Scott Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age author par excellence, wrote light, funny, jazzy short stories early in the 1920s, and Hollywood adapted four of them into films. The only one known to have survived is Conductor 1492, an adaption of the short story “The Camel’s Back.” As part of the Bloomsbury Festival, we decided to screen the jazziest sequence from the film.
As IES students researching early F. Scott Fitzgerald and popular culture, we gave the audience a brief interdisciplinary tour of the music, film, and literature of the day. Offering some relevant context, we tried to give our audience a sense of the cultural moment in which the adaptation was made. In the few years between the publication of the story in 1920 and the production of the film in 1924, American culture underwent dramatic transformations. With a selection of silent film clips, images, and popular songs, we aimed to offer a more nuanced view of the decade.
The evening was a celebration of Fitzgerald’s depiction of the wild, riotous, alcohol-fuelled Jazz Age party. In the films and literature of the 1920s, parties were alive with sassy flappers in racy outfits, handsome young college men, bootleg liquor, suggestive banter, vaudeville-inspired physical comedy, risqué dances, and of course jazz.
To bring it all to life for our audience, the excellent jazz pianist [Andrew Oliver https://andrewoliver.net] joined us to play some lively early jazz tunes. His expert accompaniment to the silent film selections offered a taste of the silent film experience contemporary audiences would have had.
On the night, the Beveridge Room was filled with the sound of rough-and-ready, honky-tonk jazz. Around the room, there were posters on display with images from contemporary newspapers and magazines, providing some insight into the American scene in the first half of the Roaring Twenties.
In the end, around 130 people joined us for an evening of jazz, literature, and silent film. The audience was made up of people of various ages and backgrounds, many of whom were not academics. As the Bloomsbury Festival is part of an effort to engage the public with current research, we were pleased to have the opportunity to do just that.
With support from SAS and an excellent team led by Michael Eades, we had an excellent time leading our guests on a little Jazz Age jaunt.
Comments from the audience:
‘Combination of eloquent information delivery and entertaining film and music‘
‘Thoughtful and informative presentation. Great visuals and music’
‘Excellent description of the subject matter. As a newbie I felt informed’
‘Inspired to listen to more jazz. Really enjoyed the music’
‘It inspires me to look more into the history of that time and do some research‘
‘A new understanding and appreciation for jazz music and Scott Fitzgerald as an author’
If you were at the event and want to share your thoughts, or you want to know more about our research, find us on Twitter [@BeYourJazzAge https://twitter.com/BeYourJazzAge].
Sadaf Fahim & Martina Mastandrea
PhD Students, IES