Tuesday, October 6, 2015

October 6, 1927 - The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue, is released. Cinema was revolutionized. Overnight careers ended, new stars found the spotlight, studios vanished, storytelling changed almost completely.

The story: Jakie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson) is a young Jewish man whose father (Warner Oland) wants him to follow in his footsteps and be cantor for a synagogue. (A cantor is a professionally trained singer who leads the congregation in sung prayers and songs.) Jakie is particularly good at singing the Kol Nidre, a call to worship sung at the beginning of the evening service on every night of Yom Kippur. But Jakie really loves jazz, and wants a career as a jazz singer. When his father finds him performing jazz in a beer garden, he punishes Jakie -- who runs away.

Ten years pass. Jakie, now calling himself Jack Robin, has become a talented jazz singer and fallen in love with the beautiful dancer, Mary Dale (May McAvoy). She pushes him to follow his dreams, and become the star she knows he is capable of being. Jack tries to reconcile with his father, but the elderly cantor rejects his son once more. Two weeks later, Jack's father falls gravely ill a few days before Yom Kippur. Jack is asked to sing the Kol Nidre at his father's congregation, but Jack is supposed to debut in a major Broadway play the same night.

Jack's mother Sara (Eugenie Besserer) and synagogue leader Moisha Yudelson (Otto Lederer) visit Jack at the theater, begging him to sing for the church. Jack sings a gentle pop tune for his mother, who tearfully admits that if God had wanted her son to sing in church, He would have kept him from the stage. Jack is moved by his mother's devotion, and visits his dying father. Sara says singing Kol Nidre might heal Jack's father, but a theatrical producer warns Jack that if he bails from the show that his career will be over.

Jack decides to sing the Kol Nidre at synagogue, despite Mary's pleas. As he does so, Mary realizes Jack is singing like a jazz singer. She realizes she's pushed him too hard. But all's well that ends well: Jack still becomes a major star, and his mother watches as he sings "My Mammy" in blackface from the stage of his new show.

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