Hollywood Icon
23 October 2007
Yes, the movie was made eighty years ago. Yes, the acting is stagy. Yes, the movie is a relic. Yes, the story is hokey and contrived. Nevertheless this is a great movie which withstands the test of time. It's about a man in conflict within himself and his family. It's about the immigrant experience in the United States. It's about the lure of show business. It's about life. It's about the American urban experience in the early 20th century. For the Jazz Singer is more than a curiosity piece, it is an icon of American culture and will be recalled and remembered as long as people have interest in movies. Although talkies are now taken for granted, the Jazz Singer hearkens back to a time when movies were silent and actors were seen but not heard, and this movie represents a technological breakthrough of monumental importance that cannot be overstated. Al Jolson was one of the greatest performers in American history. His place in the history is firmly established, and Jazz Singer is proof.

The Jazz Singer is a landmark in the history of movies. First, the Jazz Singer is the first commercially successful talkie ever produced, featuring both dialogue and songs, signifying the transition from silence to sound. Second, the movie dramatizes several social themes directly relevant to the immigrant experience: Old World versus New World; Young versus Old; Secular versus Religious; Ghetto versus Non-Ghetto; Tradition versus Change. Third, the movie stars Al Jolson, at the time one of the most popular entertainers in the United States. Fourth, the movie showcases aspects of the Jewish community in New York City as it existed at the time. Fifth, the movie depicts two genres of entertainment, the minstrel and black face, which in 1927 were accepted forms of entertainment but today are considered controversial. The Jazz Singer was remade three times: in 1952, with Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee; in 1959 with Jerry Lewis and Anna Maria Alberghetti; and in 1980 with Neil Diamond, Lucie Arnaz and Laurence Olivier.
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