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I rate the movie a "10" for its historical significance. "The Jazz
Singer" is the answer to the perennial trivia question, "What was the
first sound motion picture?" Certainly there were other talkies before
this, but this one, the first feature-length talkie in the world -- is
the one that turned Hollywood and the movie-going public on its ear.
It's fascinating. We think of "The Jazz Singer" as a talkie, but most of the picture is in typical "silent pictures" style -- with intertitles (title cards) to convey character dialog. Only with Jolson's vocal numbers and two other scenes is the new sound technology is used, and we hear the voice of the man many have called the world's greatest entertainer.
I have seen the Jazz Singer several times over my 60 years. I became
interested in 1920 entertainers when I was in my mid teens. My
grandfather had seen Jolson in a few Broadway shows and actually met
him on a few occasions. Jolson was, as he claimed, "The Worlds Greatest
Entertainer". He wasn't the greatest talent, such as Sammy Davis Jr.
was, but his dynamic extroverted personality and the way he could
capture an audience in his live Broadway Performances was never
captured on screen. I know it may sound strange, but the movie
producers just couldn't contain all of his energy and exuberance in
front of a camera. His dialog delivery,singing and acting was quite
good in this movie. Let us not forget that in 1927, black and white
silent films were still the standard. That standard brought over
dramatization,dark make up, etc. They were not going to take a chance
on giving up the tried and proved silent ways completely. They weren't
sure on how sound would go over with the movie attendees. How can that
be? Silents were a technology that the audiences accepted. The use of
all sound was taking a big risk, and difficult to produce using
Vitaphone, which was basically synchronizing large recorded discs to
the film. Nearly all of the movie houses were not set up for any type
of sound at that time. In my opinion, the sound technology and the
performance of Jolson carried the film.
I have great difficulty in understanding the comments listed in the posts of how today's human rights standards can be applied to a film that was created 80 years ago.
We are talking about 1927,and it is hard for me to understand how today's negative comments are made about the Black-face and other racial comments. This was a convention of the time 80 years ago. I do not for a moment agree that the way minorities were treated was correct, but that was 1927, not now! You cannot erase history to make it fit today's standards.
I thought Al Jolson did a superb job in his singing,dialog,and acting in this film for the era. One would need to review and compare the singing and acting styles,that of other performers of the era and make comparisons. Crosby, Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, even Elvis Presley & Jackie Wilson said that Al Jolson was a great influence on their careers. To say he could not sing as in some posts here, is absurd.
Director Alan Crosland's and Warner Bros.' 1927 historic milestone film
entitled The Jazz Singer was not the first sound film, nor the first
"talkie" film or the first movie musical. It's completely baffling to
hear many people actually associate this film with the visitation of
sound, however, if one can recall the 1926 silent film featuring John
Barrymore entitled Don Juan, than they would know that it was the first
feature film with a Vitaphone soundtrack, though, like The Jazz Singer,
it is by no means the first sound film either. The first sound film can
be dated as far back to 1895.
Though, not being the first "talkie", The Jazz Singer, is certainly a remarkable film; it still holds its place as an cinematic landmark for being the first feature-length Hollywood "talke" film in which "spoken dialogue was used as part of the dramatic action." However, it's still largely a silent film with a synchronized musical score and a handful of sound sequences built around singing. It's also become something of a controversial case because of Al Jolson's (arguably the most popular entertainer of his time) use of blackface in some of the musical sequences, forgetful of the fact that this was a theatrical artifice from the era; it wasn't intended as "mean-spirited" as so many claim it to be. It was actually praised by black newspapers in 1927, and was being done by another much defamed minority, a Jew.
You can see what an impact sound must have had in 1927, because it certainly wasn't the movie that made this production a phenomenon. Though, the film itself, is more than just a movie about a guy who likes music. It's also a story about a Jewish kid who turns his back on his heritage to try and make it big on the stage - exceptionally daring subject matter for its era, and still enthralling today. It's certainly not ragged and dull, though, the magic moment when Jolson turns to the camera to announce, "You ain't heard nothing' yet" - a line so loaded with unconscious irony that it still raises a few goose bumps. Audiences were captivated by this and still are to this very day. A must see!!!
The answer to this question isn't as easy as it seems at first blush. Yes, Al Jolson does wear blackface several times in the movie. However, the historical record suggests that the African American response to his portrayal was mostly quite positive; many blacks were reported to have wept (as did many whites) during the performance of "Mammy," because this was a *sympathetic* portrayal of the African American experience (in contrast to movies like "The Birth of a Nation"). Remember that in the 19-teens and 1920s, many African Americans had left families behind to come north. Given the cost of train travel and low wages for the jobs that hired them, they'd be unlikely to return frequently if ever, putting them in the same position as immigrants from across the Atlantic (or Pacific!). Thus the sympathetic portrayal combined with the common experience of leaving friends and family behind was responded to positively, even if we may react to it with jaundiced eyes 75+ years later.
Almost every movie fan knows the historical importance of the Al Jolson
version of "The Jazz Singer", even if they've never had the chance to
see it from start to finish. Although it's actually not, as it is often
described to be, 'the first talking picture', it was the one feature
that, more so than any other, captured the public's attention on behalf
of sound movies. It's also still worth seeing in its own right, and
while it is far from a masterpiece, as a movie it is somewhat better
than its reputation.
The movie is actually a hybrid, with some silent sequences and some sound sequences. Successful experiments with sound movies go back to the 1890s, and got closer and closer to the goal during the 1920s. "The Jazz Singer" was really just one of a number of steps on the way towards full-length all-talking pictures becoming commonplace, but it probably would not have caused such a sensation if it did not also have some good material to go along with the new technology. The sound quality and other technical aspects do reflect the limitations of the time, and some of the material does also reflect the perspectives of its era, and thus now seems odd or uncomfortable. But there is still a solid core of the story that is still worthwhile, in the conflict between Jack's talents and dreams on the one hand, and his family and heritage on the other.
In following Jack as he pursues his career and tries to make his family understand, the specific details of the situation and setting aren't really crucial to understanding his position. Anyone whose family or friends want them to do one thing, but who feels called in his or her heart to do something else, can easily identify with this kind of struggle. These themes are handled rather well, although some of the time the story is simply used as a device to set up the musical numbers. Most of these do not seem especially noteworthy now, at least in themselves, but they must have impressed the movie's original audiences.
The year 1927 produced an unusual number of great (silent) movies that have deservedly become highly-regarded classics. This version of "The Jazz Singer" doesn't stand up to those classics on its own merits, but in itself it is still as good as any other movie version of the story, and for anyone who enjoys either classic movies or movie history, it's definitely worth seeing.
Yes, the movie was made eighty years ago. Yes, the acting is stagy.
Yes, the movie is a relic. Yes, the story is hokey and contrived.
Nevertheless this is a great movie which withstands the test of time.
It's about a man in conflict within himself and his family. It's about
the immigrant experience in the United States. It's about the lure of
show business. It's about life. It's about the American urban
experience in the early 20th century. For the Jazz Singer is more than
a curiosity piece, it is an icon of American culture and will be
recalled and remembered as long as people have interest in movies.
Although talkies are now taken for granted, the Jazz Singer hearkens
back to a time when movies were silent and actors were seen but not
heard, and this movie represents a technological breakthrough of
monumental importance that cannot be overstated. Al Jolson was one of
the greatest performers in American history. His place in the history
is firmly established, and Jazz Singer is proof.
The Jazz Singer is a landmark in the history of movies. First, the Jazz Singer is the first commercially successful talkie ever produced, featuring both dialogue and songs, signifying the transition from silence to sound. Second, the movie dramatizes several social themes directly relevant to the immigrant experience: Old World versus New World; Young versus Old; Secular versus Religious; Ghetto versus Non-Ghetto; Tradition versus Change. Third, the movie stars Al Jolson, at the time one of the most popular entertainers in the United States. Fourth, the movie showcases aspects of the Jewish community in New York City as it existed at the time. Fifth, the movie depicts two genres of entertainment, the minstrel and black face, which in 1927 were accepted forms of entertainment but today are considered controversial. The Jazz Singer was remade three times: in 1952, with Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee; in 1959 with Jerry Lewis and Anna Maria Alberghetti; and in 1980 with Neil Diamond, Lucie Arnaz and Laurence Olivier.
The Jazz Singer (1927)
Never mind the history for a sec, this is a pretty good drama about the clash of two generations in New York City. It must have been a familiar story, the stern Old World father and the son with dreams of making it American style. And there are familiar strains of devotion to religion and pure love of success and the joy of life.
This is all set, appropriately for New York at the time, in a Jewish context. The protagonist is the son, with a talent for singing and love of the stage, played by a man who fit that description perfectly, Al Jolson. His father is a real patriarchal icon, a bit cardboard in his unwavering attitudes (there is no sense of conversation here, simply saying, "No," loudly). But this might not be so far from the truth. The mother is another stereotype, surely, but a completely believable one, and a lovely one, compassionate and trying with some success to see that America really is different than the old Europe they left behind.
The crux of the conflict is whether the son has any right to abandon the generational calling to be a cantor--a singer of holy songs for the temple. The timing--Yom Kippur, which is perfect, since the movie was released the day before Yom Kippur, 1927. It really is a day of atonement, and the movie does not avoid the sanctity of that day, or of the traditions of being a Jew, new or old style. There are routine portions of the plot, and some filming that is a little awkward at best, but really the overall idea is a great one for the time.
But wait, this is the famous Jazz Singer, which made the film world (and the world) realize that sound was finally here. The technological hurdles were finally cleared. (This is dramatized nicely in Scorsese's "The Aviator," by the way.) Most of "The Jazz Singer" is standard silent film, but with a more or less parallel sound track (much like "Sunrise" had done, and done better, actually, a month earlier). But there are those startling, wonderful few moments--a few songs, one singing by a well known cantor, and a beautiful dialog between the son and the mother near the end--that feel like a door has opened and light and air and the smell of Spring has come in. I do not exaggerate, and this is 2010.
One reason this works is because of the clumsy (truly clumsy) transitions between the silent mainstream and the synch sound sections. The contrast is uncanny. A pure sound film, as would be the norm in a couple years, avoids this contrast, and of course most of us prefer that. But if it is the advent of true sound in movies we are looking for, the change in ambiance and realism between one section and the next is really worth watching for. Even now.
Deservedly famous, even to this day.
...but it was the first time that it was integrated into the storyline
of a feature film in such a way that it was remotely entertaining to
The story was adapted from a Samson Raphaelson play, and I've heard from many viewers who have reviewed this film with the criticism that the title cards and even the storyline itself for the all but twenty minutes that are silent film are like those from a melodrama from the 1910's rather than the more sophisticated material from films such as Sunrise from that same year. However, clever silent dialogue is not the point of watching this. The point is how Jolson jumps off the screen anytime he is center stage and performing a number and how the dynamism that was Jolson could only be adequately communicated in the presence of sound. Sam Warner, the Warner Brother that dragged the other Warners into the sound era kicking and screaming and died right before the film opened, picked well when he selected Al Jolson to be the centerpiece of the new sound on disc system's ability to capture synchronized dialogue.
What I always notice whenever I watch this film is just how apparently scared the Warners were of letting someone actually speak in what is supposed to be a talking picture. Jolson's famous impromptu dialog with his mother while at the piano performing "Blue Skies" is the only real conversation - although it is completely one-sided - in the entire film. The first all talking picture would have to wait until the following year to be created when a Vitaphone short inadvertently turned into a 59 minute feature film while Jack Warner was out of town. That picture was, of course, "Lights of New York". After that film opened to a grind house run and made over a million dollars the sound revolution was truly on. "The Jazz Singer" was considered only a novelty at the time.
Of course, part of the reason that so much of this film is silent is that is was still very difficult at this time to synchronize speech with film for extended periods of time. Even Jolson's whistling during Toot Toot Tootsie was sound dubbed over silent film versus the Vitaphone process.
Watch this one with an eye and ear mainly for Jolson's singing numbers. Also keep an eye out for some of Jolson's costars that have big careers later on. Of course there is Warner Oland who plays Al's father here and is Charlie Chan over at Fox during the 1930's, but there is also Myrna Loy as a chorus girl peeking through some curtains backstage during a rehearsal with a few catty - but unfortunately silent - remarks. Finally look out for William Demarest sharing a table with Al at Coffee Dan's as they both dig into a plate of ham and eggs. Ironically, Demarest played Jolson's mentor in the excellent 1946 biopic "The Jolson Story".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is it, folks. This is when the movies learned to talk. Though
often dismissed nowadays as a technical innovation without any
significant artistic merit, I was pleased to find that Alan Crosland's
'The Jazz Singer (1927)' employed the newfangled technology of
synchronised soundtracks as a storytelling device rather than a
gimmick. There's a wonderful scene early in the film when young Jakie
Rabinowitz (Bobby Gordon, later Al Jolson) briefly returns home while
his father, a Jewish cantor, sings in the nearby synagogue. The
father's somber, passionate voice is heard by Jakie as he prepares to
abandon his family, and the new technology enables Crosland to easily
communicate the boy's (dwindling) proximity to his estranged father,
using only the film's soundtrack. It's a simple but effective technique
that allows extra detail to be imparted without crowding the viewer
with visual information.
Of course, though touted as cinema's first feature-length "talkie," most of 'The Jazz Singer' unfolds as a typical silent film, with intertitles intact. Yet the director knew when the addition of sound would prove most effective. Apart from the excellent musical numbers, which show Jolson perhaps the most popular entertainer of his time at his musical peak, Crosland also shoots a single dialogue scene with a soundtrack, as an enthusiastic Jakie (now known as Jack Robin) teases his adoring mother with some rag-time hits (including Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies"). Appropriately, the soundtrack ceases from the moment Jack's father (Warner Oland) enters the room. The elderly cantor, firmly set in his traditional ways, is analogous to the old silent film technology, whereas Jolson's lively stage performer is the mouthpiece for an art form that is moving forward, evolving for the better.
Today, the use of blackface is generally frowned upon as racist, or simply unnecessary. Al Jolson himself frequently employed the costume in his stage performances, and its usage in 'The Jazz Singer' is actually quite important. Made up as an African American before a dress rehearsal, Jack Robin peers into a mirror and glimpses the fading vestiges of his Jewish cultural roots, now almost entirely hidden by the uniform of his trade. This clever sequence highlights how far Jack has strayed from family origins, and he is ultimately persuaded to embrace both his past and future values. Two of Jolson's songs ""Mother of Mine, I Still Have You" and "My Mammy" directly address the importance of family in both cases, via his loving and accepting mother (Eugenie Besserer). Interestingly, Jack's romance with beautiful dancer Mary (May McAvoy) is uncharacteristically underplayed; Jack even admits to her that she runs second to the progress of his career!
Billed as "the world's greatest entertainer", legendary singer and
showman Al Jolson injects heart and soul into this otherwise glib story
about a young man who, despite his father's wishes to continue the
family tradition of singing religious songs, strikes out on his own as
an entertainer and jazz singer.
It's a corny story. And the plot focuses way too much on the stern father, Cantor Rabinowitz, played by Warner Oland who gives a terrible performance, overwrought and bug-eyed. The film's B&W visuals are drab. Interiors are cheap looking and bleak. The costumes are homely and unattractive. I certainly mean no disrespect, but some of those hats women wear are suggestive of baskets you'd use to store potatoes.
However, the story, the acting, the production values and costumes are just background clutter for the film's main attraction, really the only attraction: the presence of Al Jolson.
Because of Jolson's huge popularity before the film was made, audiences came to see not the film so much as to see Jolson himself, whose on-stage persona I would describe as bizarre. The way he rolls his eyes, the way he swings his arms and hips, and his unusual voice combine to make his presentation unconventional and unique. But he was undeniably talented and charismatic.
Of course, the film has historical significance because it served as a transition from silent films to the "talkies". Most of "The Jazz Singer" is a traditional silent film. But Jolson's songs can be heard. In one scene, he serenades his mother to the tune of "Blue Skies". During this scene, his mother can be heard muttering little improvised comments, a feature that must surely have mesmerized audiences in 1927.
Jolson also sings the sentimental "Mother Of Mine", later released as a single recording. It became the first song ever released to the public as a direct result of having first been introduced in a film.
The death knell of the silent film era can be defined almost precisely at the moment when Jolson, on-stage in blackface and wearing white gloves, gets down on one knee and bursts into an emotional rendition of "My Mammy": "I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles, my mammy ..." His impassioned performance has become immortal. It's sheer Americana. And it made "The Jazz Singer" the first commercially successful feature film to use sound, an achievement that cannot be overstated.
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