We are doubly lucky.
We were born in the United States. And, as if that’s not enough, most of our parents were born here, too.
Life is more challenging for the children of immigrants.
Many immigrant parents expect their children to excel in school and work to take advantage of the opportunities that they moved here for. Meanwhile, they expect their children to remain knowledgeable and respectful of their old world culture and values.
On top of everything else, there is usually a language barrier. It is hard enough to communicate with your parents even when they speak the same native language as you. It must be frustrating and alienating sometimes when they don’t.
“The Jazz Singer” is a splendid melodrama about the son of immigrants who faces an impossible dilemma. His parents expect him to be a good Jew in the European way: by being a contributing member of the Synagogue. And he wants to be a good Jew in the American way: by being a showbusiness success.
Al Jolson is fantastic as Jakie Rabinowitz. His passion is to sing in front of crowds. And his only ambition is to become a star.
His parents do not understand and do not approve. The Rabinowitz men have been Cantors (lead singers during Temple services) for five generations and Jakie is absolutely expected to take over for his father.
When Jakie states that he prefers jazz to Judaism, his father disowns him.
Jakie Rabinowitz is reborn as Jack Robin and he begins to work his way up the showbiz ladder.
The film achieves an incredible level of drama and suspense in the final act. Jack is forced to choose between his Broadway debut and filling in for his sick father in the Synagogue on the night of Yom Kippur. I had no idea which way he was going to go and I was on the edge of my seat.
The drama is top-notch and so is the music. I absolutely believed that Jack Robin was on the verge of stardom. Al Jolson called himself The World’s Greatest Entertainer. And he lives up to the boast. Al Jolson’s musical numbers are delightful. The songs are catchy and the showmanship is top notch.
“The Jazz Singer” is known as the first talkie. The funny thing is: that is totally false but also strangely correct.
There were talkies before “The Jazz Singer.” And, as it happens, the film is mostly silent. The only parts with synchronized sound are the musical numbers.
But “The Jazz Singer” was such an artistic success and crowd-pleaser that it instantly spelled doom for silent cinema. Before 1927, sound was a gimmick. After “The Jazz Singer,” sound was indispensable.
I was expecting to appreciate “The Jazz Singer” as an important piece of cinema history. What I got was an expertly crafted drama and the greatest movie I’ve seen about the challenges of the American immigrant experience.
No one should have to go through the emotional turmoil of Jakie Rabinowitz. Our goal as a civilization should be to create a world that is peaceful and prosperous enough so that no child has to grow up in a different country than his parents did.
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