Just back in town from a long conference weekend in Albuquerque. Cyrus was jetset to and from Abu Dhabi in the meantime. I’m kind of hoping we’ll be able to keep up the blog a little more regularly than we have the last few weeks.
Tomorrow I’m lecturing on The Jazz Singer (1927), one of the more complicated “texts” we discuss in Writing New York. As repulsive as some elements are, I find the film more compelling each time I view it or teach it.
For the sake of students who may be checking the blog on the eve of class, here are a few links to past discussions of the film on PWHNY: Since I’m usually the one to lecture on the film, Cyrus has offered his own take on the blog on a couple of occasions — the 2007 DVD release being one, and it looks like he actually liveblogged my lecture on another occasion, or at least supplemented it as I went. Maybe he realized I was running short on time and wouldn’t have time to squeeze in the Bamboozled clip I like to show. (SPOILER ALERT: I may show that last clip tomorrow if I have time, so save it if you want to see it first in class.)
In my own supplemental commentary to previous lectures, I mentioned how the DVD packaging notes that the original publicity for the film all centered on ways in which the film was supposedly “Al Jolson’s own story” — that is, it emphasized similarities between Jolson’s story and his character’s. I’ve also provided post-lecture thoughts on Jolson/Jakie’s performance of Kol Nidre at the film’s conclusion, with special attention to our friend Marshall Berman’s reading of that scene and the film in general. Finally, to jump from Jewish to Christian holidays, I had some thoughts last winter about the relationship between Jolson’s performance and the songwriting of the great American composer Irving Berlin, “White Christmas” in particular.
This year I’m kind of wishing we had the time to read it against Kern and Hammerstein’s musical Show Boat, which premiered the same year the Warners released The Jazz Singer. There’s a lot still to say about the cultural collaboration of Jews and African Americans in the early 20th century to produce not just modern American culture, but more specifically what the cultural historian Ann Douglas has called “mongrel Manhattan.” From Show Boat: Music by Kern, lyrics by Hammerstein, iconic performance from the 1936 film by Robeson: