In this book, Horowitz talks about a range of artists who moved to America in the middle of the twentieth century, how they adapted to their new environment and also their influence on the performing arts. These artists migrated as a result of war, mainly the Second World War and other political reasons.
The author writes about artists involved in music, stage plays and motion picture. Many critics find the book well-written since it incorporates debates and words are delivered in a rhetorical or impassionate way but at the same time maintaining a poetic tenor. Knowledge of the type of music in that era is will help in the understanding of the book especially the German way of expressing inner motion. The author has done extensive research and held interviews before writing this book as shown by the footnotes, although you can not fail to notice that the author can relate to the events he describes; it has a personal touch.
Before these artists came, a form of entertainment which combined musical and comedy acts called vaudeville was very common. It was so common such that it eventually influenced the radio, motion picture production and the television. It happened that the theatre production in Europe was more sophisticated than in America. After a while the European style was introduced by some of the immigrants discussed in this book. Most of these foreign artists especially from Russia like George Balanchine came from poor conditions to America to achieve ‘The American Dream’. Not every one of them was able to achieve the dream for various reasons. For example, after living in America for 14 years, Thomas Mann returned back to Europe during the cold war after he felt that he would never feel at home in America. When these foreign artists came to America, they had to write and perform in English rather than their language.
Despite of this, some did manage to make an impact on the art industry. George Balanchine was born in Russia back in 1904 and he is responsible for revolutionising ballet dancing in America. He was well acquainted with the Russian traditional form of dancing style. He fused the Russian style an American dancing style to come up with the now known ballet dancing. Before moving to America he was a ballet master in a company which he had been invited to join by another Russian exile; Diaghilev. In Paris he worked closely with Stravinsky, and they were able to create a whole new form of art by combining the traditional ballet with a touch of Greek methodology. When he moved to America, he opened a ballet school in New York City where he was able to produce around four hundred pieces of work. What made him such a revolutionary choreographer was that he was able to come up with exceptional styles which had such an amazing speed and assail.
Kurt Weill was a German born composer who believed in writing music that not only entertained, but had a social function. He fell out of favour with the Nazi’s and was often disapproved and his shows were regularly cancelled. He was forced to move to Paris then London and finally to America. His style did not receive much appreciation as it did in Europe.
He had to study the American music style before composing pieces for the American audience. He went on to compose several pieces like ‘Down in the Valley’ and ‘Buddy on the Nightshift’ all of which had social importance. His mark on the American music was felt after he died. Louis Armstrong adopted Weill’s “Mack the Knife” as the basis of his jazz flavour. His music has been re-done by some of the present artists like The Doors and Lou Reed. Other artists like Teresa Stratas have made an entire music album based on Weill’s work. One of the greatest pianist; Amanda, has Weill’s name on her piano as a mark of respect to him. In 1991, 2008 and in 2009 various musical functions have been held, all to pay tribute to Kurt Weill.
Rouben Mamoulian was born in Georgia and he became a movie and drama director in America. He directed “Applause” which was a popular film back in 1929. Its popularity was attributed to the fact that Mamoulian used a camera in motion and added music to some scenes. Mamoulian style involved making his scenes more prosaic than just plain realism. This is evident in the “Becky Sharp” and in the entire piece of “Blood and Sand”. The use of Technicolor in these films demonstrated this poetic style of Mamoulian. Mamoulian did not have much influence in the film industry as much as F.W Murnau.
Murnau was a very prominent German film director; he had major influence in the German film industry after the end of World War 1. In his film “The Last Laugh” he introduced a camera view which showed what the character was seeing. He used this to try to convey visually the character’s feelings and his state of mind. When he moved to Hollywood, he produced the movie “Sunrise” under Fox Theatres. Up to date, this film is regarded as one of all time best by many of the elite.
Although it did not bring much financial profit, it went on to win a couple of Oscars. He went on to produce two movies which did not fair well with the American audience; he was so disappointed in his failure that he quit Fox. He later produced another movie which was suppressed in America since it had scenes of women revealing their breasts. Murnau was very committed in his work such that he went to great lengths to make his films as real as possible.
At one time he sought the services of a true vampire to play as himself in the film “Shadow of the Vampire.” Perhaps Greta Garbo is the best and most mysterious movie star to ever work in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the silent and talking period. She was born in Sweden and at twenty years, she went to Hollywood where she became such a sensational actress in the silent movies. MGM was a bit reluctant to feature her in talking films because of her Swedish accent, but after much persuasion she debuted in her first talking film “Anna Christie” in 1930. The movie was a success and got an Oscar nomination for that movie. She also made a German version of the film. After a couple of other movies she ended her career early because she did not like the Hollywood attention.
Erich Korngold was born in now what is called the Czech Republic, and he became a music composer, particularly romantic music. At younger age, his work received a fair amount of success in Europe. During his time in America, his work was not appreciated by the Americans; it only attracted a lot of negative criticism. It’s only after his death that his work was re-evaluated by artists like Max Steiner and found that he was a musical genius after all. Now days, he is considered as one of the pioneers of musical film. Over the years his pieces of music have been redone as a way of paying tribute to him. What is common with almost all the European immigrant artists is that they had to do their arts in a language that was not their first.
All of them were excellent performers in their home countries, but when they came to America they had to change their style to be more acceptable by the American audience. Other than the war, freedom that was enjoyed much in America made them migrate. What they did not realize is that this freedom did not necessarily elevate their ambitions and goals.