Article

The Jazz Singer

Krin Gabbard

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0069
The Jazz Singer

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Although it was not the first film in which actors talked or made noise, The Jazz Singer radically hastened the end of silent cinema. Soon after it opened in 1927, theaters all over the world were being wired for sound. A perfect Jazz Age storm, The Jazz Singer brought together Al Jolson—already billed as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer”—with the revolutionary new Vitaphone technology and a story that formed the bedrock of American myth. In his many Broadway hits, Jolson had always appeared in blackface as an African American trickster, but in The Jazz Singer, Jolson was essentially playing himself. His story closely parallels that of the film’s Jakie Rabinowitz, who rejects his cantor father and an insular, immigrant culture to achieve show business glory. Although it inaugurated the genre of the Hollywood musical, The Jazz Singer was essentially a melodrama, with unfailing love between mother and son, reconciliation with a previously unyielding father, and the protagonist’s last-minute decision to give up everything he has spent his life pursuing. In the various versions of the story on which the film is based, the Jewish jazz singer walks away from certain success on opening night to sing “Kol Nidre” on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. But late in the genesis of the film, a scene was added in which Jakie—now known as “Jack Robin”—reappears on stage in blackface and sings “My Mammy” while his mother and his blond costar look on adoringly. He has won stardom and the love of a beautiful gentile woman while inflicting no harm on his doting mother. And at the end he gives up nothing as he retains a rich connection to his roots in Jewish culture. Like the heroes of so many American movies yet to come, even the Jewish Jack Robin can have it all. Of course, the story was very different for black Americans.

Article.  6694 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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