It wasn’t the first all-talking feature, and it wasn’t even Warner Bros.’ (or star Al Jolson’s) biggest hit from the dawn of sound, but it’s an essential American film. The Jazz Singer originally electrified audiences, and has stayed in our cultural imagination, because it showed how exciting and dramatic sound could be in a motion picture.
Jolson, here with Eugenie Besserer in the film’s most memorable “talking” scene, was the biggest star of the era, and it’s his energy and penchant for big emotions that puts it all over. (In case you’ve never heard of him, he was quite a singer, too.) It’s also a quintessentially American story of assimilation, with the younger generation in conflict with their parents over changing values and cultural differences.
One final note: In a few big scenes, Jolson performs in blackface. This was a convention of that era’s show business. Just so you know.
The Jazz Singer will be screened Monday (July 29) at 3, 5, and 7:30 PM as part of the AFI 100 Film Series on the Mainstage at Proctors (432 State St., Schenectady). Tickets are $5. For more info, call 346-6204.