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Finally after all these years of hearing about this movie, and seeing clips from it in historical film documentaries, I finally watched it! And I really liked it too! The story is universal and still applies today, Jolson was great as the Jewish cantor's son who wanted to be a jazz singer instead of a cantor like his father. Of course this movie is famous for having bits of dialogue spoken, and they are spoken during the song sequences. This device is both really cool, and makes you wish the whole movie were a talky, but it also is kinda annoying at times too, as the transitions are a bit awkward. Overall, I really liked this movie, though, it's got heart.
The Jazz Singer is an important film historically since it was most definitely the film that brought the world into the sound era. Looked at today, many people hate the black face used by Al Jolson in the film but that was, like it or not, a very popular entertainment art form back in those days. Much has been said about the songs and ad-libs interpolated in the film, which was mostly silent with a synchronized music score. They are fine and channel the true Jolson. The film was given a very good restoration several years ago and it looks and sounds better than ever on the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases. The opening and exit music is present, and the DVD set I have is just about the most spectacular one ever released. Three discs with more extra features than I have ever see, and a cornucopia of printed materials originally released with the film in 1927. Listening to the cleaned-up musical score on the DVD, it sounds surprisingly modern, capturing the many moods of the various scenes. Yes, there are dated elements in this film, but they are overshadowed by the fact that this represents a cinematic watershed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . my local library had the three-disc Warner Brothers DVD set that includes about every possible clue to the development of "talkies," or flicks with synchronized soundtracks, nearly a hundred years ago. Of the scores of separate items included on these discs, SHOCKINGLY, this film--THE JAZZ SINGER--was the top-rated item. I expected some cringe-worthy antiquated doo-doo nearly impossible to suffer through with THE JAZZ SINGER, based on the few snippets of Al Jolson in Blackface to which I'd previously been exposed. What I got was an adept father-son tear jerker which has an internal self-awareness in terms of playing with the fact that this collaborative effort was knowingly changing EVERY facet of American popular entertainment up to that time through its use of synchronized sound. The soundtrack and song selection are amazingly good, but the score by Louis Silvers ranks right up there on the pathos scale with anything John Williams or Max Steiner have composed. Jolson's acting is a revelation, and it's a more than eerie coincidence that as a character named Jakie "Jack Robin" he's breaking the sound barrier IN BLACKFACE in BROOKLYN just 20 years before a man actually named Jackie Robinson breaks America's COLOR BARRIER in popular culture IN BROOKLYN!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's not the best film or even a great film, but it's pretty good, and
you have to have it in the AFI Best Films list for the simple and pure
fact that it was the first feature length synchronized talkie ever
Al Jolson does a pretty good job in the lead, the performances are okay for the most part, the real delight about the movie though is it's theme about having to choose, to make a choice. As in The Dark Knight, Batman must save either Harvey Dent or the Woman he loves, he has to choose, he can't have his cake and eat it too, and the same situation goes for Al Jolson's character in The Jazz Singer. He must choose between breaking his Mother's heart or ending his career before it even gets started. In the end, Jolson's character does what is right because it is right, it's the right thing to do in his heart, and I would agree with his decision as well.
But it's an interesting thing to be put in a situation like that. Most of us in life are not tested in that way to where we must go one way or the other(with a major major decision), and the aftermath of it is we could always think 'what if', live in regret, be the victim, etc. We as human beings like it when we are not pigeon holed in a corner and we can make one solid choice and not have to be in a tail spin of 'What Should I do, pick this one or that one, if I do this then And if do that then But I might regret it if I ' All of these things, ideas and questions would be popping into our head to make a choice where the stakes are incredibly delicate and extremely important.
It's interesting as well that Jolson's character must or feel like he must choose between the person that brought him into this world/that gave him life and the passion that fulfills all of his dreams and makes him whole, the thing that could give him his most ultimate fulfilling and happy life. It's some interesting things to think about, and I enjoyed that aspect of The Jazz Singer the best. In the final analysis though, on the subject of making an important choice between two things, in this writer's opinion, is to think it over, weigh it out, and as tough as it can be sometimes, make a decision and never look back with regret or anything because the decision you made will be the best one for you, in your heart of hearts, just like it was for Jolson's character in the movie.
Overall I liked this film, I would recommend it to any film enthusiast who wants to see a huge part of cinematic history. As landing on the moon is a monumental event in history for most people, the first talkie, which is The Jazz Singer, is a Monumental event in history for film cinema and all film buffs alike.
I saw the Jazz Singer because I love movies and the history of movies. For this reason alone, the film is worth seeing. It is the first sound film after all so if the history of films interests you then see this one as a sort of intellectual exercise. But otherwise, I didn't think this film was very good. It wasn't horrible but definitely below average. Although, I think this is at least partly due to the fact that the film is an odd combination of sound and silence. The songs are sung by the performers and are audible but the rest of the movie is silent as if the director was told he had to use some sound. So that was distracting. If you have seen a silent film before then you know that you have to watch it differently than you do a sound film. And I found it difficult and annoying to have to constantly switch back and forth between sound and no sound. But for film lovers this is certainly worth seeing at least to understand that sound in film sure didn't happen all at once.
All right, I'm now starting my review of movie musicals in chronological order (mostly) by commenting on the one that transitioned the silent-to-talkie era: The Jazz Singer. This is the one that put Warner Bros. on the map of the Major Studios. This is the one that made Al Jolson a film star having previously conquered Broadway and the recording industry. This is the one that ended the silent era and ushered in the talkies even though this was mostly silent with a recorded score, Jolson singing, and some dialogue scenes with him and the woman playing his mother. Oh, and while Jolson had said "You ain't heard nothing' yet" in his debut short A Plantation Act, here in this picture is where he is most famous for saying that. His performance as a singer is bar none here and his acting isn't so bad either though when it comes to the part where he has to choose between honoring his dying father on The Day of Atonement and his Broadway break at the same time, the film threatens into ridiculous melodrama. Still, for the most part, I liked the drama that ensured there and the humor of some of the supporting characters. So on that note, The Jazz Singer was pretty enjoyable for both historical and entertainment purposes. Also, while I was a bit embarrassed for Al's blackface act in his previous short, here I was less so since he wears a suit when he does that here and doesn't speak in the stereotypical dialect usually associated with such characterization. P.S. On the current DVD there's also some commentary by Ron Hutchinson, a founder of The Vitaphone Project which is dedicated to the preservation of the films and discs from that studio, and Vince Giordano, a band leader who often performs with his combo many of these classic tunes from Jolson's time, that shed light on the techniques of this film's recording and some of its players like which of the showgirls was Myrna Loy.
I hope nobody regards this as a shill for Warner Brothers... In 2007 a 3 disc edition was put out with background material about the movie, the times of 1927, and a disc of burlesque programs which ended with George Burns and Gracie Allen. There is also a short of Al Jolsen in blackface and dressed as a farmboy from the farm. And yes, it is stereotypical. But no different than the ethnic humor of that day which depicted Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews in exaggerated fashion for the sake of comedy. And as more than one person has pointed out, Jolsen in blackface in the movie only occurs but a short time when he is performing on stage. The explanation given to the viewer of the DVD is that the blackface and white gloves were used by the actor so people in the back of the theater could see the performer. And yes blackface was used well into the 1940s; Irving Berlin's 1941 "Holiday Inn" has a scene where Crosby wants to hide his girl from Fred Astaire, so he puts blackface on her. And blackface must have been offensive even by standards of 1940s, for in 1955 they made "White Christmas" without the blackface. "The Jazz Singer" storyline is hokey, but still enjoyable.
"The Jazz Singer" (1927) directed by Alan Crosland it is as movie very
unusual and strongly grotesque, an extraordinary success by its musical
drama construction, with the spontaneous and glad cooperation of Al
Jolson, as singer with a black ink on his face as fake skin, because
his own father whom is against the skilled transfer of the learned
technique of this specific art of singing a kind of spirituals from the
church, as the same like to the stage but with another melodic timber.
The story is in itself so fantastic that with still a bit of some
prejudice against many illogic things, that even today are almost as
two times ironic. The girl is also very nice, fellows.
From Swedish origin, this very good stage artist coming also from Broadway is the character of the first unforgettable talkie, made by Warner Brothers with Vitaphone technical revolution and with a screen adaptation from a theatrical entertainment, like the play from 1925. The sound is guttural which means it came from the throat for the effect of musical voice, when he says to his mother the attribute of his relative as romantic supplement of the night's sight of this plot. Made as entertainment risking interdiction by the rules not written concerning segregation both religious by free expression and color of skins as inequality of the time. Except in singers nonetheless this masquerade from Hollywood before the code, to bring up animosity against sadness of blues from Mississippi with such a noisy souls from the cotton lands, but courageously in this specific case making the bridge between church chorus and vocal group out of that line of fire for show business in night clubs. Everywhere around the world of rhythms from slaves of another continent, as roots of all this turmoil of sound, even from the nostrils of Al Jolson and his imitative figure of a Negro's spirituals expressing love by song in spite of relatives opposition.
This kind of movie was by chance and full opportunity the open door for a more ambitious story out of the screens at the time, concerning such a problem of integrity of the masked character : smiling nowhere as in the round circus of the stage, concealed by such a tonic accents in that way of speaking about domestic affairs. Without apparently any other issue than fighting on the backwards of streets bad known and too at short term in the local society, actually with no other way out then talking in between. To the surprise of the viewers this movie is much more interesting than it was supposed to be, because its state of plasticity in the relatively short content of this narrative, which it plays well fresh fervor a little bit camp. Nonetheless the strange affection in it by the melody, at the time of foolish years and just before the Depression crisis.
Although a less than spectacular film, it is a part of film history and preservation and if you salute that cause like I do, you will salute this first talkie as a milestone.
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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