The Jazz Singer
If Warner Home Video's Blu-ray of "Singin' in the Rain" offers an ideal comedic parody of the awkward transition period from silent to talking films, the studio's new The Jazz Singer Blu-ray box is an invaluable historical document of that era.
The plot of "The Jazz Singer," which concerns the rise to fame of a cantor's son who eschews the synagogue to sing "hot" jazz, clearly represents the struggle of early 20th century Jewish immigrants to assimilate themselves into American culture. Though certainly a period piece, the 1927 "...Jazz Singer" was to undergo two major Hollywood remakes in subsequent decades. However, due mainly to veteran vaudevillian Al Jolson's charismatic performance, the first version is definitive. George Jessell was first offered the lead; but his salary demands led Sam Warner to engage trooper Jolson, who really made the film work. In addition, "The Jazz Singer" is widely considered the most influential film in history, as it was the first full-length film of the Silent Era to incorporate sound in the course of the action, mostly in the form of musical sequences recorded in the Vitaphone process. To our jaded ears, this may seem a trifle; yet when, after a long stretch of silence, Jolson is heard belting out "Toot-Toot-Tootsie," the result is pure magic! In addition, there is an excerpt of legendary cantor Yossele Rosenblatt in recital, as well as a glimpse of future stars like Myrna Loy and William Demarest.
Sumptuously mounted in a hardbound book that includes essays, facts and trivia, the Blu-ray features a luminous, nicely detailed print of the film, the finest offered to date. The 85-year-old blockbuster looks remarkably fresh and modern, in spite of the wildly, florid histrionics. Two companion DVDs fill out the set. The first includes a fine, comprehensive documentary entitled "The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk." A fascinating excursion into the lost world of Vaudeville, Disc 3 contains over 4 hours of Vitaphone shorts, showcasing dozens of then-popular show-biz acts long since forgotten.
Being released this month, Warners' "The Jazz Singer" Blu-ray box is an absolute must for the serious film historian.
The Jazz Singer