10 Lessons We Learned From Filmmaking in the 1920s

The Sound of Musicals
1927's "The Jazz Singer" was one of the first talkies -- and one of the first onscreen musicals. Silver Screen Collection/Moviepix/Getty Images

Love them or hate them, musicals form a vital genre of cinema, and it's hard to believe there was a time when film existed without them. But it goes without saying that the silence of silent movies hardly provided a happy medium for those brash singing and dancing spectacles that would come to rule the mid-century box office.

Filmmakers had been experimenting with sound for years before Warner finally brought out what is generally recognized as one of the first talkie features in 1927. "The Jazz Singer" is the story of a Jewish cantor's son who yearns to be a jazz performer rather than following in the family tradition. Starring Broadway sensation Al Jolson, it was a major hit, proving to the skeptics that "talking pictures" were financially viable. It also happened to be a musical.

It was the birth of a genre, and Hollywood quickly jumped on board. Just two years later, the studios were releasing "Broadway Melody," "The Hollywood Revue," "The Cocoanuts" and "On with the Show." As for "The Jazz Singer," while it continues to occupy an important historical position in the history of film, the fact that the most significant scenes feature Jolson in blackface tends to make modern audiences squirm [source: Gioia].