The Jazz Singer

AFI Rank: #90
Year Released: 1927
Director: Alan Crosland
Actors: Al Jolson, May McAvoy

The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson is one of those must-see movies because it so clearly shows a shift in generations. Right in this one movie you can see the legacy of silent films - the vast majority of the film has no vocals at all and uses standard cards to show dialogue. But there are brilliant moments of song - with a few bits of dialogue - where you can hear the singing of the characters. This became a momentous time in movie making. Audiences demanded more, and while some people rose to stardom as a result, others saw immediate declines as their squeaky / scratchy voices were revealed to an unforgiving public.

The movie is also fascinating because it shows a real glimpse into the Jewish ghetto situation in New York City. Those are actual streets they're showing in some scenes. This is exactly what it looked like back in the 1920s. Al's character is torn between his family's singing traditions and the new, modern music. Can he reconcile the old world and the new?

The movie gets kudos for featuring a strong female character in May, something that many other period films don't do. That being said, the movie sadly doesn't even have two named female characters ever talk with each other. Is that really so hard to ask? Surely there could have been a scene where she talks with the Mom about her life choice, or talks with another woman at the theater company about life on the stage. In the end May is just there to support Al - and she doesn't even flinch when he says he loves his job more than he loves her.

Yes, there are scenes where Al is in black face. Quite a few scenes. I won't get into whether this is morally good or bad or indifferent - but it was a fact of the time and the movie portrays it well. He clearly knows what he's doing and has done it many times before, so this is a good documentary on how it was done and how the people of the time perceived it.

Highly recommended as a fantastic look into a complex period in US history, both within the story and in the context of the movie itself changing expectations.

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