Almost immediately after Warner Bros' huge financial gamble premiered in Oct 1927, other studios' concerned bigwigs frantically ordered their studios to immediately equip themselves to do sound movies. New careers were made -- and shattered -- overnight. If you haven't seen The Jazz Singer, considered the first "talking movie" (even though there actually were some earlier sporadic experiments) this is a video worth not only seeing but OWNING for several reasons: a)You see Al Jolson at his height. He was one of the first half of the 20th century's biggest stars and some of his stage charisma comes through in this movie's songs. Most of the flick is actually silent except for the songs. Originally he was only supposed to sing, but he ad libbed a few lines and the response was absolutely electric when audiences heard and saw him say these few words on the screen. b)The story's value: a Jewish religious leader's son, torn between tradition (using his voice for religion and following in his dad's footsteps) or to please the masses (as a jazz singer in vaudeville). Follow family tradition or national culture? c)The historical show biz value: the Warner brothers put everything they on the line in doing this flick and if it had failed sound movies would have been set back about 10 years (or more) -- and maybe Bugs Bunny wouldn't have been invented. d)Technical show biz value: The Warners used Vitaphone, which was basically sound on disks synchronized to the film's action. You also get a nice zippy period musical score throughout the movie. f)American history historical value: Note long shots of the Jewish ghetto. They were actual shots of a New York street taken through a window -- NOT extras on a movie set. And the theater in which Jolson sings was the Wintergarden, a theater in which he often performed. g)Cultural historical value: even though Jolson's belt-em-out vocal style (effective in theaters without mikes) is part of the reason you don't hear about him anymore, a MAJOR part of his vanishing public historical profile is because he did some of his stage act in "blackface" and minstrel shows were viewed a bit differently in those days. You will SELDOM EVER see this film aired on television due to the fact that blackface is so obviously politically incorrect (understatement!). Does this hold up? YES, it is corny but it is also deeply touching and Jolson's stage pizazz reaches across nearly a century on most numbers (one or two now are almost "camp" but weren't back then). Advice: it won't be available on video forever as the 21st century advances. And you might not find it at your local rental store. Get it now. It's the movie that forever changed Hollywood -- and it's still entertaining.
on January 25, 2013
Let's cut to the chase because it is obvious that all film collectors either need this or already have the DVD -- yes, you DO need to upgrade from the DVD to this new Blu-ray edition. It IS that much better.
All of the errors in the DVD have been corrected. The scratches during "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face" and much of the rest of the Coffee Dan's scene have been eliminated without a trace. The mis-matched synchronization of the entire reel before "Blue Skies" has been fixed. The artificial shaking of the inter-titles to disguise them being free-frames has been steadied. In the extras, they have put in the correct two scenes from "Gold Diggers Of Broadway" -- we actually see Nick Lucas sing in 2-strip Technicolor "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips" this time. As an additional bonus they have added two shorts which have cameo appearances by Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler at Santa Anita Raceway. Most of the printed extras from the DVD set are in the book except for most of the postcards, but they have added some great portraits, bios, and an illustrated essay on the earlier film sound systems.
Only disc one is Blu-ray. Discs two and three are still DVD, and actually have the same labels and catalog number as the originals -- so don't mix them up with your originals or else you'll lose Nick Lucas. They are still standard definition, but the first disc is High Defination and the image sparkles! The DVD was good, but the Blu-ray image will blow you away. It probably looks better than original nitrate prints looked in 1927. I'll go so far as to say that it proves that you DO need to buy that Blu-ray player if you haven't yet.
The aforementioned scratches on the DVD were always a puzzle to me. They were continuous vertical scratches that often hit right on Jolson's face. You could tell they had worked on them because they were faint remnants of what must have originally been very deep. But they were still there in the most famous scene in the film. When Mary Dale enters down the stairs the scratch is right down the middle of her face in the first close-up and very heavy at the end of the second close-up. (There! I've done it!! If you never noticed them before, now you will never be able to watch the DVD again without them bothering you!!! Mission Accomplished!) But they are GONE in the Blu-ray!!
The sync problem in the DVD starts at the beginning of the train station scene where they mis-start the disc too late over the letter writing close-up. It is as much as 20 seconds off, and the music cues are in all the wrong places. It is much like the scene in "Singing In the Rain" where voices come out of the wrong person's mouths. The bassoon that was supposed to be mocking the prima donna always came when other people were on the screen. The music made no sense. It continues on to the neighborhood walk and the entry into his family's apartment. The mother's theme music was never there at the correct time. And the end of the disc was clipped off when the "Blue Skies" reel begins. This had never been wrong in previous issues and prints so someone really goofed when the DVD was being assembled. But all of this has been fixed in the Blu-ray, and the scenes and the music really make sense once again.
Almost all of the inter-titles are freeze-frames. They are noticeable because all moving grain of the image stops cold. To disguise this they wandered the image slightly in the DVD version. This fake motion was supposed to emulate how titles look when the film continues to run, but in 35mm theatrical prints this does not happen unless the film is worn. The four sprockets per frame should keep the picture steady, unlike 16mm where there is only one sprocket per frame and the image usually always shakes. Saner heads prevailed this time, and the titles are kept steady in the Blu-ray. (Again, if you had never noticed this in the DVD, now it will bother you. Good! Mission accomplished!)
The book is easier to maneuver than all those separate booklets and slip-cases of the DVD set. It is much easier to find the list of contents of the discs because they are the last two pages of the book, rather than being in one of four booklets that you never can find right away. They still do not give you any info about the shorts other than their title. None of the extras have their track number printed so you can easily find which track they are on without having to go back to the headers on the discs. You have to print this out for yourself from the internet. Do be careful when removing disc three fromthe plastic holder because there is an added lip that requires it being slid out further than you might realize. But these are small nitpicks.
All in all, the original DVD was a bargain for all you got -- but this Blu-ray set is even more of a bargain. It IS necessary to get even if you already have the DVD set.
In 1926 Sam Warner of the Warner Brothers decided to invest in the Vitaphone sound system. Don Juan was their first Vitaphone film, but it only contained music and sound effects. In 1927 Warner adapted the Samson Raphaelson Broadway hit The Jazz Singer into a movie and, this time, they incorporated vocal musical numbers in what was still a silent film for all but twenty minutes. Contrary to popular belief, audiences had heard music on film before, and they had heard dialogue on film before. What they had not heard or seen before were either of these things being particularly entertaining. When Jolson sings "Blue Skies" to his mother while adlibbing humorous comments, it all came across as so completely natural that people suddenly realized that sound on film could be entertaining and not just some novelty act. Despite its many shortcomings, including the predictable storyline, The Jazz Singer was a box-office success and a cinema milestone.
This new 80th Anniversary Edition of the Jazz Singer due in October 2007 contains three discs of extras and appears to be just as much a tribute to the birth of the talking picture as a fully digitized release of the Jazz Singer. Disc 1 is dedicated to the film itself, and includes a commentary track. "A Plantation Act" is also included. This is a 1926 Vitaphone short also starring Jolson. Disc 2 is dedicated to the silent to sound transition and includes a documentary on this subject along with shorter featurettes. The real jewel in the crown of this disc is the excerpt from "The Gold Diggers of Broadway". That was the top-grossing picture of 1929 and is an example of a very good all-Technicolor musical of the pre-Depression era. Unfortunately, it was considered lost for years and only a little over two reels (about 20 minutes) survive. Disc 3 contains almost four hours of Vitaphone shorts. These films run the gamut from musical theater legends and vaudeville acts, to dramatic vignettes and classical music performances from the most prestigious artists of the era. Most of these were shorts considered lost for decades, until a consortium of archivists and historians joined forces with a goal to restore these time capsules of entertainment history. Up until now, contemporary audiences have only been able to see these shorts via rare retrospective showings in a few large cities, or through the limited release of a restored handful of the earliest subjects, which were part of a 1996 laserdisc set. This new collection will finally make these films available on DVD. The actual Vitaphone shorts are included in the product description. Seems like a must buy for anyone interested in the film itself or the dawn of sound.
on August 5, 2007
First, ignore the old comments in this string that refer to the old VHS release and have nothing to do with this truly awesome new 3 DVD set. The content is awesome. Even if you have no interest in the feature (which has been completely restored with sound direct from origina discs and a new print). The fact this set contains 26 early, never on DVD (most never on video) Vitaphone vaudeville and music shorts from 1926-30, a new feature length documentary on the coming of sound, a dozen more shorts, and loads more extras ---- for less than $30 on Amazon --- makes this a must have for any film buff.
Recognize that NO other studio is releasing this kind of early talkie material, nor shorts. WHV is to be congratulated for assembling a first class package in a first class way. Please spread the word on this set. If it does well, perhaps more early stuff will emerge from the vaults!
Producer George Feltenstein deserves special recogition for sticking his neck out and producing a stellar set. Thanks!
on February 28, 2005
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I watch it at least once a month and each time I see it, there's something fresh to savor. Al Jolson is just one of the major attractions of this part-talkie, part-silent. You've got this powerful, knock-out film score that enhances tremendously the intense emotion of this drama. I don't know if this score was the one first heard by movie-goers in l927 but if it was, one can only imagine the extraordinary impact it had, along with that new-fangled invention called "Talkies." Throughout this gripping drama, the musical score soars and throbs, nearly sobbing and then laughing with each scene. Eugenie Besserer is unforgettable as the Jewish mother who never gives up loving her Jazz Singer. Besserer specialized in playing mothers during the silent era. As far as I can tell, she never appeared in the talkies so perhaps her voice didn't measure up. You hear just hints of it when Jolson is singing "Blue Skies" to her. In his memoirs, he said that Besserer helped him out tremendously in this--his first full length film. When he felt exhausted and despaired, Besserer came and cheered him up. I get so terribly sick of these politically correct reviewers who harp and whine about the scenes of Jolson wearing black face. This was l927, you idiots! Minstrel Shows and black face were an accepted theatrical institution during this era. It was meant as homage to the great black musicians and performers and was never intended to be a slap in the face to these artists. So view this classic in the framework of the time it was made. This movie can be maddening because just when you're enraptured by hearing the actual voice of Al Jolson, then the sound stops and the music begins again. This is a fascinating journey back into time, when singing jazz was the hottest thing to do in the Jazz Age!
on September 29, 1999
When I show this video to some of my budding filmmaker buddies, many call it "old...corny." For God's sake, of course it's old. It was filmed in l927. That's almost 75 years ago. Frankly, I fell in love with The Jazz Singer since I first caught it on television decades ago. The musical score is uncredited (I don't mean the Irving Berlin songs sung by Jolson) but the accompaniment and is powerful. The violins and woodwinds keep the pace moving swiftly. I love studying the manners and styles of that era--May McAvoy in her Jazz Age suits and stage costumes. How people in clubs and restaurants would use drum sticks to bang the tables when they liked something; the wise cracks. A great scene is when Al Jolson has returned to visit his mother, Eugenie Besserer. After singing to her, his stubborn old jackass of a father, a rabbi, comes, here's the music and screams: "Get out! You--you Jazz Singer!" This is like watching a time machine, which captured these figures and music on film nearly 75 years ago. I love old movies that can get schmaltzy and tear-jerking. Call me old-fashioned but this l927 landmark movie is one I watch at last once a month.
on October 21, 2007
Many others here have eloquently extolled the virtues of this incredible DVD release. I echo their laudatory comments. Jaw-dropping is the right word to describe the overall presentation.
I always thought THE JAZZ SINGER was a 'good' film, but not a masterpiece of cinema. The amazing energy of Jolson, and knowing its place in film history earned it my respect and admiration. My assertion was likely due to the limited quality of the image and audio. The resoration here takes the movie out of the gauze and lets you appreciate the film in a way that people couldn't even in 1927. The projection quality and the speakers back in 1927 couldn't even deliver the amazement that you see in this DVD restoration.
The film gets a sterling commentary from two noteworthy scholars who impart enormous background on the making of the film. There are many rare shorts featuring Jolson, the Lux Radio Adaptation, a Jolson trailer gallery, and the great Tex Avery cartoon parody I LOVE TO SINGA.
But wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet.
Altough the restored feature and the supplements alone are worth the very reasonable price (along the Criterion level, and with equal, if not superior presentation), there are TWO more discs, stuffed with amazing things.
Disc Three has two dozen (24) rare VITAPHONE shorts. Incredible glimpses of vaudeville performers, mostly forgotten, who hopefully will now be remembered.
Disc Two has a myriad of vintage shorts, but its highlight is a terrific feature-length documentary called THE DAWN OF SOUND: HOW MOVIES LEARNED TO TALK. This documentary is not recycled, and was not made for TV. It was made for this release... No one has ever made a definitive documentary on this period, and now it's been done, and done beautifully.
Now, we get to the packaging. The gorgeous sturdy box opens to reveal a beatiful three-disc layout with an original theatrical release one=sheet poster as its centerpiece. How cool is it that Warner Bros. re-created VITAPHONE DISC labels for the DVD labels. Only WB would know to do that!
Inside are numerous rarities, still reproductions, and a copy of the original souvenir program.
I'm buying a bunch of these to give as gifts. This is an overwhelming release, and it's the pefect gift for anyone who loves motion pictures
A DVD release like this 3 Disc set for THE JAZZ SINGER shows that the current Warner Bros. staff respects its company's history. A rarity these days. That's why they are the best company in the industry.
Bravo, Warner Bros., Bravo!
on October 20, 2007
After spending the better part of a day watching this incredible 3-DVD set I can only say it is a jaw-dropping, awesome experience! As a movie buff, historian and Jolson fan I have waited many years for this film to get the sort of treatment "The Jazz Singer" gets in this amazing package.
First, of course, the film itself. The picture quality is astounding, a terrific job of remastering---and it even contains a moment (toward the end of the film just before Jolson sings "My Mammy") that I have never seen in any print before--TV, 16mm, VHS or laser disc versions. Jolson, in a long shot is moving toward center stage--but in a unique and spontaneous move he swings his arms, dances backwards, and heads back again. Fascinating to see "new" footage in a feature eighty years old!
The commentary accompanying the film is informative, fun---and more importantly, intelligent! Excellent insights into the film and it's stars.
The sound quality--taken directly from original Vitaphone discs--is a wonder. There is depth to Jolson's voice and Lou Silvers' orchestra that we've never heard before. Not even close. Kudos to the folks who made this movie come alive. I know it's a cliche, but it's as if we've never seen the film before. It's THAT good.
The extras are wonderful, including Jolson's 1926 short--a year before "The Jazz Singer" containing three great Jolson tunes. The feature length documentary is excellent and contains a few nice surprises.
Reproductions of "Jazz Singer" related material are included, as well as many photos--real collector's items.
All the other extras--Vitaphone shorts, etc.--are important parts of American cultural history and are an important part of this unique package. NOT to be missed.
Congratulations to the folks at Warners for a classy job, something they should be very proud of. Grade "A" all the way.
on July 22, 2005
There's been a lot of things said about this movie for going on 80 years now, some negative things and some positive things, and some things which seem to be said by people who haven't even seen the movie, judging by how inaccurate these comments are. I was expecting this movie to be pretty dated, and came away from it feeling that, while certain aspects were a bit dated, overall it wasn't as much of a museum piece as some people feel it is. It might be hard to relate to a young man who gets cut off from his family as though he were dead just because he wanted to sing jazz songs instead of training to become a cantor like his father and other male relatives before him, and why that was considered such a shocking big deal, but the basic premise is still there--it might not mean being kicked out of your house and being declared dead in your parents' hearts, but everyone can relate to following a dream or a life path different from the one expected of you or dictated by tradition, even if the consequences are no longer that severe and it no longer seems a dichotomy to reconcile both tradition and modernity without watering down either. Some of the Jewish stereotypes were a bit bothersome, such as the portrayal of Yudelson and the frequent references to Judaism as a "race" and how the people were praying to "their" God, but at least it wasn't as bad as the racism in, say, 'Birth of a Nation.'
A lot of people who claim this was the first all-talking, all-singing motion picture clearly haven't even seen it, nor are they familiar with cinematic history. There were experimental films featuring music and dialogue as early as the 1890s, although certainly they didn't catch on, and the technology was cumbersome, impracticable, and rather expensive. The sound in this film was a result of the success of the 1926 John Barrymore film 'Don Juan,' which featured some synchronised sound and music (and Jolson himself had appeared in a one-reeler from 1926, 'A Plantation Act,' which was truly all-talking, all-singing). Still, this is by and large a silent film; only maybe a quarter of it features actual sound, and nearly all of that sound is singing, although there are a few dialogues. It almost gives the feeling of actually being back there in 1927 and watching this film where every so often you're caught off-guard by the sound of, well, sound, not being used to anything like that, even if most of it is rather crudely and primitively synchronised and tacked-on (though the sound does look and sound more natural as the movie wears on). The first true all-talking picture was still a little bit off; this wasn't it, despite the hype. It's also completely untrue that this automatically ended silent cinema; such a big sea change did and could not happen overnight, instead taking till 1929 for nearly all films to have sound. A lot of people seem to have the impression that this film came out and then automatically every single film that came out afterwards was a talking picture.
Like many others who haven't seen the film, before seeing it I assumed a lot of it would feature Al Jolson in blackface, a very dated entertainment. When I finally saw it, I was proven wrong; despite what most posters of the movie and even most covers of the video depict, he's only in blackface for a couple of songs near the end, and sings them very matter-of-factly, the same way he matter-of-factly applies the makeup and puts on his wig. He just sings these songs in blackface and really is himself for every other part of the movie; he doesn't ham it up by "acting" Black as well, the way he is said to do in some of his later pictures. The concept behind blackface entertainment is patently racist and offensive, but it wasn't always presented in a racist way.
While not really Oscar material, it is a pretty good story, and quite touching in spots. Young Jakie has dreams of being a jazz singer instead of a cantor, and runs away from home at quite a young age to pursue his dreams in peace, although he still secretly keeps in touch with his mother (as one intertitle says, "God made her a woman and love made her a mother"), being a bit of a mama's-boy. He becomes an up-and-coming hit, but a kink is throw into his plans and rise to the top when he comes home to New York to sing in a show taking place there and his father (who is celebrating a birthday) is furious to find him at home. Jakie, now called Jack, is rather hurt, saying he came home with nothing but love in his heart and is now being turned away, not even being given a chance. The big show he is set to sing in happens to take place on the eve of Yom Kippur, and he must decide if he sings to advance his career or comes home to sing Kol Nidre in place of his father, who has taken ill and is unable to sing the beautiful age-old melody. The ending of the film is also incredibly sweet and heart-warming. Al Jolson might not have been the world's best actor, and his songs might be viewed more like curiosities today, but he had the *personality* to project this story and make it come to life.
The other reviewers on this page are quite eloquent concerning Al Jolson's history-making feature "The Jazz Singer," so this writer defers to them concerning the feature film's content. You should be aware, however, that this DVD is a new restoration. The sound technicians have gone back to the original, vintage-1927 Vitaphone soundtrack discs, which offer a fuller and more dynamic tone than the previous video releases (deriving from sound-on-film prints struck in the 1950s).
This is one DVD package that is so full of extras that the bonus material is just as important as the feature, if not more so. The 1947 "Lux Radio Theatre" radio adaptation of "The Jazz Singer" is included; Jolson, whose career was jump-started by "The Jolson Story," re-creates his 1927 movie role here. Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne, who played Jolson's parents in the movie biographies, appear as "Jakie's" parents in the radio version.
Most of the bonus features are theatrical short subjects, which are fascinating. Some of them put "talking pictures" in historical context, either as a contemporary explanation of this new invention to audiences of the 1920s, or a nostalgic, backward glance at the dawn of sound.
The real fun here is the wide array of "Vitaphone Varieties" reels, recently restored with superior picture and sound. Almost all of these are vaudeville acts, featuring musical and comedy performers filming their routines for posterity. George Burns and Gracie Allen (in their first movie, vintage 1929), "Baby" Rose Marie, and William Demarest (in "the Night Court") will be familiar to today's audiences but most of these troupers won't. For a sample: vivacious Blossom Seeley and laid-back Benny Fields sell a reel's worth of songs; comic bandleader Dick Rich hilariously tries to conduct his dance band; trick musician Sol Violinsky plays piano and violin simultaneously; Al Shaw and Sam Lee do a ridiculously funny patter act, in defiant deadpan; Trixie Friganza does a clever stand-up routine (they saved this one from nitrate decomposition just in time); Adele Rowland offers poise and charm in a vocal medley; and Ethel Sinclair and Marge LaMarr "At the Seashore" deliver delightfully catty remarks as they survey the other beachgoers. Many more acts are featured, including the jazz bands of Paul Tremaine, Georgie Stoll, Gus Arnheim, and the versatile Ingenues (who play different instruments, then all-identical instruments). Last but not least is a very predictable but very funny Vitaphone comedy, "The Happy Hottentots," in which song-and-dance men Joe Frisco and Bobby Callahan find themselves in vaudeville hell, repeatedly singing choruses of "Mandy Lane" for slave-driving theater manager Billy Gilbert.
If you're at all interested in what big-time vaudeville was like in its heyday, or if you're a vintage-film buff who has never seen these early-talkie reels, or if you just want to relax with a good assortment of light entertainment, you'll thoroughly enjoy the exhibits on display here. These new, restored prints of the Vitaphone Varieties are a revelation, technically and artistically. Highly recommended.