Every part of me wants to review this film and talk solely about how important it was to the landscape of cinema. But movie geeks already know that story. It’s Movie Geek 101 with professor Ebert. Really, what I’ll do here is talk about the film’s relevance and importance to modern audiences and film nerds (who are, presumably, the target audience for this incredible set).
“In every living soul, a spirit cries for expression – perhaps this plaintive, wailing song of jazz is, after all, the misunderstood utterance of a prayer,” reads the opening title card. Eloquently stating the basic concepts behind The Jazz Singer, these words work to place the audience in Jackie (Al Jolson)’s shoes from the get-go. Legendary in its impact on cinema, The Jazz Singer features Al Jolson as the son of a Jewish cantor looking to break out from his father’s somewhat domineering shadow. A universal story, it seems apt that it would be the choice for the first “talkie,” as the desire to express one’s self artistically is often an overpowering concept.
The film makes use of plenty of the old standby silent film techniques. Title cards, various wipes to black and enchanting, whimsical tunes, etc. the imagery of a New York ghetto placed against the beauty of the Vitaphone music and Jolson’s voice remains one of the most powerful experiences in cinema. It’s also pretty funny, with one of my favorite moments being when family and friends arrive for the cantor’s 60th birthday, bringing prayer shawls as gifts. Jack’s mother’s reaction is hysterical every single time. Classic stuff.
Jolson himself seems to be having entirely too much fun. He’s energetic, charming and impossibly talented. One of those rare actors who happens to be a triple-threat: handsome, great actor and can belt out a tune with the best of ‘em. I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone similar these days, with the exception of Hugh Jackman.
“Wish me luck, pal. I’ll certainly need it,” – Jack, The Jazz Singer
We hear a lot about the filmmakers who raise the bar with technology. James Cameron with Avatar, Spielberg with CG dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Zemeckis with the Forrest Gump historical footage. I don’t think we give enough credit to Alan Crosland and Louis Silvers of The Jazz Singer for having the guts to gamble their careers on a talkie while moviegoers were used to the silent film era.
The key thing to remember with The Jazz Singer is that it remains an enchanting, timeless classic. A story of a young man trying to find his own voice, from humble origins, who uses his incredible talent to entertain and make people smile. A beautiful story with an impossibly beautiful film.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Disc 1 – Commentary, rare cartoon and collection of shorts, An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros. Silver Jubilee, 1947 Lux Radio broadcast, trailer.
Disc 2 – The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned To Talk, surviving sound excerpts from 1929’s Gold Diggers of Broadway, studio shorts celebrating the early sound era.
Disc 3 – Rare comedy and music shorts.
"The Jazz Singer" is on sale January 8, 2013 and is not rated. Musical. Directed by Alan Crosland. Written by Alfred Cohn. Starring Al Jolson.