The Jazz Singer Review
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It’s hard to imagine a time when movies had no sound—other than an orchestra. With all the special effects and the sound effects—all the flash and the magic—used to create big-budget blockbusters today, it’s hard to imagine what it was like, back in 1927, to hear sound in a movie for the first time. But now, with the three-disc release of the groundbreaking first talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer, you can experience it for yourself.

The Jazz Singer tells the story of the famous vaudeville performer Jack Robin (Al Jolson). Born Jakie Rabinowitz (played as a boy by Robert Gordon), the son of a strict Jewish cantor (Warner Oland), Jakie infuriates his father when he’s caught singing jazz in a saloon. Though Jakie’s father wants him to be a cantor—just like the rest of the men in his family—Jakie feels a different kind of music in his heart, and he leaves home to pursue his dream.

  
 
The Jazz Singer is, most likely, unlike any film you’ve ever seen. Though it was the first talking picture, it’s mostly presented as a silent film—with captions for most of the dialogue, as well as a long, orchestral overture. If you’ve never seen a silent film before, it’s an amazing experience—and, 80 years later, it’s a strange way to watch a film. But when you first hear Jakie singing on stage, you can see just how amazing—how magical—it must have been to experience it back then.

Although the film’s quality is sometimes shaky—and the sound isn’t always in synch (apparently because two of the songs in the film weren’t recorded live)—it’s actually quite impressive for an 80-year-old film. And the pops and the cuts only add to the incredible experience. But The Jazz Singer isn’t just an important film historically—it also tells an interesting story that gives today’s viewers a look at life 80 years ago.

At the same time, with the DVD release of The Jazz Singer also comes controversy. Many argue that the film is racist—and that it shouldn’t be acknowledged as a classic. While I don’t want to get too far into the discussion, I will admit that The Jazz Singer definitely isn’t politically correct (Jolson, as a Vaudeville performer, appears on stage in blackface). It must be noted, however, that this is a film from 1927, and it offers a look inside the world as it was in 1927, for better or for worse. To completely denounce the film—instead of acknowledging it for what it is and learning from it—would be a mistake. It would also mean losing a valuable part of cinematic history.


Blu-ray Review:
If last year’s Oscar winner, The Artist, reignited your interest in classic silent films, you won’t want to miss the new Blu-ray edition of The Jazz Singer. This massive three-disc collector’s edition is a classic movie lover’s dream. Included with the new Blu-ray version of the film are hours of extras on DVD—with one disc full of vintage shorts and one disc that features even more classic shorts as well as a feature-length documentary on the introduction of sound to movies.

The release also comes complete with an 88-page book that discusses the making of this ground-breaking film, along with all of the people and companies that were involved in the process. The second half of the book also includes some reproductions of original movie materials from 1927—from original programs and posters to ads and telegrams.

If you’re interested in classic films—or in the history of the industry—you won’t want to miss this fascinating lesson in movie history.

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