Sunday, 7 August 2011

AFI 100 Movies #90 The Jazz Singer (1927)

The AFI 100 list chooses its movies based on a number of criteria, The Jazz Singer makes it on to the list, from my understanding, for being the first full length feature film to include dialogue that is synchronised with the pictures on screen, using Warner Bros. Vitaphone audio system, bringing about the rise of "Talkie" movies and the eventual demise of silent movies.

On that basis I completely understand it's inclusion in the list, it is, however, my least favourite film so far. I am a fan of silent movies, so I wasn't put off by the vast majority of the film lacking speech. The main problem for me was that I found the star of the film, Al Jolson, intensely irritating.

I have already seen films in this series that I didn't take to, Duck Soup  for example, but I still found things to like about them.

I know that taste is subjective, and I suppose that there are people that rate this film very highly, and I appreciate that the acting style in silent cinema in some cases was far more expressive and over the top, and he might be forgiven for being the lead actor in what must have been a difficult transitional period, but Jolson's gurning facial expressions made me cringe.

And while we're talking about cringing I will tackle the uncomfortable subject of "Blacking Up", I know Mr Jolson was incredibly popular in his day, but looking back on it now in the 21st century, it makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

On it's original release in 1927 it did big business at the box office, so the audiences at the time really took to it, but was it the novelty of the actors speaking on screen, or because it was a great movie?

During this AFI challenge that I set myself, one of the interesting things for me was the thought that it would encourage me to watch films that I wouldn't ordinarily have seen, and there have been some great finds along the way, my favourite new finds so far have been The Apartment , Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? and Bringing Up Baby.

This, though is not a film I would necessarily choose to watch again.

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