Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Jazz Singer (1927)

“In every living soul a spirit cries for expression—perhaps this plaintive wailing song of Jazz is, after all, the misunderstood utterance of a prayer.”
                        Wait a minute… today is not Sunday. What am I doing writing about a silent film in the middle of the week? Well I thought it would be odd to write about The Jazz Singer for Silent Sunday because this is the film that was the death nil for the silent era. Yes, the film is technically a silent for the most part with only the musical numbers in sound. Several silent actors and actresses such as Gloria Swanson thought sound was a fad it would never last. For the first “talking” film the sound is not bad and the story is wonderful.
            Jakie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson) grew up in a traditional Jewish home with his mother and his father who is a cantor. His father has him groomed to be a cantor from a young age since he comes from five generations of cantors. Jakie was performing at a family bar where the town gossip sees him and tells Jakie’s father. The father is mad and gives Jakie a whipping for debasing the voice that God gave him. The mother takes Jakie’s side she knows that he does want to be cantor he does not want to follow tradition. After the father hits him a young Jakie runs away from home.
            Years later Jakie Rabinowitz is now Jack Robin performing in a London club. Everyone loves his voice. He catches the eyes and ears of a performer named Mary Dale. She gets him in her traveling show and they get the chance to go to America. They travel all over with the last stop in New York City where Jack grew up. Before he gets on the train to New York with the touring company he gets a letter saying that he is such a success that he is getting his own show on Broadway if his performance with Mary goes well.
            As soon as he gets off the train in New York Jack runs home to his mother who he has missed so much over the years. He has written to her countless times but he father has forbidden her to read them saying they have no son. Jakie and his mother share a nice big hug. He sits down at the piano and sings to her and as he plays he tells her all the things he is going to buy for her and the places he is going to take her when he is a star on Broadway. The father comes home and he is furious. Jakie once again leaves the house and now never plans on returning again.
            At dress rehearsals the next day the town gossip comes to tell him his father is sick and may be dying and that there is no one to sing at temple that night for Atonement. Jack understands the trouble but he tells them his father does not want him he has thrown him out for the second time. He becomes torn between family tradition and religion.
            On opening night Jack gives in to his strong religious calling and sings in the temple. As he is sings his father says that he has his son back and dies. When Jack does finally have his Broadway debut he is a sensation.
            I really liked the story of The Jazz Singer. I like learning about Christianity and Judaism so it was interesting to see part of a Jewish religious ceremony. I enjoyed seeing how this man wanted to get away so bad and follow his passion for performing and tried to ignore his past when his father did not want him but his religion and its tradition became too strong in the end and he sang in temple. That is a story that has never been seen in films since. It was not racist or unsympathetic towards the Jews or religion it was nice. I especially liked the one line that Mary Dale says to Jack when he is debating on whether he should perform or go to temple: “Your career is where God put you.” The story was very modern in the sense that in the 1920s people were breaking away from the strict moral codes of the teens and breaking away from tradition. The mother in the film, although still traditional in some ways, was very modern siding with her son and his wish to break away from tradition. The film comes from a play of the same title written by Sam Raphaelson. Raphaelson was a Jew who grew up in New York like Jack. You cannot help but think this was possibly a bit personal for him. If you have ever seen any film that is based on one of his plays you know he writes very human and very true stories that are touching.
            My favorite scene of the film is when Jack and his mother see each other after many years. It was so touching when he sitting at the piano telling her about all the things he wants to buy her and all the places he wants to take her. Jolson played it so sincere and the actress who played the mother looked as if she were truly blushing over her real son. It is one of my favorite scenes from a film it was so beautifully done.
            The cast was very good. The only one I had a problem with was the mother outside of the scene I just mentioned. She was very over dramatic with her expressions and movements. Al Jolson was phenomenal he was perfect. Keep a look out for a twenty-year old Myrna Loy as a chorus girl.
            The Jazz Singer is one of the greatest and most important films ever made. Watch the film not just for the fact that it was the first to have synchronized sound but also for the touching beautiful story.