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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie was responsible for the end of the silent era of cinema in
1927, and the destruction of the careers of hundreds of actors who
couldn't talk. Does this movie hold up after 87 years? Well, it still
First an note: This film is known as the first sound film (or "talkies" as they where called in the 20s), but most of the film is still the same as the movies from the silent era. Only the singing parts are with sound. But the jazz singer has made his chapter in the history of cinema and soon actors had two choices. 1: Look for a new job. 2: Learn to talk.
The movie stars Al Jolson as the son of a Jewish priest (don't really know how they are called) who wants to be a jazz singer, even when his father hated that idea. Without spoiling to many things, he became a jazz singer and we than see the famous black-face scene the movie is known for. people now will see that as racist and I am agree with that, but it was part of the time period. And it became one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema.
I will recommend this film to people who are curious about cinema history. To the others: Give it a watch. It is not that racist at all and the black-face scene is only 3% of the film.
Take away The Jazz Singer's gimmick and it would be remembered as just
another movie from the 1920's. This film, however, is widely
acknowledged as the first talking picture. It stars Al Jolson. It's a
universal story of dogged pursuit of career and Daddy Issues. Those are
legit reasons (particularly the sound thing) to keep it somewhat
relevant, but it's also pretty dumb. Had it been made a few years into
the sound era, it certainly wouldn't have been recognized by the
American Film Institute on their 1998 Top 100 list.
Even at that, the talking scenes are mostly just Jolson singing and doing his jazz act. When they give him and his mother (Eugenie Besserer) a scene that isn't about music, he's stiff and you can hardly hear what she's saying. Sure, this was all new to people who'd been making movies for years without having to worry about dialogue. They were infants in the land of audio. You gotta cut them a little slack.
Okay, slack cut. Back to beefing. This is one more in a long line of movies that rely on the "you perform tonight even though your father is on his death bed or you're through" crutch. Nothing like a good guilt trip dealt out by show biz types who've OFTEN put their career goals over the needs of their family. As for whether not Jack Robin (Jolson) puts his father's dreams of the son becoming a Jewish cantor over the son's jazz career...that shall not be spoiled here. There IS much hand-wringing over it though, often literal hand-wringing.
And then there's the blackface! Arguments could be made that this movie was just paying homage to the racist staple of vaudeville days of yore and weren't trying to make fun of black people. Still, we can't just forgive them in their ignorance. It's great that the movies finally got to speak in 1927 and The Jazz Singer was sound's godfather. They might have looked a little harder for a more worthy story. And they could've found a way to avoid that blackface.
If this snapshot review made you yearn for more, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 32-minute Jazz Singer 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
The first talking picture, 1927's "The Jazz Singer" is the story of a
young man (Al Jolson) who wants to break from the family tradition and
become a jazz singer.
I have to agree with some of the reviewers - though there are some absurd things in this film, it has to be viewed in the context of the time it was done without today's focus on political correctness. One needs to look at the history of blackface and do a little research about Al Jolson before jumping in with reviews. Otherwise you come off like the guy who asked if Gandhi was a fictional character - which, by the way, happened on this site.
What's excellent about "The Jazz Singer" is its look at the immigrant Jewish life in New York City at that time. Jolson is Jakie Rabinowitz, whose father (Warner Oland) wants him to pursue the family tradition of being a cantor.
Even as a young boy, though, Jakie is interested in singing and performing jazz, which causes a rift -- so big a rift that he leaves home for good, breaking his mother's heart. He changes his name to Jack Robin and has success on the road. Big success comes when he is hired to costar in a Broadway show. This means a return to New York and a chance to see his parents.
When his father falls ill, his mother begs him to sing Kol Nidre at the synagogue, but it's on Jack's opening night, and he feels that he has made his choice.
Many people can relate to defying one's family to follow a dream. It is handled somewhat simplistically in "The Jazz Singer," because obviously, if you're contracted to do a Broadway show, you can't walk out on opening night unless you want to pay the rent on the theater and make up for the loss in box office and somehow stay out of court. Here it's treated, in scene after scene, as if Jack really has a decision to make, with his mother pulling at his heartstrings and his girlfriend (May McAvoy) yanking him the other way. Also, I just have to put this in - what producer in his right mind would schedule an opening night on Passover? Anyway, none of this was meant to be looked into too closely.
I will be honest and say I always thought this landmark film only contained one spoken line, and I thought it was "You ain't heard nothing' yet." Turns out, Jolson does what amounts to a monologue, with his mother (Eugenie Besserer) making comments along the way. She's not miked. It's fascinating.
The history of the Vitaphone license is even more interesting. Sam Warner (who died before this film's release) wanted the Vitaphone license, but anti-Semitism ran very high. When he went to meet with the Vitaphone people, Sam, a big, redheaded guy, asked his Catholic wife, Lina Basquette, to wear her Catholic cross. He got the license. Fox had a competing sound systems, and Vitaphone was junked in 1932. Studios couldn't convert to sound immediately after "The Jazz Singer" - at first, sound was considered a fad, converting the theaters was a huge expense, the studios didn't actually have a plethora of equipment to do sound films - and then there was the European market. It all took a while, but this is the film that started it all.
After George Jessel starred in the stage version on Broadway, and both he and Eddie Cantor turned down the film, the producers settled on Al Jolson, an electrifying performer and a powerful singer. It's hard today to measure his impact, as Jolson really needed a live audience. But the effect of his voice and his obvious energy is still present.
Nowadays some of the acting will seem hammy. Jolson actually comes off very well, as does Warner Oland, who is best known as Charlie Chan. Besserer uses her hands a lot in gestures long gone - grabbing her heart, for instance, but this was the style of the day, and her performances comes off as being a warm and sweet one. Otto Lederer as the kibitzer is a riot.
A very important film that deserves to be seen. Sadly with the advent of sound, no one was interested in anything else, so Abel Gance trashed his early Cinemascope-type invention, which we got to see for the first time in the 1980s with the restoration of his "Napoleon." But everything happens in its time. And in 1927, it was time for the movies to start talking.
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.
Contrary to well-established legend, this is not the first of its kind.
But it was a smash hit, and the first sound film where musicsound at
its fullest chromatic rangewas central to the plot, the first musical
film, and history was bent to accommodate. The film is in fact a
silent, except when we are on a stage and someone is singing.
As a film, it throws away the many wonderful advances of the late silent eraL'Herbier, Pudovkin, Pabstso we can have singing, it's uninteresting to watch. As a musical, bulky sound technology of the time prevents dazzle or movement. All the emphasis is placed on the novelty, that is listening to Al Jolson sing.
The story is partially about the transition to sound. In a nutshell, the young Jewish kid wants to be a jazz singer instead of a cantor like his father and five generations before him. Heartbreak ensues, he runs off. Years later, his father has fallen ill and there is no one to replace him on the same night as the son's years of struggle pay off in his Broadway debut.
Generally speaking, I would not recommend this to youit is emotionally stodgy and heavy. Its metaphorsblackface to emphasize the 'otherness' of the show business from the mother's pov are as draining as in those films about sad clowns pretending to be happy.
I saw this as part of a project on musicals I'll be running through winter and have two remarks to make.
The film is in what would prove a popular model for Depression-era musicals, a show about a show being staged, in fact two, Broadway and synagogue. It starts here, even though there is no choreography to speak of.
We only have song, but the premise is the sameexpressions of some purity can mend hearts, 'magically' solving reality. There are three notable instances of this, one in a theatre where song takes us to the synagogue, the second where a mirror becomes a window, the third when a deathbed window is opened and song flows in and lifts the barrier between father and son.
No, I find this the most interesting as the dissonant artifice of an old world that vanished as the lights and stage were being set for the modern world; the contrast in the form between silent film and splashes of song, musical shifts from ragtime to mournful Jewish chants, Freudian fixation on the mother instead of a healthy love interest, all of it is curious here, curious because simply no one would make films this way again. In a mysterious way it manages to unsettle.
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.
Justly remembered for revolutionizing the business (though more of the
movie is silent than the producers would have had you believe), The
Jazz Singer is nevertheless, at its best, a mediocre movie. It inspires
nothing in the hearts and minds of its audience, and it seems to be so
enamored with what we are hearing that it forgets to worry about what
we are watching.
This was the only major work of Al Jolson's career, but what he does here is very good and probably the best thing about the movie. Jolson is Jack Robin, a name he changed from Jakie Rabinowitz to escape his Jewish heritage. He grew up the son of a Jewish cantor and was expected to follow in his father's spiritual footsteps but instead leaves home to seek a career as a jazz singer. The big climax of the film is the night when Jack must make the decision to perform in a revue that could be his big break in New York or to sing in his dying father's place even though the cantor had disowned him.
Silent movies derive their strength less from their stories than their images; the Jazz Singer's story is not amazing, but with inspired imagery it could have been very moving. Instead, I found myself pretty bored. One could use the time period as an excuse for this, but when Charlie Chaplin can make brilliant movies like "The Gold Rush," one expects more from a hyped-up movie like this.
All that said, there is something exciting in the feeling that you are watching history like this. When Al Jolson said that famous line "You ain't heard nothing yet!" I felt I was a part of something far bigger than just a modern revolution in film made for commercial purposes; realizing the future movies that this one affected and knowing the art that it helped to create was an awe-inspiring moment that only those who love the movies can really understand. So as a piece of history, The Jazz Singer is worth seeing; but as a movie, it fails to inspire.
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).
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