Hey gang, Valkor here. Whenever I review a piece of tech, a game, or a film it's usually done keeping that male demographic in mind, plus introducing something hot, new, fun, or a clear warning to just stay from it altogether. Then there are reviews that are done on a more personal level, something that I take to heart and I'd love to share it with you in hopes you may enjoy it. So when asked to review Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer" Blu-Ray from Warner Home, I knew in an instant that this could go both ways, but more so on the personal side.
Before we begin let me point out that while Al Jolson might be a "controversial" figure, in my eyes – black face aside, the man is an exceptional performer and I've enjoyed his works for many years.
The Jazz Singer is one of the first full-length films featuring synchronized audio, but at its heart it's a silent picture. In the end it creates a very unique experience for film goers of its time, ushering in the age of the "talkies". The Jazz Singer centers on a young Jackie Rabinowitz, whom as a child was beaten by his father (not on screen) for performing in a jazz club. You see father Rabinowitz is a Jewish Cantor (one who leads a congregation in songful prayer – thanks Wikipedia!) and wants his son to follow in his footsteps. But after being punished Jackie runs away from home, vowing to never to return. Time passes and Jackie Rabinowitz, now Jack Robin, has achieved his goal of becoming a successful Jazz singer. But on the verge of his big, Broadway break thru that could skyrocket his career, he's asked by his mother to return home to sing on the Day of Atonement as his father lay dying. And thus Jack faces his ultimate decision – to follow his heritage or his dreams.
The BD set contains 3 disc and an 88 page booklet; disc one is the digitally restored feature-film, commentary from film historian Ron Hutchison and band leader Vince Giordano, a host of shorts that feature/mention Al Jolson in some form or another such as classic Looney Tunes Cartoon "I love to Singa" (animated version of The Jazz Singer), short "Hollywood Handicap", A Day at Santa Anita, Al Jolson short – A Plantation Act, "An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros. Silver Jubilee", and the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast featuring Al Jolson. Disc 2 is "The Early Sound Era" featuring documentary "The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk, sound excerpts from "Gold Diggers of Broadway", and studio shorts celebrating sound on film "The Voice from the Screen", "Finding His Voice", "The Voice That Thrilled the World", "Okay for Sound", "When Talkies Were Young". Disc 3 are the "Vitaphone shorts" taken from the box "features 3 ½ hours worth of rare, historic Vitaphone comedy and music shorts". Finally you get an 88 page booklet that goes behind the scenes of the film and those behind its making.
The Jazz Singer may be uncomfortable for some to watch as it features Al Jolson in black face (which takes place late in the film). However the film is a product of its time. And if I, a black male, can accept the film for what it is and not the controversies that surround it then I think many of you can too. And with that, let's bring it on home with the TOV Breakdown.
As a child, I've sat through my share of silent films (huge thanks to PBS), so this wasn't my first experience with the genre. However I never knew, until I watched The Jazz Singer, that there was ever a silent film… with vocals. Most of it is singing, but there is a scene of dialogue between Jack and his mom that's quite compelling. It happens midway and its shocking because for the most part the film is just singing and silence – you really don't expect to hear actual "talking". I can't imagine what that experience must have been like, sitting in the theater at that time when it happened, but it must have been quite rivetting. The film as a whole is stunning and brilliant; the emotion not just in the songs but the visual performances of the actors truly helps complete such a wonderful package. Huge kudos goes out to Warner for the restoration of the film, which is BEAUTIFUL! I've never seen such an old film look so "clean"; there's barely any grain and no scratches in the film that I can see. And Al Jolson has never sounded so good. When he sang "Toot, Toot, Tootsie" I had to get up and dance a little jig. Overall the film is not only an achievement in innovation but also a stunning and entertaining work of art; a classic that's a must see!
The Jazz Singer Blu-Ray is available now and it is a must see not only for the beautiful mix of silent and audio film, but also for it's outstanding performances, while mostly visual also contains treats for the ears… and ultimately the soul. Out of TOV 5 stars, The Jazz Singer BD 3 disc set gets 5 stars perfect and has been Valkor Viewed, TOV Approved!