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The Jazz Singer

Screening on Film
Directed by Alan Crosland.
With Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland.
US, 1927, 35mm, black & white, 88 min.

With Al Jolson’s famous “You ain’t heard nothing yet!” the feature-length sound film revolution was announced.  Lauded as the first “talking picture,” the box-office hit of the Jazz Age was a technological sensation showcasing Western Electric’s new Vitaphone sound system.  In the tradition of the immigrant generational-conflict film and based on the life of Jolson, The Jazz Singer is the story of musically gifted Jackie Rabinowitz, whose secular aspirations are rejected by his cantor father.  Jackie changes his name to Jack Robin, leaves home to pursue his dreams of the vaudeville stage, becomes involved with a gentile dancing girl, and eventually becomes a popular success.  In the end, he must choose between family duty and Broadway aspirations.  The ambivalence of the ending is matched by the uneasiness of the blackface performance of “My Mammy” that concludes the film.

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