The Jazz Singer: Three-Disc Deluxe Edition Alan Crosland

The Jazz Singer is often referred to as a museum piece. The film is a melting-pot assimilation narrative of a Jewish cantor’s son (Al Jolson) led away from the synagogue by the lure of show business. But though symptomatically interesting for its reading of ethnic identity (and notable for Jolson’s enthusiastic performance), the filmmaking is unimaginative and the story considered corny even at the time. Its major claim to fame is that it finally got the pubic to accept the idea of talking pictures, changing the art and the industry forever, but though it’s somehow remembered as a classic, the context of its intermittent use of sound and the once-enormous popularity of its star have fallen by the wayside. This unprecedented three-disc edition is all about explaining and recreating that context so that the film might seem less alien. Disc one features a good scholarly commentary, several short subjects involving Jolson (including a blackface number that predates The Jazz Singer), a radio version of the movie and a Jolson trailer gallery. Disc two tackles the sound-era context with an excellent feature documentary on the coming, and development, of sound equipment, as well as several more shorts dealing in one way or another with the new technology. But the real reason to own the collection is disc three, which features more than four hours of Vitaphone shorts from 1926 to1936. These are a revelation. Though they are technically quite primitive, they reveal the glory of contemporary vaudeville and musical forms, many of which would ironically be stamped out by the talking picture. This is probably your only chance to see these comedians, singers, all-girl orchestras and novelty acts. Once this edition goes out of print, they may never come back. No hardcore buff can be without these amazing pieces of pop cult history. (Warner)