So next on this list is the musical film The Jazz Singer. For those of you who like the sounds of jazz, this is the film for you. Did I just say “sound?” Yes, I did! While this is still a silent film, it’s the first film to ever incorporate sound including musical numbers and bits of dialogue. The Jazz Singer stars Al Jolson as a cantor at his family’s synagogue who wants to transition his career into a jazz singer despite his father’s disapproval. He feels compelled to have to choose between two worlds.
This movie marks a breaking point in cinema. Using the sound-on-disc system Vitaphone, we are able to hear the very talent Al Jolson sing his heart out as well as hear his infamous ad-libbed line “Wait a minute[…]” which is something that’s never been done before. How do you think audiences reacted to this unexpected change? This film isn’t just good for the eyes but for the ears as well. It’s also a breaking point for Jews and Blacks in cinema. It’s not everyday that we see a film with Jews being the main characters and the struggle one goes through when born in a family with strict religious morals. You feel you’re at a rift between going after your dreams or your parents dreams. You’ll either be hurting your family or hurting yourself. Hard choice, isn’t it? Have you been in a compromising situation like that?
Al Jolson puts so much passion and joy into his voice. If any film had to be the first to have sound, it would make sense for it to be The Jazz Singer. That way we can hear for ourselves just what is it that makes this cantor touch people’s hearts when he sings. This is also the first musical film. One thing that Al Jolson is known for when he sings is that he performs in blackface. I know what you’re thinking. “What a racist, offensive thing to do!” That’s how I felt at first but the truth is that blackface was not for the purpose of being offensive. At least not for Al Jolson who was known for fighting against the discrimination of black people. This was his way of bringing their culture to white audiences. To be able to sing their songs with such passion. Write in if you agree with that.
Of course he would never get away with that today. There would be no reason to do blackface considering how race in music today is much more diverse than it was in the 20s. Also to see Al Jolson, a Jew making a name for himself singing for a wide audience is a way to show people that Jews have a voice and we’re not afraid to show it. Also, I will say don’t even think about seeing the Neil Diamond version of this film! It’s nothing compared to this one.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the full film on YouTube and it’s not on streaming sites. I know you can buy it on YouTube for $2.99. Here is a clip of Al Jolson singing and write in your reactions: