‘The Jazz Singer’ (1980) Review: I Want More Boom Boom Boom!

Posted in Screening Room by - November 06, 2015

My second written for Not-So-Newvember showcases a remake of the original musical film, the first with synchronized sound, in which Al Jolson put on black face and sang an old timey black spiritual about “goin home to mammie”. There’s no denying the racial aspects of the film, but unlike The Dukes of Hazzard, the original Jazz Singer can’t be ignored due to it’s significant place in film history. The same can not be said for the sequel, starring Neil Diamond, who also wrote the music. It’s one of those movies that made more money selling the soundtrack than the film; Neil Diamond released three major singles off the film’s soundtrack.

Diamond, playing Jess, the son of a Jewish cantor, the guy that leads the chants of the Torah, hopes to make a career in the secular music industry. Neil Diamond ends up in his own black face scene early on, despite his character’s protesting, as his African American band mates demand he put on black face to be acceptable to black audiences. His mere presence on stage causes a race riot, and his Jewish father demands that he stop singing because “it’s hard enough being a Jew”. The Jazz Singer manages to deal with the black face by acknowledging its existence and having characters provide a commentary on the state of the racism in the world that they exist in. Of course, after this initial coverage, they drop the racial stuff almost entirely and miss a chance to create an actually interesting commentary on race in the 80’s with the Jazz Singer subject matter.

Jess risks sacrificing his family, his love, and his community in exchange for fame and fortune. His family can’t seem to bear his attempts to make it big outside of their small community, and this pushes him further away from them, providing the primary character drama for the film. He ends up becoming successful, but his family’s inability to accept his choices cause him to act out against the people that have. Eventually he reconciles with his father, though not his first wife, and becomes a successful musician.

Unfortunately, Neil Diamond’s Jazz Singer is a mildly interesting film that takes the concepts of the original, provides a tribute, explains it away, and then ends up being entirely unremarkable. It also lacks the historical significance of the original, and so I imagine most people haven’t heard about it before. The music is interesting, but doesn’t gain much by being attached to the film.

Final Say: Skip It (Unless you also like films such as Purple Rain)

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Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn't watching movies he's playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.
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