Jazz Singer, The (1927)

Nope not in Blackface yet.
Nope not in Blackface yet.

Genre: Drama Music Romance

Starring: Al Jolson, May McAvoy (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925))

Directed By: Alan Crosland

Overview: A young jewish boy goes against tradition and decides to sing jazz rather than following in his father's footsteps and becoming the next church cantor.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet!" - #71 on AFI's Top 100 movie quotes, and the first sychronized spoken line of dialogue (as opposed to sung) in film.

For those of you who know nothing of The Jazz Singer, let me tell you the reason for its fame: this is the first film in history that featured synchronized sound. Yes kiddies, The Jazz Singer is the world's first talkie. That's its claim to fame, but at the same time its a film that merits more than simply being technologically... sound (oh, I slay me).

Now, let it be known that this is also a silent film. In exactly the same way that Chaplin used synch sound in his first talkie, Modern Times, and Hitchock used with his first sound film Blackmail, they also had bits that did not use the technology throughout. All that to say, don't get confused when you see intertitles instead of hearing people speak for the first while.

Let's move on to the tale. We have a young Jew who can sing. his father and his father before him were Cantors, Jews who lead a synagogue in songful prayer. Of course pops wants what is best for himself and expects his son to follow in his footsteps. In the meantime, his son is off singing at a smoky pub. What's he singing? Ragtime music. One things leads to another and the son is disowned, sent away to become a man on his own, taking with him nothing but a photograph of his mother.

Years later we hear (for the first time in film history) Al Jolson sing a song that skyrockets him to stardom. He ends up back in his home town, and decides to drop in for a visit in hopes that his father can forgive him, especially with his grand success a proven thing.

As stories go, it's cozy as a blanket, heartfelt and snuggly, though there are deep moments. Clashing traditions and impossible decisions add an element of suspense that turn what could have been merely a fluffy musical into a drama worthy of its fame.

Knowing that you're hearing the first words spoken in film, and knowing that those words are a much bigger picture intro of "You ain't heard nothin' yet"... well that's a moment of history that washes over you in a very interesting way.

Uh.. yeah... there it is.
Uh.. yeah... there it is.

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 76% (Listen Up)
Aftertaste:

Then there's Blackface. It's one of those stark reminders that what you're watching is certainly not current. While watching The Jazz Singer, the typical attitude and conveyance of the minstrel show Al Jolson is 'tributing' isn't there. Yes Al sings a song called mammy, and yes, clearly he's done up like a raging Negro, but there's none of the mockery or the disparaging attitude common of the minstrel show.

I guess what I'm saying is, I have no idea what they were thinking with the Blackface bits, they're so out of place, regardless of how innocuous they are.

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