Hollywood while enjoying the glory of her film “Lights of the City”, had received the compliments of London and Paris. Chaplin, exhausted, fled to Cote d'Azur to visit his brother Sydney, and a friend, Frank Jay Gould, businessman who owned the Majéstic Hotel and Casino Nice, where Gardel had a contract to act. Gould used the figure of Chaplin to promote his investments on the French coast. After his arrival in Nice on April 4 Chaplin, Gould organized a dinner at his Juan Les Pins casino. We know that Chaplin was captivated by the Voice of the Thrush and that at dinner he invited him to share a bottle of champagne on his table. In the series of photos you know each other you see Chaplin and Gardel in a friendly talk.
The date is not known for sure, but Sadie Wakefield, Gardel's friend, then organized a gala in honor of Chaplin's birthday, with about forty guests. That's where they were treated and met even more. Wakefield entertained the great English actor at his home. May Reeves, a dancer with whom Chaplin was initiating a brief (and unpublicized) romance, describes the episode: “There were about forty guests” [The fourth was lit by Chinese lamps] “Chaplin was in very good shape. An Argentine singer, accompanied by a guitarist, sang in his honor, while Chaplin, settling behind the bar, took a huge bottle of cognac to his mouth, and cut a gigantic cake with a huge knife.” Later, to the delight of those present, Chaplin improvised some comic sketches, and Gardel is very likely to accompany the performance.
All these festivities on the French Rivera, along with the figure of Charles Chaplin, contributed greatly to securing Gardel more within the heart of all the French, opening the doors wide to him. From then on, everything would be easier. Fifteen days later Gardel would be filming his first film with the Paramount, kicking off the International Gardeliano Film. But this is another story I'm going to tell you in an upcoming publication.
Publication Date: 11/04/2021
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