THE JAZZ SINGER
Sure the plot is a little creaky, and even corny by today’s standards, but there is no denying that THE JAZZ SINGER ($40) is one of the most significant films in the history of cinema. THE JAZZ SINGER marked the dawn of the sound era, moving from a time where the movies were silent to a primitive approximation of what they are today. Yep, today’s all digital soundtracks can trace their origins to a time where the soundtracks were contained on phonograph discs that needed to be synchronized to the film being projected. However, once 1920s audiences got a taste of Al Jolson singing on motion picture screen, there was no turning back (even if THE JAZZ SINGER was a hybrid movie, part silent, with little actual recorded dialogue).
The plot of THE JAZZ SINGER tells an ago old story of a rebellious youth defying their parents’ wishes and expectations- to finding their own path in the world. In THE JAZZ SINGER, Jolson portrays Jakie Rabinowitz, a Cantor’s son, whose father expects him to follow the family tradition and become a Cantor as well. Of course, Jackie had other aspirations and wants to use his talents to become a jazz singer and make a name for himself in show business. This causes the expected rift between father and son; thus Jackie strikes out on his own and takes the stage name of Jack Robin. In typical movie fashion, Jackie’s father takes ill, just as our jazz singer finds success- will father and son reconcile before it is too late, or will show business get in the way. The cast of THE JAZZ SINGER also features May McAvoy, Warner Oland, Eugenie Besserer, Otto Lederer, Robert Gordon, Richard Tucker and uncredited bits from William Demarest and Myrna Loy.
Warner Home Video has made THE JAZZ SINGER available on DVD in a transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. Although the film is eighty years old, the black and white film elements used for the transfer have held rather well and/or have been digitally rejuvenated into pretty good shape. There are still some scratches and other imperfections in the film elements, but nothing is ever too distracting. The image is reasonably sharp and offers a decent level of detail. Sure, it may seem a little soft to some, but not out of sorts for a film from the late 1920s. Blacks are fairly deep, while the whites never appear blown out. The picture provides decent contrast and respectable grayscale. Film grain is always noticeable, but this is not inconsistent with films of the era. Digital compression artifacts do not compromise the presentation.
THE JAZZ SINGER comes with a pretty nice sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. Fidelity is exceedingly limited; however there are no major distortions, nor does audible hiss become a problem. All in all, when one considers the age of this soundtrack, and the primitive technology utilized to record it, there is very little to complain about. The musical numbers will take modest amplification without any significant problems. Subtitles have been encoded onto the DVD in English, French Spanish.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as vast array of supplemental content that has been spread across the three discs of this set. While I don’t want to downplay the wealth of material contained on this release, I will just list out what each disc offers. On disc one, one will find a running Audio Commentary with film historians Ron Hutchinson and Vince Giordano, Classic Cartoon: I Love To Sing-A, Jolson Shorts: Hollywood Handicap, A Day At Santa Anita & A Plantation Act, plus An Intimate Dinner In Celebration of Warner Bros. Silver Jubilee, 1947 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast starring Al Jolson and an Al Jolson Trailer Gallery.
On disc two, one will find The Dawn Of Sound: How Movies Learned To Talk (feature length documentary), two Technicolor excerpts from GOLD DIGGERS OF BROADWAY (a lost 1929 WB film), Studio Shorts Celebrating The Early Sound Era: Finding His Voice (1929 Western Electric animated promotional short, produced by Max Fleischer), The Voice That Thrilled The World (Warner Bros. short about sound) Okay For Sound (1946 WB short celebrating the 20th anniversary of Vitaphone), When Talkies Were Young (1955 WB short looking back at the early talkies) The Voice From The Screen (1926 WB ‘demonstration’ film explores the Vitaphone technology and, looks at the making of a Vitaphone short).
On disc three, one will find over three and a half hours of rare, historic Vitaphone comedy and music shorts : Elsie Janis in a Vaudeville Act: Behind The Lines, Bernado Depace: Wizard Of The Mandolin, Van and Schneck: The Pennant Winning Battery Of Songland, Blossom Seeley And Benny Fields, Hazel Green And Company, The Night Court, The Police Quartette, Ray Mayer & Edith Evans: When East Meets West, Adele Rowland: Stories In Song, Stoll, Flynn and Company: The Jazzmania Quintet, The Ingenues in The Band Beautiful, The Foy Family in Chips Off The Old Block, Dick Rich And His Melodious Monarchs, Gus Arnheim And His Ambassadors, Shaw and Lee: The Beau Brummels, Larry Ceballos’ Roof Garden Revue, Trixie Friganza in My Bag O’ Tricks, Green’s Twentieth Century Faydetts, Sol Violinsky: The Eccentric Entertainer, Ethel Sinclair and Marge La Marr in At the Seashore, Paul Tremaine And His Aristocrats, Baby Rose Marie: The Child Wonder, Burns & Allen in Lambchops and Joe Frisco in The Happy Hottentots.
There was only one Al Jolson, whose monumental talents ushered in the sound era with THE JAZZ SINGER. Warner has done an amazing job with this release, not only offering the best presentation of the film that this reviewer has seen, but also packaging it with a tremendous wealth of supplements. Highly recommended.
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