Jolson's numbers include his blackface act, a longstanding tradition of minstrel shows and music halls, and an unavoidable source of awkwardness for later viewers (see The Savages for an amusing account of the embarrassment this can cause). Blackface is a bizarre show business reality, and it's part of the movie, so some historical context is required.
Warner Bros. rightly considers The Jazz Singer a key moment in the studio's history, and this three-disc DVD package gives the deluxe treatment. The film itself is beautifully restored, and reproductions of original supporting materials (souvenir program, stills, ads) are fun. A booklet on early Vitaphone shorts clearly predates The Jazz Singer, for Jolson is mentioned only as a star of Vitaphone shorts, and George Jessel is tabbed as the future star of The Jazz Singer (he'd played Jakie on Broadway). A 90-minute documentary gives a fine account of how the Vitaphone system worked, and how other systems actually became the industry standard.
Supplemental short films are a true treasure trove. A Plantation Act is more Jolson blackface, Hollywood Handicap a studio short comedy directed by Buster Keaton, and I Love to Singa a hilarious 1936 Tex Avery cartoon--a spoof of The Jazz Singer starring a bird named Owl Jolson. A flabbergasting collection of Vitagraph shorts--over four hours' worth--makes up disc 3 of this set: utterly weird and wonderful performances by some of the strangest acts ever to kill vaudeville. There are a few names here: George Burns and Gracie Allen in a short called Lambchops, the Foy Family doing wacky stage business. But the cornball timed jokes of Shaw & Lee, the saucy songs of Trixie Friganza, not to mention "The Wizard of the Mandolin," Bernardo De Pace--these are gems, folks. Anyone with a taste for showbiz past will love them. --Robert Horton