The movie that forever changed Hollywood:
Joel L. Gandelman | San Diego, CA USA | 09/01/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Almost immediately after Warner Bros' huge financial gamble premiered in Oct 1927, other studios' concerned bigwigs frantically ordered their studios to immediately equip themselves to do sound movies. New careers were made -- and shattered -- overnight. If you haven't seen The Jazz Singer, considered the first "talking movie" (even though there actually were some earlier sporadic experiments) this is a video worth not only seeing but OWNING for several reasons: a)You see Al Jolson at his height. He was one of the first half of the 20th century's biggest stars and some of his stage charisma comes through in this movie's songs. Most of the flick is actually silent except for the songs. Originally he was only supposed to sing, but he ad libbed a few lines and the response was absolutely electric when audiences heard and saw him say these few words on the screen. b)The story's value: a Jewish religious leader's son, torn between tradition (using his voice for religion and following in his dad's footsteps) or to please the masses (as a jazz singer in vaudeville). Follow family tradition or national culture? c)The historical show biz value: the Warner brothers put everything they on the line in doing this flick and if it had failed sound movies would have been set back about 10 years (or more) -- and maybe Bugs Bunny wouldn't have been invented. d)Technical show biz value: The Warners used Vitaphone, which was basically sound on disks synchronized to the film's action. You also get a nice zippy period musical score throughout the movie. f)American history historical value: Note long shots of the Jewish ghetto. They were actual shots of a New York street taken through a window -- NOT extras on a movie set. And the theater in which Jolson sings was the Wintergarden, a theater in which he often performed. g)Cultural historical value: even though Jolson's belt-em-out vocal style (effective in theaters without mikes) is part of the reason you don't hear about him anymore, a MAJOR part of his vanishing public historical profile is because he did some of his stage act in "blackface" and minstrel shows were viewed a bit differently in those days. You will SELDOM EVER see this film aired on television due to the fact that blackface is so obviously politically incorrect (understatement!). Does this hold up? YES, it is corny but it is also deeply touching and Jolson's stage pizazz reaches across nearly a century on most numbers (one or two now are almost "camp" but weren't back then). Advice: it won't be available on video forever as the 21st century advances. And you might not find it at your local rental store. Get it now. It's the movie that forever changed Hollywood -- and it's still entertaining."
Don't believe the hype
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 07/22/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There's been a lot of things said about this movie for going on 80 years now, some negative things and some positive things, and some things which seem to be said by people who haven't even seen the movie, judging by how inaccurate these comments are. I was expecting this movie to be pretty dated, and came away from it feeling that, while certain aspects were a bit dated, overall it wasn't as much of a museum piece as some people feel it is. It might be hard to relate to a young man who gets cut off from his family as though he were dead just because he wanted to sing jazz songs instead of training to become a cantor like his father and other male relatives before him, and why that was considered such a shocking big deal, but the basic premise is still there--it might not mean being kicked out of your house and being declared dead in your parents' hearts, but everyone can relate to following a dream or a life path different from the one expected of you or dictated by tradition, even if the consequences are no longer that severe and it no longer seems a dichotomy to reconcile both tradition and modernity without watering down either. Some of the Jewish stereotypes were a bit bothersome, such as the portrayal of Yudelson and the frequent references to Judaism as a "race" and how the people were praying to "their" God, but at least it wasn't as bad as the racism in, say, 'Birth of a Nation.'
A lot of people who claim this was the first all-talking, all-singing motion picture clearly haven't even seen it, nor are they familiar with cinematic history. There were experimental films featuring music and dialogue as early as the 1890s, although certainly they didn't catch on, and the technology was cumbersome, impracticable, and rather expensive. The sound in this film was a result of the success of the 1926 John Barrymore film 'Don Juan,' which featured some synchronised sound and music (and Jolson himself had appeared in a one-reeler from 1926, 'A Plantation Act,' which was truly all-talking, all-singing). Still, this is by and large a silent film; only maybe a quarter of it features actual sound, and nearly all of that sound is singing, although there are a few dialogues. It almost gives the feeling of actually being back there in 1927 and watching this film where every so often you're caught off-guard by the sound of, well, sound, not being used to anything like that, even if most of it is rather crudely and primitively synchronised and tacked-on (though the sound does look and sound more natural as the movie wears on). The first true all-talking picture was still a little bit off; this wasn't it, despite the hype. It's also completely untrue that this automatically ended silent cinema; such a big sea change did and could not happen overnight, instead taking till 1929 for nearly all films to have sound. A lot of people seem to have the impression that this film came out and then automatically every single film that came out afterwards was a talking picture.
Like many others who haven't seen the film, before seeing it I assumed a lot of it would feature Al Jolson in blackface, a very dated entertainment. When I finally saw it, I was proven wrong; despite what most posters of the movie and even most covers of the video depict, he's only in blackface for a couple of songs near the end, and sings them very matter-of-factly, the same way he matter-of-factly applies the makeup and puts on his wig. He just sings these songs in blackface and really is himself for every other part of the movie; he doesn't ham it up by "acting" Black as well, the way he is said to do in some of his later pictures. The concept behind blackface entertainment is patently racist and offensive, but it wasn't always presented in a racist way.
While not really Oscar material, it is a pretty good story, and quite touching in spots. Young Jakie has dreams of being a jazz singer instead of a cantor, and runs away from home at quite a young age to pursue his dreams in peace, although he still secretly keeps in touch with his mother (as one intertitle says, "God made her a woman and love made her a mother"), being a bit of a mama's-boy. He becomes an up-and-coming hit, but a kink is throw into his plans and rise to the top when he comes home to New York to sing in a show taking place there and his father (who is celebrating a birthday) is furious to find him at home. Jakie, now called Jack, is rather hurt, saying he came home with nothing but love in his heart and is now being turned away, not even being given a chance. The big show he is set to sing in happens to take place on the eve of Yom Kippur, and he must decide if he sings to advance his career or comes home to sing Kol Nidre in place of his father, who has taken ill and is unable to sing the beautiful age-old melody. The ending of the film is also incredibly sweet and heart-warming. Al Jolson might not have been the world's best actor, and his songs might be viewed more like curiosities today, but he had the *personality* to project this story and make it come to life."
80th Anniversary Edition features announced
calvinnme | 12/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1926 Sam Warner of the Warner Brothers decided to invest in the Vitaphone sound system. Don Juan was their first Vitaphone film, but it only contained music and sound effects. In 1927 Warner adapted the Samson Raphaelson Broadway hit The Jazz Singer into a movie and, this time, they incorporated vocal musical numbers in what was still a silent film for all but twenty minutes. Contrary to popular belief, audiences had heard music on film before, and they had heard dialogue on film before. What they had not heard or seen before were either of these things being particularly entertaining. When Jolson sings "Blue Skies" to his mother while adlibbing humorous comments, it all came across as so completely natural that people suddenly realized that sound on film could be entertaining and not just some novelty act. Despite its many shortcomings, including the predictable storyline, The Jazz Singer was a box-office success and a cinema milestone.
This new 80th Anniversary Edition of the Jazz Singer due in October 2007 contains three discs of extras and appears to be just as much a tribute to the birth of the talking picture as a fully digitized release of the Jazz Singer. Disc 1 is dedicated to the film itself, and includes a commentary track. "A Plantation Act" is also included. This is a 1926 Vitaphone short also starring Jolson. Disc 2 is dedicated to the silent to sound transition and includes a documentary on this subject along with shorter featurettes. The real jewel in the crown of this disc is the excerpt from "The Gold Diggers of Broadway". That was the top-grossing picture of 1929 and is an example of a very good all-Technicolor musical of the pre-Depression era. Unfortunately, it was considered lost for years and only a little over two reels (about 20 minutes) survive. Disc 3 contains almost four hours of Vitaphone shorts. These films run the gamut from musical theater legends and vaudeville acts, to dramatic vignettes and classical music performances from the most prestigious artists of the era. Most of these were shorts considered lost for decades, until a consortium of archivists and historians joined forces with a goal to restore these time capsules of entertainment history. Up until now, contemporary audiences have only been able to see these shorts via rare retrospective showings in a few large cities, or through the limited release of a restored handful of the earliest subjects, which were part of a 1996 laserdisc set. This new collection will finally make these films available on DVD. The actual Vitaphone shorts are included in the product description. Seems like a must buy for anyone interested in the film itself or the dawn of sound."
God Bless Warner Home Video!
J. Hutchinson | Gorgeous NJ | 08/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First, ignore the old comments in this string that refer to the old VHS release and have nothing to do with this truly awesome new 3 DVD set. The content is awesome. Even if you have no interest in the feature (which has been completely restored with sound direct from origina discs and a new print). The fact this set contains 26 early, never on DVD (most never on video) Vitaphone vaudeville and music shorts from 1926-30, a new feature length documentary on the coming of sound, a dozen more shorts, and loads more extras ---- for less than $30 on Amazon --- makes this a must have for any film buff.
Recognize that NO other studio is releasing this kind of early talkie material, nor shorts. WHV is to be congratulated for assembling a first class package in a first class way. Please spread the word on this set. If it does well, perhaps more early stuff will emerge from the vaults!
Producer George Feltenstein deserves special recogition for sticking his neck out and producing a stellar set. Thanks!"