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USA, 1929

Director: King Vidor

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Corp.; black and white, 35mm, sound and silent versions; running time: about 100 minutes, some sources list 107 minutes; length: 6579 feet (silent), 9711 feet (sound). Released 20 August 1929. Filmed 1929 in MGM Studios in Culver City, California and on location in and around Memphis, Tennessee.

Producer: King Vidor; scenario: Wanda Tuchock; treatment: Richard Schayer; dialogue: Ranson Rideout, from an original story by King Vidor; titles for silent version: Marian Ainslee; photography: Gordon Avil; editors: Anson Stephenson (silent), Hugh Wynn (sound); sound recordist: Douglas Shearer; art director: Cedric Gibbons; music: traditional with 2 songs by Irving Berlin; costume designer: Henrietta Frazer.

Cast: Daniel Haynes (Zeke); Nina Mae McKinney (Chick); William Fountaine (Hot Shot); Harry Gray (Parson); Fannie B. DeKnight (Mammy); Everett McGarrity (Spunk); Victoria Spivey (Missy Rose); Milton Dickerson (One of the Johnson kids); Robert Couch (One of the Johnson kids); Walter Tait (One of the Johnson kids); Dixie Jubilee Singers.



Noble, Peter, The Negro in Films, London, 1950.

Vidor, King, A Tree Is a Tree, New York, 1953.

Rotha, Paul, and Richard Griffith, The Film Till Now, New York, 1960.

Jacobs, Lewis, The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History, New York, 1968.

Bogle, Donald, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: AnInterpretative History of Blacks in American Films, New York, 1973.

Murray, James, To Find an Image, Indianapolis, 1973.

Maynard, Richard A., The Black Man on Film: Racial Stereotyping, Rochelle Park, New Jersey, 1974.

Leab, Daniel J., From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience inMotion Pictures, Boston, 1975.

Patterson, Lindsay, Black Films and Film-Making: A ComprehensiveAnthology from Stereotype to Superhero, New York, 1975.

Pines, Jim, Blacks in Film: A Survey of Racial Themes and Images inthe American Film, London, 1975.

Baxter, John, King Vidor, New York, 1976.

Cripps, Thomas, Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film1900–1942, New York, 1977.

Sampson, Henry T., Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book onBlack Films, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1977.

Comuzio, Ermanno, King Vidor, Florence, 1986.

Dowd, Nancy, and David Shepard, King Vidor, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1988.

Vidor, King, King Vidor, Lanham, 1988.

Durgnat, Raymond, and Scott Simmon, King Vidor—American, Berkeley, 1989.


Hall, Mordaunt, in New York Times, 21 August 1929.

Variety (New York), 28 August 1929.

Braver-Mann, B. G., "Vidor and Evasion," in Experimental Cinema, vol. 1, no. 3, 1931.

Harrington, Curtis, "The Later Years: King Vidor's Hollywood Progress," in Sight and Sound (London), April-June 1953.

Vidor, King, "Hollywood Hallelujah," in Films and Filming (London), May 1955.

Higham, Charles, "King Vidor," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Summer 1966.

"King Vidor at NYU: Discussion," in Cineaste (New York), Spring 1968.

Luft, Herbert G., "A Career That Spans Half a Century," in Film Journal (New York), Summer 1971.

Durgnat, Raymond, in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1973. "Vidor Issue" of Positif (Paris), September 1974.

Combs, Richard, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), September 1974.

Leiris, M., in Positif (Paris), November 1974.

Baumgarten, Marjorie, in Cinema Texas Program Notes (Austin), 11 October 1977.

Cocchi, John, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 2, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Brody, S., and P. Bates, "Film and Photo League," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), no. 33, February 1988.

Ribemont-Dessaignes, G., in October, no. 60, Spring 1992.

Hoberman, J., "Race to Race," in Village Voice (New York), vol. 39, 22 February 1994.

Lindvall, T.R., and others, "Spectacular Transcendence: Abundant Means in the Cinematic Representation of African American Christianity," in The Howard Journal of Communications, vol. 7, no. 3, 1996.

Vidor, K., "Transcript of Tape Recording Made by King Vidor," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), vol. 19, no. 2, 1997.

* * *

Hallelujah has fair claim to being the first masterpiece of the sound era. Certainly King Vidor could have realized his frequentlyproposed all-black film only at a moment when the Broadway success of Rouben Mamoulian's Porgy, rumors of a similar project at Fox (Hearts of Dixie), and Vidor's own willingness to gamble his salary all combined with corporate confusion at MGM—the last major studio to equip for sound. Ultimately, however, Hallelujah's accompanying music couldn't quite make it a musical, nor defuse its savagery; and it had as much trouble with bookings in the North as in the South.

The film tends to be remembered now under a Birth of a Nation stigma common to "Southerns"—admired technically while damned for its racism. It is true that the contented matriarchal family of cotton-pickin' blacks, singing while they work their patch of land, can seem an image of slave-based Southern prosperity, and the violence of the melodramatic plot can seem straight out of Mrs. Stowe. But the characters are Uncle Tom-ish only outside the context of Vidor's other work: the same documentary of an agrarian lifestyle is at the root of his idealized white cooperative in Our Daily Bread; emotional intensity is everywhere a Vidorian trademark; and an identical ferocity characterizes Northwest Passage and Duel in the Sun. Ruby Gentry, with another murder-in-the-swampwater finale, comes closest to being his whitefolks version of Hallelujah. One needs to recall that Vidor was working at a time when respectable British critic James Agate could dismiss the film with: "Personally, I don't care if it took Mr. Vidor ten years to train these niggers; all I know is that ten minutes is all I can stand of nigger ecstasy." If the film is flawed from the standpoint of social morality, it's for the complete exclusion of whites, which renders imprecise the family's relationship to the land they apparently sharecrop. Additionally, the four brief shots which make an ellipsis of Zeke's prison term for murdering his rival "Hot Shot" deny the experience of punishment—he's soon strummin' on the ol' banjo riding home to Mammy.

Whatever Vidor may have said in interviews about the film's "good vs. evil" structure, its tension comes from pitting against each other two mutually exclusive "goods": family-as-religion vs. passionate sexuality. And the temptress Chick, whose dance-hall sensuality elevates easily into religious fervor, isn't inauthentic in either incarnation. She tempts Zeke from his revivalist preaching, but considering Vidor's very consistent repudiation of narrow religion, from The Sky Pilot (1921) right through Solomon and Sheba (1959), that too might be for the best. The surrealist Ado Kyrou is close to the mark in reading Hallelujah as a celebration of desire.

Early sound equipment limits the musical numbers to relatively static takes, but by any criterion Hallelujah is technically remarkable— the ironic result of Vidor's having had to shoot location sequences silent and post-synch the often expressionistic sound effects of ecstatic wails or physical violence (a procedure which, so Vidor claims, drove his sound editor to a nervous breakdown). The aural expressionism might be written off as circumstantially unavoidable if it hadn't its visual equivalent in such shots as the featureless black half-screen into which Zeke futilely shouts for aid for his dying brother. But to stress expressionism is to ignore the ways Hallelujah anticipates the early-Visconti variety of neorealism, with its authentic dialects, its quirky, slack dialogue, its inexperienced actors, its documentary tracing of rural life, and its relentless analysis of the crime passionel.

—Scott Simmon

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HALLELUJAH (Heb. הַלְלוּיָהּ), liturgical expression occurring 23 times, exclusively in the Book of Psalms. Apart from 135:3, it invariably appears as either the opening (106, 111–3, 135, 146–50) or closing word of a psalm (104–6, 113, 115–7, 135, 146–50) or in both positions (106, 113, 135, 146–50). In all cases, with the exception of 135:3 and 147:1, the term is not part of the body of the psalm. This fact, together with its total nonappearance in those psalms cited in other biblical books (cf. Ps. 106:48 with i Chron. 16:36) and its restriction to the last divisions of the Psalter (cf. Ber. 9b), suggest a late coinage.

It is generally agreed that Hallelujah means, "praise [ye] the Lord." The plural imperative form of the verb would indicate that the term was a directive to the worshiping congregation in the Temple by the presiding functionary which was meant to evoke a public response. In the course of time it became an independent cultic exclamation so that the Greek-speaking Jews simply transliterated it (70, ʾΑλληούϊα). On the other hand, a consciousness of its composite nature is preserved in amoraic discussions as to whether the Hebrew should be rendered by the scribes as one word or two. (Pes. 117a; Sof. 5:10, tj, Suk. 3:12, 53d;tj, Meg. 1:11, 72a). A novel explanation is given by Joshua b. Levi who regards the final syllable as a superlative suffix and who translates the term, "praise Him with many praises" (Pes. 117a).

[Nahum M. Sarna]

In Music

The tradition of rendering the word Hallelujah at the beginning and/or end of a psalm, by a special melodic phrase is certainly very old, judging by its survival in the usages of many Jewish communities. In some of them, the word is even added at the end of each verse on some occasions. The Yemenites prefix "Hallelujah" or "Ve-Hallelujah" to certain frestive piyyutim, which are therefore called Halleluyot. Christian tradition attests the practice of "Hallelujah-singing" from the earliest periods, especially in a form which may or may not have been taken over from Jewish practice: songs on the single word, in which the "lu" and "jah" syllables were drawn out as long flourishes, until they became the so-called Jubilus – a wordless ecstatic outpouring. In the Middle Ages these long Hallelujahs began to serve as the basis, in the lower or middle voice, of elaborate compositions in which the upper voices uttered a poetic expression of praise. Sometimes the word itself was split – as in the 13th-century three-voiced "Alle-psallite-cum-luja" (see A.T. Davison and W. Apel (eds.). Historical Anthology of Music, i (19642), 35). During the Renaissance and Baroque periods the Jubilus-like setting of the word Alleluia is found again, of course in the form of elaborate polyphonic compositions. The word also became a favorite vehicle for canons. The tradition continues until today, for example: the "Hallelujah chorus" in Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Alleluja for soprano and orchestra (actually the second part of his motet Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165), and the great Alleluja pieces in William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast (1929–31) and Arthur Honegger's Le Roi David (1921).

[Bathja Bayer]


in music: G. Reese, Music in the Middle Ages (1940), index, S.V. Alleluia; B. Staeblein, in: mgg 1 (1949), 331–50; E. Gerson-Kiwi, in: Festschrift Heinrich Besseler (1961), 43–49 (Eng).

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hal·le·lu·jah / ˌhaləˈloōyə/ (also al·le·lu·ia) • interj. God be praised (uttered in worship or as an expression of rejoicing): He is risen! Alleluia! • n. an utterance of the word “hallelujah” as an expression of worship or rejoicing. ∎  (usu. alleluia) a piece of music or church liturgy containing this: the Gospel comes after the Alleluia verse.

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hallelujah God be praised (uttered in worship or as an expression of rejoicing). From Old English, via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek allēlouia (in the Septuagint), or (from the 16th century) directly from Hebrew hallĕlūyāh ‘praise ye the Lord’.
Hallelujah Chorus a musical composition based on the word ‘hallelujah’, especially that in the oratorio ‘Messiah’ by G. F. Handel (1685–1759), German-born musician.
Hallelujah Victory supposedly that gained over a pagan army by newly converted Bretons, led by Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, in 429; their battle-cry was ‘Hallelujah!’

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hallelujah •Antakya •Britannia, lasagne •Katya • Vanya •Kenya, Mantegna, Sardegna, tenure •failure • Montagna •behaviour (US behavior), misbehaviour (US misbehavior), saviour (US savior) •seguidilla, tortilla •Monsignor •Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia •Tigrinya • De Falla • Vaisya •Lockyer • Bologna • sawyer • bowyer •alleluia, hallelujah •La Coruña •bunya, gunyah

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hallelujah XVI. — Heb. hall alûyāh praise Jah (i.e. Jehovah), f. imper. pl. of hallēl praise.

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Hallelujah. Hebrew (biblical) expression of praise. Hallelujah occurs twenty-three times in Psalms and means ‘praise the Lord’ (halelu-Yah).

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