Sunday, June 01, 2008

Movie review: The Jazz Singer

"You ain't heard nothin' yet!"

Those words changed the nature of filmmaking. Once a pantomime art, Al Jolson's strange voice and rolling eyes brought film into the sound era. It wasn't the first talkie (for the most part, the only sound was in the musical numbers, although there are a very few spoken lines). It wasn't even the first American talkie. It wasn't even all-talkie...but it was the first one that made the studios sit up and take notice.

The story centers around Jakie Rabinowitz (Jolson), the Cantor's son who wants to be a jazz singer, contrary to his father's wishes. Papa wants him to follow the family tradition and become a Cantor in the Temple. When little Jakie is discovered singing in a local gin joint (no small thing in the Prohibition era), his father beats him. Jakie soldiers on, "Americanizing" his name to Jack Robin.

At last, Papa has had enough, and disowns his son when he finds him singing jazz in his apartment. Through the father/son conflict, Jakie's mother tries to mediate, understanding and supporting the son's dream, while trying to respect the father's.

On his own, Jakie gains popularity and climbs the vaudeville social ladder, meeting and falling in love along the way. He never forgets the Temple, though, or the holy songs he'd learned from his father. The conflict comes to a head on Yom Kippur, when Jakie must choose between his big-chance opening night, and serving as a Cantor for the holy day temple service.

I consider the story to be a good one, and the movie to be an important one in the history of film, although it doesn't fall in my top 100. I might place it in my top 200, though.

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