The Jazz Singer DVD: Review By Evan "Mushy" Jacobs

A landmark film gets a worthy, landmark release.
  • OVERALL
    4.0
    GREAT
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
A landmark film gets a worthy, landmark release.
THE BAD
As much as I love the old vaudeville shorts I would have appreciated more retrospective pieces in this collection.
THE FEATURE
This 80th Anniversary of The Jazz Singer is quite possibly one of the most interesting releases of the year. While many people call it the first sound film it is actually the first commercially successful sound film. The Jazz Singer tells the story of Jackie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson). The son of a Jewish Cantor he longs to be a Jazz singer. A Cantor is the person who leads the songs at a Synagogue. All the men in Jackie's family have been Cantor's and it is assumed that he will be as well. Jackie has other ideas and he abruptly leaves home and his former life behind to pursue them. Along the way he is met with many ups and downs but eventually seems to find some success. However, everything comes with a price and Jackie Robin (at one point he sheds his ethnic sounding last name), must eventually make a choice between fame or family.

The Jazz Singer is one of those movies that if you have studied film you have certainly come across it. While it's look and semi-silent feel might be jarring (the mix both sound and silent picture elements in this movie), ultimately this release should satisfy film historians and cinephiles alike.
THE EXTRAS
Disc One:

Commentary Track

This commentary tracks features Ron Hutchison the Founder of The Vitaphone Projects and Nighthawks Bandleader Vince Giordano. If you want a fact laden look at the making of this picture then this commentary is right up your ally. They talk about how the film Don Juan was really the first sound film, how Al Jolson got involved in this movie (he had a big audience), and how the film was made in 1927 and then rushed into theaters for release that same year. Hutchison and Giordano then talk about the others actors in The Jazz Singer how this movie interweaved aspects of sound and silent films.

Shorts, Trailers and Cartoons

Disc Two:

The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk

In this very well put together doc*mentary we get a detailed account of how The Jazz Singer became the first commercially successful sound movie. More to the point, we see how sound became a vital element in accompanying moving pictures on screen. Basically, most of the sound movies before this had failed and nobody really believed that they would ever catch fire with the masses. We are taken through a history of this new medium and we even see how sound entering films was portrayed in movies like Singing In the Rain. After this we find out about D.W. Griffith and how he was a big innovator and champion of sound, and we also discover that Warner Bros. bought Vitagraph and then set their sites on buying theaters and this created a stronghold on distribution. Basically, people were going to get sound whether they wanted it or not and this doc*mentary does a fine job examining all of that.

Shorts, Trailers and Cartoons

Disc Three:

Shorts, Trailers and Cartoons
THE VIDEO
Standard Version. Presented in a format preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition. I would be lying if I said that the print of this movie didn't look worn but it is 80 years old. Even though there was a new digital transfer this didn't really help things too much, but it isn't like the movie seemed as if it was falling apart. While I wouldn't say that one should get this for their Blu-ray or HD-DVD player, I will say that if you are collector or film historian this release is a no brainer.
THE AUDIO
Dolby Digital. English: Mono. They call the soundtrack "immaculately refurbished" and while I thought it sounded good, I think those particular words might have been stretching things a tad. Overall, the audio sounded good but I kind of enjoyed hearing the songs with a bit of crackle and hollowness to them. While it doesn't seem like they have "refurbished" all the extras, all in I feel that the audio on this release is quite good.
THE PACKAGE
This packaging is minimalist, understated and it really looks good. We are given it a thick, slipcase cover which has a silhouette of Al Jolson against a gray background with his arms outstretched. The back of this release gives users a picture of everything this set contains, a listing of the collector's bonus materials like photo cards, Vitaphone programs, DVD features guide, etc. They list out all the extras for each disc, a credits list and technical specs. Inside is where one can easily find and navigate through all the extras and artwork that come in this DVD set.
THE FINAL WORD
I know that people think that The Jazz Singer is racist and by any standards, not just 2007 ones, they would be right. However, I agree with the idea that we if we dismiss movies like The Jazz Singer, it is almost like saying that racism never existed. I am sure if we looked at any piece of media we would be able to find some element of racism in it. I think that's simply the nature of the medium. However, I chose to see The Jazz Singer as a historical doc*ment that should be appreciated instead of harangued. I understand that some people don't and I certainly respect that, I just think we need to stop living in this dainty, nambly pambly world of PC crap. The world is rough place, there is racism and we'll probably never have peace. Yet, I still think we need to treat each other with dignity and strive to make things better for all.

I didn't mean to go off on a tangent like that but basically the power of The Jazz Singer is that it evoked those feelings as I was viewing it.

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