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The Jazz Singer is mainly known today as being the first feature length
sound film. Other than this historical fact, it is not particularly
familiar to most audiences. This is unsurprising, as its technical
achievements are the only noteworthy aspect of the film.
The Jazz Singer tells the all too familiar story of a young man's clash with his traditional parents. Young Jakie Rabinowitz runs away from home after being brutally punished for playing ragtime music. He soon gains success as a jazz performer. However, after going back to New York to perform on Broadway, his parents come back to haunt him.
Aside from the pedestrian nature of the plot, the film suffers from an unconvincing main conflict. Jakie's father is demonstrably abusive, and it is hard to see why he would care what the man thought once he became an adult. Consequently, the climax, which revolves around the father's illness, is rendered silly, and you wish Jakie would tell the old man what he can do.
That said, the technical quality of the sound in the film is surprisingly good given how old it is. Jolson's voice comes across well, and will make you want to purchase his greatest hits album. The music is also good.
The film is now somewhat infamous for its use of black face. Although this definitely dates the film, it does not necessarily make it racist. For starters, the black face scenes only comprise a very small portion of the film towards the end. More importantly, the black face performance shown is not particularly racist, particularly when compared to contemporary films such as Birth of a Nation. Indeed, far less well known blackface scenes, such as Judy Garland's blackface audition in Everybody Sing, are far more offensive.
I saw this movie for its historial value, but I stayed for its greatness.
Because, first talkie or not, this is just a great movie. The 6.3 rating
baffled me; didn't everyone else like this interesting story about a boy who
abandons tradition and his father who disowns him? I can't think of anything
not to like about the movie. It's a fabulous movie, and a filmmaking
I'd like to comment on someone else's comments now. Someone said this movie was very racist and that's why it was successful, saying, "Would this film have still been successful if it was just Jolson as himself and not black-faced? Probably not. That's because people watched it to make themselves feel better about themselves."
I wonder if this commenter actually saw the movie. Jolson is only wearing blackface for about 15 minutes for a performance. The rest of the movie, Jolson IS himself. Jolson never plays an African-American as his character in the movie, he just sings a song as one. Yes, the song is somewhat racist by today's standards, but most of this comment is not valid at all. In fact, I suspect the comment was written solely based on a glance at the video box cover.
Anyway, if you wanna see a historical landmark in film or if you wanna see a fabulous movie (half-talkie, half-silent), go ahead and see "The Jazz Singer."
After years of silent movie screens with the exception of live piano or organ accompaniment,we finally had sound on the big screen,at least in appropriately chosen moments.I can just imagine the first audiences of this film being totally mesmerized and amazed at what they were seeing and hearing for the first time.The film is one of those turning points in cinema history we can point to and talk about along with the first technicolor feature and the first time we heard Clark Gable dare to utter a curse word on screen.Al jolson had an electrifying charm that he plays to the hilt here,though much of his act is considered racially offensive today.There are those who call it a great film,and there are those who hesitate to do so,but there is no denying The Jazz Singer's impact on cinematic history.We truly had heard nothing yet.
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.
*** 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.
The first demonstration of a taking film was probably a test film W. K.
Laurie Dickson showed to Thomas Edison in 1889.
1922, Phonofilm (Optical) 1926, Movietone (Optical) and Vitaphone (Phono Disk)
In 1926, Warners premiered Don Juan, the first full length Vitaphone film, and the first with a synchronized sound track of music and audio effects. A year later, The Jazz Singer became the first feature with synchronized singing and dialog.
The Jazz Singer, is not the first "talkie", but is the first full-length feature film with sound vs a short.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's nice when a historically important movie is also pretty good. The
Jazz Singer will always be known as the first sound film (even though
more than half of it is silent), the first musical, and so on, but it's
still somewhat fun to watch. Al Jolson plays a Jewish performer who
constantly has to struggle over his identity ("the calls of his race"
by the writing of the movie). Jolson is genuinely good at portraying
the internal rupture while singing powerful and moving songs. The movie
itself is strongly concerned with spectacle, with dancing, performance,
and well-timed and significant choices of when to go to sound--it not
only transitions smoothly back and forth, but for fans of structural
aspects like me it's interesting to notice things about how they use
sound versus silence in a way that could almost have been done today as
an experiment. Of course, it WAS experimental: the first public showing
of the process of course has nothing previous to build upon. But still,
it's a remarkably good movie by itself for just being famous for its
Although this is the first movie to use sound, there are quite a few silent scenes. Nevertheless, this is a pretty cool movie. It starts out where they show Jackie Rabonowitz at age 13 singing jazz in a local bar. His father, a rabbi, hears about this and furiously drags him home. This movie is quite similar to a "Simpsons" episode that I saw entitled "Like Father, Like Clown." In it, Krusty the Klown (Hershel Krustofski) tells the Simpson family about how his father was a rabbi and did not want him to become a clown. He later faces his father and he loves him for who he is just like Cantor Rabonowitz did with his son Jackie (who was now Jack Robins). I guess this is where Matt Groening got the idea. This movie could in a way be considered a musical because of its various songs such as "Kidel Nor" (the Jewish song Jack sings later on in the movie) and "Mammy" (in which he has his face painted like a black person).
Jazz Singer, The (1927)
* 1/2 (out of 4)
The most important film in history? I don't think so but it's follows the simple story of a young Jewish boy who gets kicked out of his house by his father and years later grows into a great jazz singer. I've never really understood why this film was anything special. Yes, I know it was the first feature to use sound but I say so what to this for several reasons. First, there were sound shorts before this that have just as much talking as this movie because for the most part this is 90% silent with a handful of sound moments. Another thing I've always wondered is why Warner didn't just go ahead and make this a sound movie from start to finish. Either way, I find the film deadly dull because all the silent sequences are full of bad acting and really bad direction. It seems that no effort when into these sequences because the director felt that the sound sequences would be good enough to carry the film. Perhaps in 1927 but not today. Al Jolson, during the famous first talking scene, does a great job and these early sound sequences still pack a nice little punch. The story is totally predictable but I guess that's to be expected.
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