Who was the first jazz singer
90 years ago: Premiere of "The Jazz Singer"The beginning of the end of the silent film
Singer Al Jolson improvised this introduction to his song "Toot Toot Tootsie" in the movie "The Jazz Singer", probably without knowing its symbolic power. "The Jazz Singer" can be called the first musical in film history. Or the first sound film that embeds songs and dialogues in a full-length game story. And with what verve.
"The Jazz Singer" was performed using the Vitaphone process, patented by the Warner Brothers film company. The film projector is coupled with a gramophone. But what was revolutionary about "The Jazz Singer" was not its technological innovation, but the juxtaposition of silent film scenes, dialogues and singing appearances - the questioning, highly lively examination of the possibilities of the still young medium of cinema.
A catwalk for singer Al Jolson
Alan Crosland's film is a catwalk for singer Al Jolson, who also brings his own story to the screen here: He was born Asa Yoelson, the son of a synagogue cantor. He left his Orthodox family at an early age to become a singer.
Jolson Jakie Rabinowitz, son of a Jewish cantor in New York's Lower East Side, plays in "The Jazz Singer". Jakie is drawn to showbiz. His beloved mother understands this, but the father, a patriarch with sidelocks, demands that his son follow the same career path. Jakie leaves the family - to return after many years as a celebrated jazz singer under the stage name Jack Robin.
The reunion with his mother is heartbreaking. "The Jazz Singer" premiered in New York's Warner Theater on October 6, 1927, and the next day the New York Times cheered:
"It was a lucky idea to have Mr. Jolson play the lead role. Few actors can sing and act as enthusiastically at the same time as he in this film. His 'voice with the tear' stunned the audience, and the only one What disappointed the people in the crowded theater was that they couldn't call him or his picture out for an encore. "
Early Blackfacing Document
"The Jazz Singer" is also a document of the times. On the one hand, because Al Jolson appears on the Broadway stage with his face painted black. "Blackfacing", the imitation of the supposedly happy, singing black slave, was one of the everyday racisms in entertainment culture. The film is also a document as a panorama of Jewish life in the USA from 1927. As a young boy Jakie crossed the crowded streets of the Lower East Side. You can see documentary shots of fruit and vegetable stalls, snack vendors, horse-drawn carriages. And: There is a moving performance by the then famous cantor Jossele Rosenblatt, who toured the USA with religious Jewish chants.
"The Jazz Singer" escalates the conflict between orthodoxy and jazz, father and son. Even after Jakie's return, the cantor refuses to accept that his son works in the supposedly unworthy show business. The film scholar Siegfried Kracauer saw in this story an inventory of American immigration:
"The transition from a deeply rooted European past to a free American present, defined by the music and dance of the jazz age."
"The Jazz Singer" is a film of transition in several respects. When Al Jolson makes a jazz club simmer while singing - then it seems downright absurd that the applauding audience can be seen in silence in the next scene. The silent film here acts like a ghost that has one last appearance and then withdraws. Curtain up for Jak's Broadway appearance and his touching homage to his Jewish mother.
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