No. 5: The Jazz Singer
The struggle to be heard
1927, dir. Alan Crosland. Thanks to The Jazz Singer, the first sound heard in a feature film was a conversation between a Jewish mother and her child. This historic 1927 movie was based on play drawn from the real-life story of Al Jolson, who would later play the character he inspired. The son of a cantor, Jolson let his inherited knack for singing and acting take him far from his insular roots and all the way to Hollywood—where he eventually earned the title of “World’s Greatest Entertainer.” His filmic doppelganger, Jakie Rabinowitz, abandons his family’s religious traditions by entertaining beer-hall patrons with popular tunes. After being chastised by his cantor-father, Jakie runs away from home, changes his name, and finds success and fortune as a renowned jazz singer. But the past eventually catches up with him—don’t miss the cameo of megastar cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, appearing as himself—and this film, about the ambitions of one immigrant Jew, came to highlight the all-too-universal struggle between individualism and the pull of history and family.