Old State House To Screen "Hallelujah" - 1929 Movie Shot In Arkansas

Feb 1, 2014

KUAR is partnering with the Old State House Museum to screen a series of Arkansas-related movies each month on Second Friday Art Night. KUAR General Manager Ben Fry, who also teaches courses in film history and criticism at UALR, will introduce each movie and lead a discussion after the screening. "Second Friday Cinema" is presented in cooperation with the Old State House's exhibit "Lights! Camera! Arkansas!" The screenings will take place the second Friday of each month at the Old State House Museum.

Second Friday Cinema presents a screening of Hallelujah (1929) on Friday, Feb. 14, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Old State House Museum, 300 W. Markham. Reception starts at 5 p.m. Free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Old State House Museum at (501) 324-9685 or info@oldstatehouse.org.

Movie poster for "Hallelujah"

King Vidor was one of the most successful directors of the silent era. His film The Big Parade (1925) is often cited as the highest-grossing film of the 1920s, and his 1928 picture The Crowd was nominated for "Unique and Artistic Production" and "Best Director" at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. For his first sound picture he chose a subject that was bothersome for the studio heads at MGM - a movie set in the rural south with an all-black cast. He chose to shoot the movie on location in Arkansas and Tennessee.

Hallelujah would become only the second Hollywood movie shot partially in Arkansas. (A scene from the 1927 adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin was shot in Helena.) Because MGM was afraid that southern movie theaters would not exhibit the film, Vidor had to waive his usual $100,000 fee for making the picture. The studio only acquiesced because the film would be a musical, which studio heads hoped would appeal to big city audiences like those in New York City who were flocking to Harlem at that time to hear musical performances by African-American performers.

Vidor ran into problems almost immediately when shooting the movie on location. His sound equipment did not arrive on time, and he had to improvise by shooting scenes silently and adding sound later. Vidor used the problem to his advantage by adding sound effects to some scenes. This technique was especially effective in the climax, a chase scene shot in Ten Mile Bayou near West Memphis.

Hallelujah follows the life of Zeke, a sharecropper-turned-preacher who must fight the temptations of a city girl. The cast, composed entirely of African Americans, perform spirituals, field songs, blues numbers and even two songs written by Irving Berlin. The movie's artistry was praised by critics, and many in the African American community saw it as an opening for more black performances in film. Others criticized its images of southern blacks as stereotypical and racist.

KUAR's Ben Fry will introduce the film and lead a discussion after the screening.