The Jazz Singer has aged gracefully and horribly at the same time. Gracefully, because it was the very first motion picture to incorporate synchronized sound into the production. Horribly, because of its extended use of blackface. I always wanted to see The Jazz Singer for its historical significance. Even though 1927 was a different time with a lot of outdated material. Vitaphone was a positive cinematic advancement that made sound possible in Hollywood. Something I learned while watching Singin’ in the Rain. Although The Jazz Singer is remembered as a talkie, a majority of the movie remains silent. Al Jolson was a major star at the time who wanted his voice to be heard.
So Jolson plays an aspiring singer who wants to make it in show business. All of his songs can be heard, but it’s the first spoken words in film that sent 1920’s audiences into a frenzy. The line is appropriately, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” Although The Jazz Singer won an Honorary Oscar at the 1st Academy Awards, it wasn’t nominated for Outstanding Picture due to its use of sound. In the movie, Jakie Rabinowitz is a young Jewish boy who shames his devout cantor father with his love of jazz music. If that sounds similar to the Simpsons episode “Like Father, Like Clown,” that’s what they were parodying. Though The Jazz Singer was parodied early on in the classic 1936 Merrie Melodies short I Love to Singa starring Owl Jolson.
Similar to those stories, Jakie is forced to leave his home and his loving mother in order to follow his dreams. He changes his name to Jack Robin and becomes a successful jazz singer thanks to the help of dancer Mary Dale. The film deals with Jack’s struggle with choosing between faith and fame. Jack singing to his mother should be a beautiful moment, but it’s tainted by his use of blackface makeup. There’s no way to remove the scenes, because they’re too crucial to the climax. Although Jolson might have appreciated black music back in the day, the scenes are racist and uncomfortable no matter how you look at it. Especially since the final song is called “My Mammy.” Nevertheless, The Jazz Singer was a major accomplishment that brought the Silent Era to an end.