The Jazz Singer
was the first "talkie
"--the very first full-length Hollywood film
in which sound
, through sound effects
, and especially dialog
, was synchronized
to the picture and helped to tell the story.
Al Jolson starred in this 1927 Warner Bros. Vitaphone production, which was based on Alfred Cohn’s story, The Day of Atonement, as well as the Broadway play of the same name by Samson Raphaelson.
In an era of simplistic cinematic melodramas, The Jazz Singer was very ambitious in theme. Shot on location in Hester and Orchard Streets on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, it was about the son of a fifth-generation Jewish cantor who preferred jazz over the music of his forebears, and thus precipitated the sort of generational conflict that has become a movie staple.
The film used music in an entirely new fashion—the score "fit" the action; it was composed especially for the length of individual scenes and utilized such disparate sources as Tchaikovsky, popular songs of the day, and traditional Yiddish music. Each character in the film had his own theme, and as obvious as this sounds to us now, that had never been done before.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not Jolson whose voice was first heard on the screen but rather actor Bobby Gordon, who played Jolson’s character as a 13 year-old, and sang My Gal Sal.
Jolson’s first song in the film was Dirty Hands, Dirty Face, and as the screen audience applauded wildly, Jolson—who was extremely popular at this point in his career-- raised his hands and uttered the first line of dialog in movie history:
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya, you ain’t heard nothin! Do you wanna hear 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!'? All right, hold on, hold on. Lou, Listen. Play 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!' Three choruses, you understand. In the third chorus I whistle. Now give it to 'em hard and heavy. Go right ahead!"
And movie theater audiences all over the country went wild, seeing and hearing
this favorite performer for the first time on the big screen.
The film’s enduring image however, is Jolson, in blackface and down on one knee, singing My Mammy to his mother, who of course--like generations of movie moms that followed her--always believed in her boy:
"Mammy! I'm comin'!
I hope I didn't make you wait!
Mammy! I'm comin'!
Mammy! Don't ya know me?
It's your little baby!
I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles!
It was the birth of the modern Hollywood
motion picture, anchored in the sure-fire dramatic territory of family, race, religion, and class-conflict. The Jazz Singer
had it all and then some.
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers