Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Octogenarian Jazz

Like many people, The Jazz Singer is so pivotal a cultural milestone that I am sure that I have seen it even though I've only witnessed a few seconds in countless cinematic historical reviews and references set in films of the same era. I actually did see the wretched 1980 remake and have managed to erase 99% of my recall of it.

Yet I succumbed to today's 80th anniversary reissue of the 1927 original which embodies the word deluxe even by Criterion standards. The restoration is so flawless, it's hard not to think it's a complete recreation from scratch. What's especially disconcerting is just how ethnic such a hugely successful mainstream, pre-World War II film was. Coming from a Jewish family that suffered mid-American anti-semitism during the same era, I can't help but wonder how it was received in places like Indiana, Kansas or Oklahoma at the time where Catholics and Jews were the main targets of the Klan.

In recent years I've come to gain an unexpected appreciation of Jolson, especially in the superb 1933 Hallelujah, I'm a Bum. The black face scense are still pretty hard to stomach, but the three disc accoutrements are enough to make me foget all of that, adding one more volume to my ever growing library of pre-World War II cinema.UPDATE: This article in the Miami Herald sheds some light on the racial blind spot this otherwise thorough reissue offers. How odd that this and the other early cinema milestone, The Birth of a Nation, are so intertwined with the most sordid, tragic aspects of our nation's history.

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8 Comments:

At 11:34 PM, Blogger Gavin Elster said...

I have yet to see this criterion collection version. (surprise now my old job is behind me I am no longer required to see every dvd bluray and hddvd released not just in the u.s. but worldwide.) Keep in mind this was not the first talking picture.

 
At 8:31 AM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Gavin - It's a Criterion-worth release not an actual Criterion release. Oh, yes, I knew it wasn't the first talkie and not all talking for that matter. The extras include a "lost" segment from the 1929 "Gold Diggers of Broadway" in color that pretty exciting. I've also been watching some of the Melies hand tinted films from the early 1900s that I also saw at the Castro this summer. I much prefer his space movies to George Lucas'.

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger cb said...

Oh, I LOVE blackface! After all, I hear 'blackface' is the new white.

 
At 2:10 PM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

CB - It really blends in nicely with my natural highlights.

 
At 4:20 PM, Blogger Dave said...

My mom took me and my brother to see the Neil Diamond remake way back when, and we hated it. Years later when my brother became a local rock star in New Orleans (true story), he would get really pissed when people compared his voice to Neil's, which they did often and with good reason. After years of this, he finally gave in and ended a CD release show with a surprisingly stirring rendition of "Coming To America" and had even somehow arranged for hundreds of red white and blue balloons to be dropped from the ceiling of the seedy club at just the right moment. This proved to be so popular that in a later show, he performed another song our mom used to torture us with, the Diamond/Streisand duet "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with a certain local female rock star who wore an enormous plastic nose for the occasion. This of course was all before my brother gave up music to become an NOFD firefighter...

I'm sorry, am I getting off topic?

 
At 9:24 PM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Dave - I'm always game to talk about rock stars and firemen. So you're not off topic. Funny thing is that I grew up hating Jolson but have come to love him. Not his black-face, mammy-loving songs but the upbeat, happy stuff like "I'm Sitting on Top of the World". There is something so primal, real about it and the whole immigrant, crowd-pleasing epoch that oddly reminds me of latter-day Dylan. I also hated Neil Diamond until recently but have come to appreciate him in the same way as Jolson. Wonder if I'll ever feel the same about Madonna and Streisand? Nah, probably not.

Oops, am I off topic now?

 
At 4:19 AM, Blogger Dave said...

I love Neil Diamond too now. But if you start posting about Madonna and Streisand, I'm taking you off my blogroll.

 
At 7:02 AM, Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Dave - Don't worry, you'll never see them here. It hurt just to type their names.

 

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