The Jazz Singer Leads Us into Modernism…

Welcome to ENGL 3210! In this course, we will explore the terrain of modernist and postmodernist literature (and some film) in the U.S. It may feel like a wild ride. Some of your readings you may find quite challenging and, I hope, profoundly moving and stimulating.

 

By the end of the course, I hope you will have a keen understanding of both movements, in terms of cultural history and literary techniques. And I hope you will be able to make connections between modernism and postmodernism and developments in contemporary literature, in your future studies and your own independent reading.

 

We are beginning the course with a film, The Jazz Singer (1927), for a number of reasons. First of all, it raises one theme central to modernism: the clash between tradition and modernity, within the family and the larger culture. In both cases, jazz embodies the new, the risqué, as a challenge to traditional social mores and as an actual departure from traditional belief, partly represented here by the sacred music of the Jewish religion. Like modernist poetry, jazz brings in new rhythms—oddly enough, though, The Jazz Singer doesn’t include much jazz, only a little bit of ragtime piano-playing.

 

Second, even as the film inaugurates a new artistic form—the feature-length film with sound—it incorporates and revises elements of older (popular) art forms. That kind of recycling of the past, including older artistic and literary techniques, we will see over and over again in modernist and postmodernist literature.

 

Another reason we are beginning with The Jazz Singer is that it can feel disorienting and strange to watch it. Why is that a good thing? Because it has been nearly a century since the dawn of modernist literature, and watching the film helps remind us that the early twentieth century was a very different time from ours—to begin with, in terms of gender roles, racial and ethnic stereotypes, and technology. Nevertheless, some of the conflicts of the modernist period persist in our time, and some of its literary techniques are still important to contemporary literature.

 

I asked you to keep in mind a number of questions below, as you watched the film. For your first blog response, I’d like you to reflect on these quotations from below Rogin’s article, “Blackface, White Noise,” and address all the questions below in your response.

 

How you organize your response is up to you, but make sure it is composed of coherent paragraphs in a logical order, with no grammatical errors. Avoid simply listing your answers to the questions.

 

“Since the beginning of the nation, white Americans have suffered from a deeper inner uncertainty as to who they really are.  One of the ways that has been used to simplify the answer has been to seize upon the presence of black Americans and use them as a marker, a symbol of limits, a metaphor for the ‘outsider.’ ” – Ralph Ellison

“What America Would Be without Blacks” (1970)

 

“The Jazz Age introduced modern anti-Semitism into American politics, as traditional rivalry between immigrant and old-stock Americans coalesced with ideological racism… The anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan (legacy of Birth of a Nation) flourished in the 1920s, attacking Jewish control of the motion picture industry.” (88-89)

 

“The jazz singer rises by putting on the mask of a group that must remain immobile, unassimilable, and fixed at the bottom” (92).

 

“Blackface also gives Jack access to allegedly black qualities—intense emotionality and the musical expression that results from it. In part these were white fantasies, in part black achievements (jazz)” (102).

 

“Freeing the son from the Jewish father on the one hand, the black pariah on the other, Jack’s blackface is racial cross-dressing. Just as the white man in classic American literature uses Indians to establish an American identity against the Old World, so the jazz singer uses blacks” (103).

 

“The most obvious feature of The Jazz Singer… is that it contains no jazz” (112-113).

 

“African-American jazz was the music of the cosmopolitan New Negro… Blackface minstrelsy in the Jazz Age, by contrast, ventriloquized blacks as rural nostalgia.” (114)

 

“Jazz may have been the Jazz Age’s name for any up-tempo music” (115).

 

1) How did you respond to the film? How does it compare – be as specific as you can – to contemporary films you enjoy?

 

2) What themes about tradition and modernity does the film introduce through the protagonist’s struggles? Be specific.

 

3) How does its portrayal of immigration and race compare to their representation in our time, in a work of literature or film you are familiar with?

 

4) What is Rogin’s argument? Summarize it briefly, with minimal quotations.

 

5) In what ways does Rogin’s argument illuminate the film for you, if it does?

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92 Comments

  1. I don’t know if I should leave my response here but I’m going to do just in case.

    To be honest the film made me fell a bit uncomfortable when it showed the protagonist in blackface performing his songs. It was pretty decent film, one that I thought I be completely bored out of my mind since it is actually a black and white silent film. Although I did find it somewhat compelling and interesting of depicting the struggle of a Jewish man trying to escape his Jewish traditions in order to become a jazz singer and up until i read that he doesn’t actually sing any jazz is also interesting. It actually depicts a familiar story that some films today embodied the majority of the plot which is that someone in a family wants to do something completely different from what their family traditions entails, therefore make the story a bit universal to the present day.

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    1. I was also uncomfortable at the portrayal of blackface, but I guess that’s just a sign of how far we’ve come as a society. Throughout the film, I was wondering when Jack was going to start singing jazz, and it was funny to me when Rogin pointed out that The Jazz Singer doesn’t sing any jazz and even puts quotations around “a ‘jazzy’ version of ‘Blue Skies,'” as if that is questionable (83). I was worried that I would find it boring as well since we’re so used to films with crazy CGI and stunts too, but the storyline was surprisingly relatable, probably since we’ve seen it quite often in current works.

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      1. I thought the same thing. The second I saw that Jack painted his face black I was a bit taken back and disturbed. I think in some ways we have come very far as a society but at the same time it feels like not much has changed. The storyline is continually repeated all throughout history. There will always be some sort of clash between generations.

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    2. I wrote about this in my write-up of the film, but while I initially felt uncomfortable with the blackface used in the film, after ruminating on the film for awhile, I realized it wasn’t an act of racism. As you said, it is probably emblematic of how far we’ve come that we are this sensitive to what is usually perceived as an act of caricature and racism, but I agree with Rogin’s article that in the context of the Jazz Singer, the blackface was used as a way for Jakie to fully escape who he was and who his father wanted him to be and fully become someone else. It was more catharsis and escape than racist or bigoted, which I think only serves to make the film more interesting.

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      1. I agree – the escapist aspect certainly is plausible. Jack’s masking beneath paint is symbolic of his transformative existence and ongoing identity-search. But I’d like to comment on the brazenness of the usage of blackface and how that cultural allowance at the time reflected the state of human social evolution. Within the scope of recorded human history, we are in modern times (with the inclusion of 1927). Denigrating depictions of other races within forums that reach such vast audiences was a testament to the political athosphere of the day and illustrates how genuinely primitive we – human beings – still are.

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    3. I love that you touched on Rogin’s pointing out that Jack never sings any actual Jazz. Its funny, I cant help but wonder if any film buffs of the time could help themselves from pointing out that same fact during its original premier and whether or not directors even worried whether the fact would ever be addressed though probably not. I don’t watch too many films nor am i up to date on their descriptions and definitions so it was hard to compare this one to any modern screening specifically but you’re right, the storyline of overbearing parent and modern theatrical child is one very familiar and even more so, relatable.

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    4. I agree, I also felt uncomfortable when there was a scene of the blackface. This was my first time even watching a silent film that had a man paint his face black. The film was interesting, it gives the idea of tradition play a huge role in Jackie life; however, Jackie choose to break that boundary to follow his dream. But I do agree that the film is somewhat relatable today because there is some things that families want their children to carry on their tradition. I felt that Jackie’s father didn’t want tradition to die out. I enjoy reading your response!

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    5. I agree with you on the how the film shared a reccuring theme in todays fimls as well. The theme of Tradition versus Progress, I believe this is an on going issure that will always have a presense in society all over the world.

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    6. I also felt uncomfortable that scene. While watching that scene, I had to remind myself that times were drastically different during that era. I surprisingly enjoyed the film as well. I enjoy more contemporary films but this movie is an exception. I can somewhat relate to Jakie. I have struggled with straying away from family traditions but to a lesser extent,

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  2. The Jazz Singer was interesting to watch, especially since, in this generation, we are so used to modern technology and high quality effects with sound. It was a little disorienting, but I was also excited and almost proud when Jack starts talking and the sound is synced with his mouth movements in Coffee Dan’s. It’s a little strange to think that this movie would be new and awe-inspiring when we see common themes and storylines in many movies today in anything from How to Train Your Dragon to Star Wars.
    The Jazz Singer portrays the struggles of a young man trying to follow his dreams and make his parents proud at the same time, something which proves impossible with his very traditional father. His efforts to pull his father into modernity prove fruitless, so he is stuck between traditionalism, his father’s insistence on being the next Cantor, and modernism, his want to be a “jazz” singer. In the end, he is able to do both, sing as Cantor one last time for his dying father and be in a play on Broadway. In a strange twist, Jack doesn’t seem to face any troubles with his race, though he does change his name so perhaps most people don’t know he is Jewish. Now we might be more honest with portrayals of immigration and race, even within fantasy movies like Avatar where race and immigration are the main points of conflict. Even so, the conflict in The Jazz Singer is more focused on the father and son relationship rather than immigration or race.
    Michael Rogin, in Blackface, White Noise, argues people in blackface feel more comfortable “[speaking] from his own, authentically felt, interior” and that, overall, African Americans and Jewish people had similar experiences within the US’s fight to assimilate anyone or anything different (81). Rogin takes an in-depth look at almost every scene from The Jazz Singer and comes to the same conclusion: the movie focuses more on the relationship of the son and father rather than outside racism. He argues “Jakie’s decision to become a jazz singer kills his father” (82). This enlightened me because while I was watching the movie, I didn’t make that connection, though it makes sense especially when Jack’s mother says his father has been sick since Jack came home a revealed he was a professional jazz singer.

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    1. I agree with pretty much everything you have put down. It was crazy to see this type of film, since we are so used to the types of movies we now watch. I really loved everything you have said it really was kind of spot on what I thought.

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    2. After watching the film I also arrived at the conclusion that, it follows the basic plot line of so many modern movies. Although I still found it interesting because even though it is a common plot the characters draw you in. I agree that, it appears that Jackie does not face any hardships because of his race, on the surface anyways. After reading “Blackface, White Noise,” I thought the issue of race was a lot more present. Jackie being Jewish was a calculated move in my opinion, “Given the importance of the immigrant working class as an audience for early cinema, the fact that immigrant jews should come to dominate Hollywood only once exemplifies the American dream”(Rogin 78). The use of blackface marks Jackie’s assimilation to American culture. Ultimately, I think that was Rogin’s argument, that Jewish immigrants use of blackface allowed them to grow accustomed to American ideas. Yes, it was the story of a father and his son, but there is more to it than that.

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    3. I do agree with your opening statement about how accustomed we are to modern-day movies with all the extra sound effects and complex technology we now have access to. It’s interesting to think how filmmakers back then were able to produce motion pictures without the fancy technology we have today and still create such moving films. Regardless of the time period, it is apparent that a lot of the themes from The Jazz Singer are still prevalent today and there is still a lot to be learned about the societal dynamics of race as a whole.

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  3. 1. I enjoyed most the film because I thought it was a sweet. As it got towards the end, and Jakie was performing blackface, is when I lost interest. I love old movies as much as the next person, but I draw the line at blackface performers. There are a lot of movies from that same era that don’t have blackface performers and I understand it’s an age-gap-thing that makes sense back then but not now but I don’t think it was necessary.

    2. The biggest struggle I think that Jakie had to face was the choice between singing jazz or obeying his father and becoming a Cantor. Jakie’s father wanted him to follow in his foot steps and become a Cantor, but Jakie loved to sing jazz express himself. Jakie believes that sing for his audience is no different than his father singing for his synagogue.

    3. By immigration, I assume it’s referring to the early immigrates when New York and America was accepting different people from countries who are seeking freedom. I think it is similar to America’s situation today except that the immigrates are coming from countries a lot closer than Russia or Italy or China. In works of literature or film I believe authors and directors try to be as close as possible to the actual immigration process.  

    4. Rogin argument was the blackface was a way for new Americans, like Jewish immigration, to join the mainstream of Hollywood. 

    5.I suppose it makes sense, but I don’t think blackface was the way to go. I’m sure at the time it seemed like a good idea, but we live in a more understanding world today. Racism is still around but it is frowned upon and stuff like blackface is considered a taboo. I’ve seen clips of movies that have actors performing blackface and it looks awful and unnatural. The only problem I had with the movie was when Jakie was putting on his blackface paint and it shocks me that people back then could watch a movie and not say that something was wrong.

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    1. I also thought the film was sweet but was made uncomfortable by the blackface scenes. This show that our society has become more respectful of everyone’s race than people in 1920s. As you said racism is still prevalent in our world but we have come a long way. I also think you make a valid point when you say that many movies of the time did not need to use blackface.

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      1. I am also in agreement with the progress in regards to racism. Though it still exist, there are many people who stand against it and are for equal right for all races. This struggle for equality has allowed better monitoring in regards to offensive scenes. I notice that a lot of the racism on today’s TV tell stories of historical events.

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    2. I agree with you about the blackface being a little disturbing but that was part of the culutre during that time era. Yes I also think that immigration in the past and today share similiarity excpet now the immigrants are coming from Central and South America rather then Europe.

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    3. I found the use of blackface shocking too. I feel like it came out of nowhere; one minute he is talking and the next he is putting on the blackface makeup. I think that because it is so unacceptable today it is easy to forget that it ever happened and this just reminded us of that particular time in history when it was acceptable for all the black men to be portrayed by white actors. Rogin did explain why the use of blackface was significant to the film, it marks the point where Jackie Robin assimilates to American ideas. I won’t say it justifies the use but it does give it a purpose in a way.
      Also I think Jackie’s struggles were not so much about obeying his father or following his dream. His struggles were more about breaking away from tradition, which is represented by his father’s wish for him to be Cantor, or moving on towards everything that America has to offer, which is represented by his opportunity to sing on Broadway.

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  4. I really enjoyed watching this film because it is very different compared to what we see today. The film was silent with bursts of sounds of music and a few lines of dialog which is new to feature films. This is what I really enjoyed about it because in today’s society movies are about what he or she said but back then in silent films it’s about understanding the expression and emotion through movement and gestures. Jackie struggles with his Jewish religion and his father’s wishes for him to become a Cantor and his dreams of becoming a jazz singer.

    Jackie’s desire to make it big in jazz leads him to follow his dreams when he was a young boy and completely abandon his faith. During the 1900s immigration to America was booming due to the increase in opportunity, freedom and to make a better life for their families. Most immigrates came from European countries such as; Italy, England, Greece, Italy and so on. Now day’s immigration has become broader in the sense that families are coming in from India, Mexico, Latin America and Canada. In contemporary works of literature and film these creators focus more on the statistics and process. For example: how many immigrants are allowed in yearly, where are they coming from, why are they coming here, and what is the process to become a U.S. citizen.

    Rogin argues that the Jewish immigrants used blackface as a way to immigrate into American society. He believes that blackface was a great movement for American culture. I understand Rogin’s argument on why blackface was a huge hit for American culture. I can also understand why it was included in the film the jazz singer because during that time blackface wasn’t considered racial discrimination. Although blackface is not a movement that will pop up again in today’s society, it was a way for Jewish immigrants to integrate into the mainstream of society during that time period.

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    1. I enjoyed watching most of the film too. Seeing the development of the first movie with sound in an age where almost every movie is produced with sound is really telling of how far our technology has come. However, I disagree with some of your points. I think that contemporary films still focus on the emotional aspects of immigration, but also add statistics and numbers to make it more realistic and touching. I also think blackface, even then, was still discriminatory, but nobody on a widespread scale called it out. Rogin even points out that they were using blackface as a mouthpiece for all black people. Though it is understandable that it was used in The Jazz Singer because of the time period, that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t considered racist.

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    2. I agree with this statement. The Jewish population during these times was suffering the same – if not more – prejudices that other races and ethnicities during this time. This film’s guiding spine revolved around exploring themes of racial significance. The protagonist, the singer’s black face paint – these items magnify the thematic relevance of religions and/or racial persecution.

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  5. For me personally, I really enjoyed the film. I will definitely admit that it was strange at first to watch but films story line caught me. It reminded me a lot of many situations that many everyday people face. I also enjoyed the fact that the film was silent with only bursts of song or dialogue because it was a new experience having to follow along with purely watching body language and the emotions of the actors.

    The constant struggle of having to try to make others happy as well as trying to focus on your own happiness and strive towards your dream. I believe that often even in todays world many struggle with inner conflicts. In the film The Jazz Singer, Jakie really loved his mother and wanted to do anything to make her happy even if it costed himself happiness. It also must have been a hard choice for him to disappoint her father, abandoning his faith and being a cantor in order to follow his dreams to be a jazz singer. Those things are often too seen in todays society

    Robin argues that Jewish people used blackface as a way to fit into American society. He claims that the Jewish believed that using this blackface approach was one of the very few ways they had to blend. Back in this time period blackface was not considered to be racial. But for us today, it my seem a little uncomfortable, I on the other hand thought that it put a certain twist to the story but was certainly unnecessary.

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    1. I agree with you on how we had to watch their body language and facial expressions. I also agree that the blackface was unnecessary, but I do know what they were trying to mean by it. I thought it was kind of nice to have to be fully in tuned with the movie, since it made me really focus and get into the movie.

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    2. I totally agree that watching the movie forced me to be more engaged and in tune with the characters. It was a bit difficult for me since we are so used to the information basically being given to us with movies now a days.

      I can see why you would think it was unnecessary. Quite frankly, I was a little thrown off when I saw him paint his face. I do not think it was needed either. However, blackface was a very common form of entertainment back then so I am sure it seemed quite normal to the audience.

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    3. I also thought it was interesting how only at certain times we would hear the character sing or speak. I agree with you, the character did struggle with whether he should follow his dreams or follow his tradition. He had a hard time trying to decide on who he wants to be or who he should be.

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  6. After watching The Jazz Singer I was amazed as to what filmmakers could do during the time period. Considering that I don’t watch too contemporary film I was in awe of the acting, dialogue, and sound of the film.

    The themes about tradition that I noticed was a definitely the idea that the only son should be the successor of his father. Especially given the strong religious theme that revolves around the Robinowitz household. Given the time I felt it was a huge deal for a son to go against his fathers wishes. What was so modern about it was the theme of following your heart and doing what you truly want to do in life regardless of tradition or family morals.

    Since the movie was based in the United States the portrayal of immigration I noticed was somewhat of a mockery to how immigration is treated today. From what I could understand it seemed the Israeli groups stayed in close connection with each other throughout the film. Similar to our time I feel similar groups whether it’s blacks, whites, native Americans etc…tend to associate solely with each other.

    Throughout Rogin’s article “Blackface White noise” he is constantly comparing The Jazz Singer with other works of art such as The Birth of a Nation, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Gone with the Wind. He argues that The Jazz Singer makes blackface it’s theme. Rogin argues how The Jazz Singer uses blackface as its sole form of entertainment and the exploitation of African-Americans is used heavily. On page 79 of Rogin’s article he states, ” The Jazz Singer facilitates the union not of white and black but of gentile and Jew.” Basically arguing that in some aspect each race is “split” from each other.

    Rogin’s argument is someways opens my eyes to a lot of centralized themes that took place through out the film. I watched the film first then read the article. I feel if I had read the article first then watched the film I may have a had a different outlook on the themes and central ideas. His article opened my eyes to the extremism of blackface entertainment while when I first watched the film I noticed only the sole theme of rebellion.

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    1. I also was impressed with the film effects they used. The clip of Jack’s father as a spirit/ghost in the ending was very surprising to me. Yes, blackface is very extreme and it’s very sad that it was such a popular form of entertainment.

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    2. I agree. I wish i would have read the article first, it would have definitely opened my eyes and allowed me to have a different view throughout the film. Instead of being immediately put off by the blackface theme.

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    3. I do agree, silent films are very interesting to watch. Not a lot of people in the present day know about these films. It’s fascinating to see how films were made in the 1920’s because they are so much different then the films made today. Jackie’s father wanted his tradition to live on with Jackie because it’s the way of his people. Jackie wanted to escape his tradition by wanting to be a Jazz singer which his father oppose. It was amazing to watch the different roles Jackie and his father played because it gives you a understanding what they want to portray.

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  7. Honestly, when watching The Jazz Singer, aside from the obviously terribly racist blackface scenes, I didn’t particularly recognize race as a large factor of the film. I couldn’t help that notice everyone in the film was white, but I wasn’t at all surprised due to the film’s age, so I didn’t dwell on it long. As far as story goes, I just took the film at face value as a fairly cliché story of a boy growing up in a strict religious household and running away to pursue his dreams of being a jazz singer and eventually having to choose between being himself or being the person everyone else around him wants him to be and the age old struggle between traditional parents and a modern child. It actually reminded me a bit of the movie Hairspray when the teenage daughter wants to dance on TV, have big hair, and do away with segregation while everyone around her was still clinging onto old ideas. Like Jackie, her argument against everyone was that things were changing, and if they had been raise/where growing up in it, they’d be able to understand her modern views but they are like Jackie’s father and from “the old world” in a sense.

    However, after reading Rogin, a few of my thoughts on the movie did change a bit. On my first run through, I was pretty blown away by the amount of emotional manipulation going on within the film between Jackie and his family and neighbors. I definitely wasn’t expecting someone to come out and say that he was the first person in his family in generations to disappoint God. I assumed they were just really driving home the point of how strict everyone around him was with their religion, but it wasn’t until after Rogin that I realized it wasn’t as much a hyper religious family but possible anti-Semitic sentiment. I don’t disagree with Rogin, but when watching The Jazz Singer, before reading his article, I didn’t particularly get the impression that it was quite that deep. I didn’t have the feeling that the only time he was able to manage intense emotions and use them in his music was particularly due to the fact that he was in blackface; his father was dying, and at the moment, he was torn but seemed fairly positive he was going to choose his performance over him, which I assume is a fairly emotional thing. The only time there is any real conflict in the film and everything doesn’t go perfectly for Jackie is in the beginning when he runs away and at the end when his father is ill and those are also the only time he shows any real emotion, so when I saw the scene of Jackie doing blackface, I was mainly just baffled because why on Earth was he even doing it? All his other performances had been with him as himself, but suddenly, he felt the need to wear blackface for his performance. Unfortunately, during that time, it wasn’t all that uncommon and was considered by many to be an acceptable form of entertainment, so I just dismissed it as being a product of its time, but now, I’m beginning to realize how much deeper it goes than just a horrible attempt at being funny or clever -or whatever it was he thought he was doing by doing blackface- especially when put in context of a Jewish man who was the son of immigrants and jazz music.

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  8. What I found familiar about The Jazz Singer was the film’s concept of the father figure doubting or disapproving of his son’s interests and passions. Although there are many examples of this in modern and older films, the film I thought of was The Greatest Game Ever Played, (2005) in which Francis Ouimet struggles to pursue his dreams of playing golf in the face of his Irish immigrant father’s desire for him to work. (This is another story of white immigrants facing adversity in pursuing large-scale careers).
    The Jazz Singer follows Jack Robin, formerly known as Jakie Rabinowitz, a Jewish boy straying from Orthodox tradition to pursue a career in jazz. Here the musical and religious implications are clear; jazz is new, dangerous, and risqué, while Orthodox Judaism is solemn and strict. In the film’s introduction we see the father’s literally violent altercation with his son after discovering that Jakie is singing jazz in a bar, an act his father considers deeply shameful. This would suggest the painful and forced maintenance of traditional views on the children of immigrants during the Modernist period.
    The film implies, perhaps inadvertently, that in the early 20th century Jewish people were able to disguise and impart themselves into traditionally WASP culture because they were white, while also portraying an internal identity struggle. By its title alone, the film is a representation of the jazz genre in an era in which the greatest jazz musicians were black. By contemporary standards, this is reminiscent of Ryan Gosling’s white character “saving” jazz in critically acclaimed musical La La Land. Both films attempt to show the hardship of achieving success in show business as white actors and musicians, which is relatively easy in comparison to the struggles of nonwhite performers. Of course, La La Land is obviously leaps ahead of The Jazz Singer in terms of political and social progression (and the actual usage of jazz music), especially considering the glaring ugliness of the latter film’s usage of blackface.
    Author Michael Rogin begins his article by stating that there are themes of white supremacy in Gone With the Wind, Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Rogin’s point about the The Jazz Singer is that, unlike Birth of a Nation, it erases black representation rather than just violently ending it. Rogin further argues that in the film, the protagonist sings through the mouth of a black singer, thereby simultaneously erasing and caricaturizing the black man. Jack develops his character through the use of blackface, becoming truly “himself” in the performance scenes and the love scenes with Mary. Despite this unfortunate visual, much of the more overt racism in the film was actually censored before its release, as the script was altered to remove blatant racial slurs.
    Rogin’s article included other usages of blackface in entertainment during the Modernist period, The most surprising example for me was the song, “Me and My Shadow,” which was originally performed by a black dancer literally shadowing a white dancer in movement. This, Like The Jazz Singer, is an example of one of the tenets of early modern entertainment becoming obscured throughout history by the visual representation of racism. I think that despite the inconvenient truth of works such as these, it’s necessary to understand the sometimes grave history of entertainment and art.

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    1. I found your comparison of The Jazz Singer and La La Land interesting. I had not even considered that the two movies having anything in common. I do see that Sebastian and Jakie have the similar struggle of making it the music world. Jakie has the added struggle of defying tradition and his family.

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  9. I enjoyed watching most of The Jazz Singer; the blackface scenes were uncomfortable to watch. I did, however, find it interesting that they chose to have Jakie’s identity crisis while he wore blackface. Blackface would never be allowed in a movie today but in some ways films still struggle with the portrayal of race. For example, Emma Stone was cast to play a woman who was supposed to be quarter Native Hawaiian and quarter Chinese in Aloha. I also thought it was interesting how they incorporated the then new talkie technology in the form of songs but kept the intertitles of the traditional silent film era. I’m not sure if it was for budgetary sake or intentional but it drove home the message that new and old can coexist.

    The Jazz Singer told a familiar tale of younger generations wanting to create their own way of life even if that means breaking away from tradition. Jakie’s struggle between tradition and passion shows that while there may always be a conflict between new and old, they are not so different. Jakie declares that his father taught him that music is the voice of God and therefore singing in a theater and a synagogue are equally honorable. The scene where Jakie is able to sing in his father’s place and his Broadway show portrays the idea that tradition and new ideas can exist together.

    Reading Rogin’s article did give me a different way to approach the blackface scenes in The Jazz Singer. He argues that blackface was used by Jewish actors to fit into their new American society. This gave me a little more cultural perspective when it comes to these scenes. They are still uncomfortable to watch but I have a better understanding of why they are there. He also brings up the point that “Birth and The Jazz Singer ostensibly exploit African Americans in opposite ways” (79). I thought this was an interesting point because I would have never though blackface was used in anything but a malicious manner. Overall I enjoyed watching The Jazz Singer despite a few scenes.

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    1. Your point about the format of the film as an expression of the themes of modernity vs. tradition is really interesting. I hadn’t considered that the usage of audible music and intertitles could be an example of the internal struggle of Jack and his family and the potential for their coexistence. Rogin’s point about Jewish actors using blackface as a means to integrate themselves into American culture also interested me. I think that Rogin’s description gave added context and background for the reasons people used blackface, without excusing or condoning it.

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    2. I really love your idea of coexistence, I feel like I spent so much time focusing on dialogue and plot I had completely forgot to think about the importance of mode of expression for that dialogue between the traditional intertitles and new audio of the talkie. Proving even more “that new and old can coexist” is the ending of the movie where Jackie gets to keep an aspect of both of his lives, his mother and his “jazz”.

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    3. Your point of exploiting African Americans is spot on. Why have a blackface in the film and not a black person? During this period, were African Americans allowed to be in white or Jewish made movies? Thankfully, things are much better now.

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  10. 1. The Jazz Singer was very new to me to watch a very old movie in that time period, but I found it very interesting to watch. This film was very different from the ones today, because the actors/ actress don’t speak at all, only lines of the dialog is shown and the only the main actors singing is heard. The films that I enjoy today consist of action and unrealistic heroes, but once I saw the Jack Robin painting his face black I found very uncomfortable.

    2. The struggle Jackie had to face was the hardest decision he had to make either follow his dream as a Jazz singer or become a Cantor to make his father happy. Jackie’s father wants him to follow through his foot steps and become a Cantor since it runs in the family for five generations. However, Jackie’s father is focused in tradition, in which he wants him to sing the song of Israel as a synagogue in his place, but the modernity Jackie wants to follow his dream and sing Jazz. Jackie struggle through tough decision and he even defend his Jazz singing to his father by saying “You taught me that music is the voice of God,” he is stating that he wanted to perform and to sing to the audience, that there is no difference from his father singing as a synagogue.

    3. The Jazz Age in America in early 1920’s was influenced by African-Americans culture brought to the white middle class to enjoy this type of music. Many White Americans would do minstrelsy show that would make them paint their face black and the would perform in the theater by singing or dancing. In the film I felt that there was a place of identity because Jackie changed his name to Jack Robin when he was following his dream and not many knew he was Jewish. I never seen this type of movie even in today in society, which I’m glad I don’t I draw the line when I saw Jack paint his face, I found it very disrespectful. America during the 1920’s was multi-culturalism and there was a lot of immigrant went because it was the land of opportunities, freedom, and rights.

    4. Rogin’s argues, that Jewish used blackface a sense of identity and expression when perform. He also argues that immigrant Jews paint themselves for self identity changing themselves Jewish to American. “Blackface may seem not to express Jewishness at all but to hide it, so that even your own mother wouldn’t know you” (100). When Jack’s mother went to see him she was taken a back and didn’t recognize her own son and told him that he’s not himself.

    5. Rogin’s argument does make sense; however, changing your identity into someone you’re not is so unreal. This film was racist, but during the 1920’s blackface was consider a source of entertainment in Jazz, which is horrible to think about. Immigrants went through a lot for equal rights and opportunity, and even today in society we are still fighting for our rights and freedom in America. Although racism is still going on, but having something like a blackface is unthinkable and unnatural to even see because it’s discriminating human rights as a person for who they are and seeing clips like Jazz Singer is very offensive.

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  11. -I did not particularly enjoy the film because it was in black & white. Also, the plot is not a type of movie that really grabs my attention; the film reminds me of “musical” movies of today’s age. It compares to today’s contemporary films in a few ways such as the use of sound for one of the first times. Another way the films compares to a few films that I enjoy today is the sense of always trying to ‘please’ the father while the father figure only wants to stick to tradition. This particular plot compares to the films of “High School Musical” when “Troy” the main character likes to sing yet the father only wants him to play basketball, just like in The Jazz Singer when Jakie loves ragtime but his father does not approve.
    -The film presents the constant struggle between tradition and modernism. Even in today’s society we still struggle with this constant argument about sticking with traditions or progressing into the new age. This struggle is usually argued between the older generation and the younger generation. For example, when parents tell their kids that it is tradition for young adults to get married in a church yet young adults all the time refuse to stick with the tradition of marriage in a church.
    – It refers to the constant struggle immigrants have in coming to a new country, the difficulty of assimilating to the new culture. It is not only difficult trying to adapt to the new culture however the citizens of that particular society may not want you let you assimilate with their culture no matter how hard someone may try.

    -One main aspect of Rogins argument is that the film The Jazz Singer is the first “talkie” film because of the use of sound cut aways and lip synchronizing.

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    1. I understand not liking a movie because it is black and white. And if musicals aren’t your cup of tea, then I also understand not liking it. And the struggle that Jakie felt with his father is a cliche that comes from a teen movie. I never thought of that when watching the movie so that is an interesting point.

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    2. I hadn’t even thought to compare The Jazz Singer to High School Musical, but they are actually super similar! If I remember right Troy’s dad was also the coach of the basketball team (or was he a former basketball star? I can’t quite remember) and trying to get Troy to follow in his footsteps while Troy wanted to sing, but he was also torn between still loving basketball and wanting to play, like Jackie loved his religion, and pursuing his dreams. It even ends in a showdown where the big game and his chance to sing in the show were at the same time, didn’t it? That is such a good comparison, though!

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  12. I’d just like to say it has been quite a while since a movie has ever made me so uncomfortable.. and I’ve just seen the seriously problematic “Split” just a few days ago. Between the cringeworthy and (what seemed like) forever lasting kisses between mother and son, the immediate aggression expressed by Jack’s father (who I hated by the end of the film, though perhaps that’s due to my biased ability to relate with the young son simply trying to find himself over a tyrant parent), and ( yes I’m nit-picking but this is opinion) Jack’s normal but very scary joker esque expressions. I found myself uncomfortably looking around to gage reactions that weren’t there while watching the movie solo in the comfort of my own home with weird pangs of guilt occurring every now and then as if simply watching “The Jazz Singer” meant I somehow condoned all of its old time passive racism among its other issues. Now, speaking of the film/Rogin’s main subject (racism; blackface in particular) and I hate myself for admitting it but it seems this subject of the movie is where I found myself least likely to reflexively become repulsed. Now I emphasize reflexively because though obviously and especially as a minority myself, thinking about the film retrospectively OF COURSE the main issue front and center is the blatant racism, it seems that years of conditioning, be it in society or school systems where its been engrained that in any time but the present (which after today’s headlines one can agree is completely wrong) racism is to be expected and thus, when told we are to be exposed to “old” culture we have learned to become passive on examples of racism. Rogin’s point though it may only touch on my own, is to drag and present the incredible racism of America. But to be more specific the ultimate hatred it has always and still (“arguably”) has for its African American’s among its other minorities, that the Jazz Singer “rises by putting on the mask of the group that must remain immobile, unassimilable, and fixed at the bottom”(82). That though he be a minority himself, Jack sought a shedding of his own vulnerabilities by banking on America’s greater hatred for a group with a more violently hunted history which made clear by the use of blackface is more vulnerable by white America’s tendency to more easily and ever more ignorantly identify and stereotype. Jackie can change his name and slither away from his roots but he wrongfully does by sliding into the “shadow” of a race fueled American born caricature “ventriloquizing the black and singing through his mouth”(79). Rogin also points out that by domesticating the situation and centering it mainly in a home of a Jewish family the fimmakers essentially let “America off the hook”(87) by putting the actions on Jack’s shoulders alone however its important to realize that his character completely embodies what it meant to become Americanized and in desperation to completely assimilate he took on the nastier characteristics of the country as well, his hope being that if he can become a puppet of entertainment by playing on harmful ignorance it will distract from his own vulnerable minority position long enough to place him in a position of success.

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    1. First, I would just like to say that I really love this review and your analysis of the film and Rogin’s article. I would agree that it’s difficult to watch such a film without feeling conscious of my own reaction. Having no previous knowledge of the film, I was not expecting the usage of blackface and had already developed a fairly thorough opinion of the film up until that point; it did have a considerable effect on my viewing from that point on. Additionally, your description of Rogin’s points clarified the article a bit more for me; Jack’s decision to use blackface is perhaps most understandable as the result of him taking on American characteristics, including ones as ugly as racism, and thereby simultaneously erasing and caricaturizing another marginalized group.

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  13. It was an interesting film to watch. It was different from anything I’ve seen. I liked how it had intertitles for the audience to understand the dialogue between the characters. It helps the audience appreciate contemporary films which have color and sound.
    The film introduces themes such as change vs tradition, the desire to escape, facing reality, identity crisis, love and sacrifice, quest for discovery, and the inner and outer self. The protagonist struggles with his sense of identity. He is unsure who he should be, a jazz singer or a cantor like his father. Jack sees tradition as the old world and singing jazz songs as the new or modern world which he wants to be part of. The people who migrate to another country or people of different races tend to stay together and hold on to their beliefs. However, some do adapt to the new environment or culture and become a part of it.
    Rogin argues that there is a conflict between tradition and modernity in America. He discusses the “blackface” and how it is used in the three works: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jazz Singer, and Birth of a Nation. The black face is used differently in the three works. The Jazz Singer makes the blackface its subject. The protagonist adopts the black mask and uses it to escape his old world identity (80). In the Jazz Singer he talks about the tradition of the immigrant and the generational conflict, popular entertainment as a cause of family conflict and Americanization. Rogin’s argument illuminates the film by demonstrating the generational conflict still exists today.

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    1. I also really enjoyed how it had intertitles in between choice scenes. I feel like without those i would have quite been able to understand what was happening. But i also feel that watching the body language and facial expressions added a ton to the film.

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    2. I also loved the inter-titles in between scenes. It really help the audience understand what was going on. I love how you put up several theme topics that were shown throughout the film because this film has different aspects to it. Through each theme you can break it down to where Jackie sacrificed his believes for his dreams or his struggle with becoming a big star.

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    3. I also thought this movie was different than anything I have watched before. Films are much more extravagant and vibrant. Although this film is much more simple it is still just as compelling and emotionally impactful as contemporary films. It was heartwarming when Jakie still loved his family and chose to sing for his dad despite his dad disowning him in the past.

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  14. I enjoyed the film despite it taking about the first twenty minutes for me to become fully involved. What I appreciated the most about the film are the “talkie” portions that were mixed in with the intertitle cards. I imagine synchronization of the singing with the film was incredibly difficult in the 1920’s since it is a modern difficulty for voice actors to sync themselves with animated film and television. The most impressive scene was when Jakie’s father’s ghost appears behind him while he is singing in the synagogue. Although The Jazz Singer was produced in an era of complete experimentation since film was in its infancy, I appreciate these risky and innovative techniques. I love when directors use shots in such a way that they help depict a character’s struggle. When Jakie is caught between his career and his family, he is also between Mary and his mother; he turns back and forth, exasperated at what to do. Film and television today undoubtedly use character placement and editing to enhance narrative and tension, and I think that films today are probably oversaturated with scenes similar to this one.

    The most jarring aspect of the film was the blackface, but I am less uncomfortable after reading Rogin’s chapter discussing it. At first, I thought it felt bigoted, but under the surface the use of blackface is almost revolutionary in this film’s context. Instead of racist or anti-Semitic, Rogin argues that “Jack gains through blackface the ability to leave home and have it too” (107). I expected the film to end in a cliché fashion in which Jakie returns to his family and decides to stay as a Cantor but he gets to keep his career and his family despite missing the opening night of Broadway show. “Whiteface imposed a choice on Jack Robin: either Mary or Sara” is something I had not considered, and I wondered if, in the context of the time period, this was subtle to the audience or blatant. There is an interesting article titled Al Jolson – Misunderstood Hero or Villain? by Eddie Deezen in which he discusses the actor himself, which cleared this up for me. Deezen mentions that Jolson “insisted on the hiring and fair treatment of black people at a time when this was an outlandish concept”. Rogin also discusses how blackface in the context of the film is used to express the “Jewish woe – of leaving the maternal home”, and is not intended to portray black people as comical figures. It is no surprise, then, that Jolson’s personal beliefs and actions, coupled with the use of blackface to enhance Jakie’s own Jewish struggles, subverts the more racist use of it in other films of that era.

    However, I felt that Jakie’s internal struggle was not all that believable in the context of the film. He leaves his family after being whipped and does not return to them until he is a man and has made something out of his life. It was difficult for me to get on board with him feeling a calling towards his religion near the end of the film without any previous inclinations as a child but Jolson’s acting during the scene when he is between Mary and his mother did a great deal to make up for this. Watching Jolson’s emotions and seeing the conflict in his face about whether to hold onto his family’s tradition or to go his own way was a little heartbreaking, and I imagine this is something immigrants from all of the world face. The clash of assimilating to a new culture while retaining past traditions is something many Americans have had the opportunity to see firsthand since they belong to one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Films such as Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee highlight the struggles of living in an ethnically diverse culture. People are adaptable by nature, but still face the task of reconciling the new with the old. The struggle of change will always be relevant.

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  15. I was personally surprised at how much I enjoyed The Jazz Singer. Although I consider myself a fan of film in general, silent films have always been a bit of a blind spot for me. By their nature, they always felt rather clunky and choppy, pacing wise. But I have to say, The Jazz Singer kept me rather compelled for its entire runtime. Obviously the differences between it and contemporary films are many, the lack of actual dialogue of course being most prevalent. But what endeared me most to the film were its themes of family struggle and the struggle of change in ones life. These themes are truly timeless and go a long way in making the film feel relevant, even almost one hundred years after its filming. The push-and-pull of tradition versus modernity, displayed through Jack’s dream to become a jazz singer despite his Cantor father’s wishes, is something that still remains very relevant to this day.
    Perhaps what surprised me most about the film was its lack of overt racism. Coming from a Jewish family myself, I can admit the dialogue could be slightly hammy at times, but nothing felt like a caricature. Even the use of blackface didn’t feel like a racist act. This is tied in to Rogin’s main argument, that blackface in the context of Jakie’s story is not racist but instead an act of catharsis, of leaving home and having it too. This is not something I’d considered, but taking a look at the film as a whole with this perspective really goes a long way in contextualizing its use of blackface and the themes it gets across in doing so. Had I not read Rogin’s article, I doubt I would have ever come to that analysis on my own, which goes a long way in showing why reading others’ analyses of film (and art in general) can be so important to gaining an understanding of your own.

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    1. The film can certainly still be effective even without the use of blackface, but the use of it I think wasn’t necessarily a racist act either. I’m surprised this is really one of the few comments that notes it wasn’t. The unfortunate case however is that it’s the large thing everyone will focus on, which leaves the most interesting part of the film, Jack’s struggle, overshadowed. As someone in a very similar position to you, since I am black, I can’t help but certainly agree with your opinion about The Jazz Singer.

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  16. The film was very different from anything I’ve ever seen before. I’ve never seen a film where blackface was used so casually and nonchalantly—it shocked me. However, I did find myself completely immersed in the movie at times. There was something mesmerizing about watching the characters interact with each other and relying mostly on their body language to distinguish their emotions. The only other movie where the visuals were different that I’ve seen is “Blue Jay” (2016). That movie is in black and white but it is different than any other black and white movie I’ve seen because it contained sweeping landscape shots similar to how color movies display wide, striking landscapes. I would see mountains and forests without color—the lack of color in the movie made the interactions between the only two characters in the movie more intense. Just like the interactions between Jack and all the other characters felt more significant because of the very small bursts if dialogue between them.

    The most impactful exchange of dialogue is between Jack and his father. The scene where he is playing the piano and singing for his mother is incredibly intimate and his father says, in a booming voice, “Stop!” Tradition and modernity clash and a stunned silence follows showing the audience how the two stubborn views stay separated like oil and water. For one view to change or conform to another is difficult because both see their respective view as the better view.

    Every culture is different. There are even differences within every culture—sub-cultures. When people of a different nationality cross over to a new land they tend to take their traditional customs to that new land. The film “The Jazz Singer,” displays the traditional customs of a Jewish family. Race, however, is treated very differently than in any other movie I’ve ever seen. The use of blackface was a genuine shock to me even though I know it was a regular practice for the entertainment industry.

    Rogin argues that blackface was a form for the protagonist, Jack, to show his true, concentrated self. The mask allows Jack to pour his heart into his performance but it didn’t matter to his father that Jack was doing what he loves. Instead, he is shocked so much that he falls into illness and dies. Rogin illuminated the idea that Jack has problems with his identity where he wants to embrace his Jewish tradition but also wants to pursue his love for jazz music. The clash between tradition and modernity resurfaces and becomes more poignant because of the death of the traditional view and the reinforcing power of modern times on younger generations.

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    1. I was very shocked when Jack Robin was shown in blackface, as well. The film was very mesmerizing and I loved the fact that you really had to pay attention too it. I thought the acting was really good; to be able to convey their feelings with using barely any words was impressive. I thought, that even though the blackface was very shocking, it was very interesting that they held it off till the very end to show the audience that was what Jack was doing. However, back when this movie was made blackface was more common that it is now a days so the audience could have very well known that Jack was doing that, compared to all of us now who were utterly shocked by it.

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    2. I was also very surprised by the use of blackface, I had not seen a film use it before. However, I also was caught up in the story at times and Jackie’s struggle. I felt the movie depicted the traditional culture and the traditional Jewish father as sort of the bad guy. In modern times I think different cultures are looked on more positively.

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  17. The film was much better than I initially expected. I had never seen anything like that, and it was rather intriguing. It did make me also have to fully focus on this, and I had to make sure at there was nothing around me to distract me. Which in return made me fully get into the film. This also being a silent film it makes you focus on the expressions to really feel their moods.

    The struggles that were in this film were how a young man is having to pick between following his dreams as a jazz singer, or obeying his fathers choices of him being a cantor. Especially in this era when you really didn’t go against your father, and you definitely didn’t go against your religion. He luckily got to do both, but in today’s society everyone is more opened to different opinions and choices.
    We have a young man who is wanting to take a step into a “New world” and change the way he is living his current life. He is wanting to step away from his lifestyle as a Jewish young man, yet he feels as if he has to do what is accepted in his family. Even though he sees in the outside world that doing different things is okay.
    Rogin’s argument is with modernism and traditions. He explains how uses the “blackface” and uses it as a new identity and uses it as its theme. It was also a way for Jewish people to migrate into American films.
    Rogins arguments shows me that problems that they were dealing with back then with acceptance and understanding is still alive and a problem today.

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    1. I’m still very unsure how I feel about the ending of The Jazz Singer. I absolutely had to stop watching whenever Jack was forced to choose between his family and the theatre. To make it end with just him getting the best of both world I think ruined it. It’s both satisfying, since it is a happy ending, and disappointing due to it being a convenient one. Rogin’s argument is quite sound, and it’s something I think I skimmed over when reading it. I really was more focused on how the main actor, Al Jolson, influenced and used blackface as a theme.

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      1. I agree with you about the ending, and it felt forced to me. There isn’t a single instance in the film, until the end, where we are shown Jakie having any sort of devotion to his religion. I would have preferred for them to show some prior events leading up to him leaving so that the return to his family would be more believable. I think this happy ending, where Jakie gets the best of both worlds, is more indicative of American films as a whole. It is rare that the main character in American made films loses in any way, but I understand that no matter how believable the plot, the underlying messages are more important to the director.

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    2. I think what makes the Jazz Singer special is that the struggle of going against what your family wants, while certainly not as rigid as in the past, is still a very relevant emotional struggle. It’s something I and I’m sure many others can relate to, and I think that relating to art is one of the most important aspects of appreciating it fully. So for the Jazz Singer’s central focus to be what is still a universally felt, timeless conflict goes a long way in securing its place in time.

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      1. A completely agree with you that one of the struggles represented in the Jazz Singer is the conflict between doing what one’s family wants vs. doing what you want to. I think it was interesting that the film had a clear focus of that.

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  18. While watching the film, The Jazz Singer, my initial response was an appreciation for the actors who were given the task of portraying emotion and dialogue with audible conversation. I especially enjoyed seeing the actors overly dramatize their body language and facial expressions during solo scenes. For example, when Mama was nervous about the fate of her husband while he was on his sick bed, I felt nervous for her as I watched her fidget in her seat and grasp at her hands.
    As the film progressed, and Jack’s character experienced the bitter struggle between seizing the opportunity to be a breakout Broadway star and honoring his father by singing at the synagogue for The Day of Atonement, I empathized with his pain and turmoil and felt a sense of compassion for him. However, when Jack’s character was preparing for the show and began applying shoe polish to face so that he could perform in blackface, the compassion I felt just before had turned to disgust. At no other point in the film was it made apparent that Jack’s jazz singing would be done with blackface, but I had to remember to consider the era of the film and how many white actors and singers would don blackface to allow themselves to exude larger than life personalities.
    In comparison to contemporary films that I enjoy, The Jazz Singer had a strong plot and storyline that held the attention of the audience and presented a conflict that had to be resolved.
    The film introduces themes of religion in that Jack’s family is traditionally Jewish and has been cantors of hymns for five generations. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the film also included themes of secularism as Jack chose to seemingly disregard his traditional family values to pursue a career a jazz singer and use his voice for entertainment rather than to sing to God.
    The portrayal of immigration and race in this film are not much different from most modern films that are centered around the twentieth century as religious and racial segregation was the norm. This is largely because in the 1900s, immigration into the United States from all over the world was extremely high rate, and blacks were still considered to be lower class citizens. For example, while Jack’s love interest was dancing in the Broadway show, she had a handmaiden waiting on her, who was a black woman, and she did not speak much. In one of my favorite movies, The Notebook, which was also set in the twentieth century, most of the wait staff were black men and women who spoke very little.
    In Blackface, White Noise, the author Michael Rogin argues that while in blackface, white actors feel comfortable being expressive and exuberant because they are essentially masked. Specifically, Jewish immigrants would use blackface to integrate them into mainstream society. “The beholder’s eye alienates the black man form his bodily interior, inflicting an epidermal consciousness on the black masked as white; he is forced to experience himself as he is seen. That same shift from embodiment to eye allows the blackface performer to speak from his own, authentically felt, interior.” (81).
    In my opinion, Rogin’s argument illuminates the film in that Jack’s Jewish background was masked by blackface as a means to integrate him into the limelight, and ultimately as far removed from his traditions as possible. The symbolic use of blackface at the point in the film when Jack was faced with a life altering decision to either continue on with the show, or sing for his father one last time weaves together Jack’s desire to be a jazz singer and to be at his father’s side before he died.

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    1. I totally agree with you in that the portrayal of immigration and race in the film is still quite relevant in modern films. It’s an issue that is still not resolved no matter how much years have passed since the making of this film. Overall great response.

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    2. I also was astonished at how well the actors were able to really convey the plot line with their facial expressions. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to do especially when there is no dialogue; they had their work cut out for them. I feel as though the effect of The Jazz Singer would not have the same effect if there was audible dialogue. I also though that you made a very good point when you mentioned secularism and traditions-someone so young such as Jack seemed to have a solid understand of what was expected of him versus what he planned to accomplish for himself. That alone showed his determination to break the traditional or modern mold of his time.

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  19. To be honest the film made me fell a bit uncomfortable when it showed the protagonist in blackface performing his songs. It was pretty decent film, one that I thought I be completely bored out of my mind since it is actually a black and white silent film. Although I did find it somewhat compelling and interesting of depicting the struggle of a Jewish man trying to escape his Jewish traditions in order to become a jazz singer and up until i read that he doesn’t actually sing any jazz is also interesting. It actually depicts a familiar story that some films today embodied the majority of the plot which is that someone in a family wants to do something completely different from what their family traditions entails, therefore makes the story a still universal to the present day.

    The themes the film suggest through the protagonist’s struggles are ones of tradition and modernity. The theme of tradition is a huge one, one that Jack refuses to accustomed to since his love for performing jazz changed the perspective he had for his Jewish traditions. On the other hand his father thinks he should completely oblige to since it is a tradition which creates the conflict between their family forcing Jack to leave his traditions behind. The theme of modernity comes into play since it is what Jack embodies by therefore being a Jewish man and wanting to be a jazz singer, which his father refuses to see since he is from a different generation and stubbornly disapproving of these modern traditions of singing jazz.

    The film’s portrayal of immigration and race compares to our time still familiar, since many form of literature and films today present some of the exact same struggles the protagonist and his family experience. In today’s films even though it is an animated film , Zootopia is a perfect example of the struggles of the protagonist go through just switching a race to species of animals. In Zootopia it tells the story of a bunny entering the police enforcement which is highly unlikely for a bunny to do so, and although her parents are more understanding of her decision to break the bunny’s tradition, it shows how stereotyped the lives of animals can be and very difficult to break the mold of their said customs with outside forces telling them just that. Zootopia is one of many films that do exactly this.

    Rogin’s argument in his article “Blackface White Noise”, suggest that although I found Jack’s blackface to be uncomfortable, is really a pioneer movement for many people of the Jewish tradition and took as a performance mask that allowed modernism of their time period to be accepted just as much Blacks wanted to be accepted as equal. Rogin states that “Blackface also gives Jack access to allegedy black qualities intense emotionality and the musical expression that results from it” (102), which means that the mask they would wear, allowed for them to be wanting to fell accepted even though it argued against past traditions.

    The argument that Rogin makes in his article kind of makes the uncomfortableness that was the blackface performance feel a little less so uncomfortable. Although it is frowned upon in today’s times that blackface is in no way a right thing to do, back then it feels sort of acceptable in order for modernists to feel such way. So in some ways his argument made the film a bit more pleasant after the viewing.

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    1. I agree with the discomfort you felt from watching Jack apply shoe polish to his face and prepare to perform in black face. I wasn’t prepared to see that happen, and it caught me a bit off guard. Outside of short clips from news media discussing black face, I had never seen a movie where black face was used. This was an interesting situation for me.

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    2. I hadn’t really thought of it, but Zootopia is a pretty fair comparison, I think. Especially since they constantly point out to the bunny that she doesn’t belong there as if she wasn’t already aware that she was the first of her kind/the odd man out. They also refer to the fact that she’s not only a bunny but a bunny from out in the country where her family owns a farm and belittle her for it, so it also brings a bit of the class issues involved in immigration and the way immigrants are viewed as well.

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      1. I am in agreement with you. What a good comparison. I enjoyed watching zootopia and I never would have been able to relate the two if it weren’t mentioned here. They constantly referred to the bunny as an outsider. She was looked upon as an inferior animal who was not smart enough, or strong enough to perform her job.

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    3. I agree, that the theme of tradition was a very important aspect of the film. However, the way Jack struggled between tradition and the modern ruled, I think, made the ending of the film flawed. Jack never wants anything to do with his religion but then gets the most of best worlds at the end. I thought the ending was unrealistic and not true to the struggle of blending tradition and modernity.

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  20. I really enjoyed watching The Jazz Singer. Although it seemed to have a very slow pace to it, the story line itself was what caught my attention. I will say, the use of blackface in the film did surprise me, it was rather unexpected. You would definitely not see Blackface in a movie today so that kind of made me forget that it happened at all to begin with. It compares to contemporary films that I enjoy through the basic premise of the plot. Jackie Rabinowitz left his father’s teachings and lifestyle in order to follow his own dream of singing jazz music. His father shuns him because of his choice but in the end, they do reconcile. Jackie sacrifices his career for his father but unsurprisingly things still work out for him. Similarly, one of the main characters in The Help, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, challenges everything society has taught her since she was a child. Growing up in Jackson, Skeeter was taught that “the help” should always be put in their place. Following her own path, she sets off to write an expository piece about the lives of “the help.” When the book is published Skeeter is shunned by her high school friend, Hilly. Hilly and Skeeter do not reconcile but Skeeter does end up on better terms with her mother, whom previously held the same principles as Hilly. In the end, it all works out for Skeeter too. Jackie Rabinowitz is expected to be the Cantor and sing for his god because that is tradition. More than once it is mentioned that his family has a legacy of being the Cantor at their synagogue. It is expected of him to be the next Cantor and for him to see it as the highest of honors, so for him to break away from that type of religious life to live out his dream of being a jazz singer is where modernity shines through. When he is faced with either singing for his father or singing on Broadway, what he is actually debating is, breaking away from tradition or moving on from it. He did both in a way. Created his own path. I did not really think much about the portrayal of immigration and race in the film, just that Jackie’s family seemed to be really stuck in their ways. Especially his father. His mother seemed more inclined to assimilate to the times. As far as race, Jackie performed in blackface and that made him more likable to the audience. In films, today, race is embraced more through the accomplishments of a particular race rather than just the physical traits they posses. Rogin’s argument is that blackface allowed Jewish immigrants to be a part of America. Rogin’s argument illuminates the film for me because Jackie used blackface and that kind of marks the point where he is now assimilated to the ways of America. He has broken away from tradition and become a part of something new.

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    1. I agree that the film was slow to start. The screens with printed dialogue remained in screen for about a minute or so, whereas modern film is typically heavy in dialogue and fast paced. This could likely be a reflection of the times, as the twenties reflected a much slower and easy going lifestyle. For example, vehicles in the twentieth century reached top speeds of twenty miles per hour, whereas everything in our current society is lightning-speed, much like our conversations and quick access to nearly any media resource.

      I was also taken by surprise watching Jack’s character put on black face before his performance. Prior to that moment, there hadn’t been any inclination that his character would wear black face at all. For me, it was quite uncomfortable and even offensive to watch this scene, but I had to take into account the era from which the film was derived.

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    2. I too felt that the film was running at a slow pace but it did eventually get intriguing when Jackie is shun by his father for performing jazz songs instead of it Jewish traditions. I also agree that Rogin’s argument for the reason for Jackie performing in blackface did help understand the importance of why such thing which is frowned upon today, helped immigrants feel united with the ways of America. Great response.

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  21. The film The Jazz Singer is very different from contemporary films. Most notable was the exaggerated emotions and facial expressions, the lack of sound, and the focus on story. I found in comparison with modern films the silent film required more attentions because you have to read the intertitles. The emphasis is placed on the story rather than the scenery or action.
    The film depicts Jack’s struggle to assimilate into American Society against the wishes of his father. Jack’s father takes on the role of the villain by throwing him out and separating mother and son. The movie ends happily, with Jack fulfilling his father’s wish and singing for Yom Kippur, and then going on to sing on Broadway with both his traditional mom and modern girlfriend present. With Jack’s father’s death the old traditions go with him. It is out with the old and in with the new. The process of assimilation and the shedding of the old traditions is depicted in a positive way, while the old traditions are shown as divisive and oppressive. This theme is also reflected in the choice of music. The scenes in the coffee shop and on Broadway feature happy upbeat tunes while the music featured in the traditional settings is somber. Also the way the house and his parents never change during the years, is like time is standing still and the world is going by them with their participation. Unlike the son who is shown traveling and taking new opportunities.
    The film presents Jewish tradition as being a hindrance to modernization and ultimately as something that should be left in the past in favor of assimilation. In modern TV and film diversity of culture is something that is embraced and considered important to people’s identity. In modern culture and film such as Crash (2004) prejudice towards immigrants and different races is recognized, but in The Jazz Singer as Rogin takes note in his article, Jewish tradition gets all the blame and no outside bias towards Jews is recognized.In Rogin’s article he implies that the blackface is used as a sort of scapegoat.

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  22. To be quite honest, this is the first movie from the 1920’s I have watched. Therefore, my expectations for this movie were rather low. Despite my unfamiliarity with older films, I was shockingly intrigued by the movie. I noticed that I actually had to pay close attention while watching this movie because of the many scenes with written descriptions. If I were to doze off from the screen, I would have missed many important gestures and expressions of the characters. I noticed that in many contemporary movies I enjoy such as Juno, The Notebook, and Gladiator, I did not have to pay such close attention in order to fully grasp the movie. For example, I could doze of during those movies and still put the pieces together. I could close my eyes and still know what is going on in those contemporary movies because the actors speak constantly. In this film, however, I had to actually analyze the scenes myself. I had to closely listen to the mood of the music, analyze the characters’ expressions, and not move my eyes off of the screen in order to understand the entire film. I feel like I had to think more during this movie and dig deep into my inner human emotions. In contemporary movies, I feel like directors use speech to move their audiences whereas films like the Jazz Singer uses the combination of music and expressions the audience’s own imagination to elicit various responses.

    Additionally, the protagonist, Jakie, was faced adversity when deciding to leave his Jewish family in order to pursue his individualistic aspirations. His father wanted him to conform to their traditions but Jakie was too “Americanized” and wanted to do what his heart desired, and that was singing Jazz music. He had to break free from his family, who was stuck in the past, in order to live his life as a young, eccentric adult. Rogin’s argues that blackface gives identity and a way for Jewish and blacks to be in the spotlight of American entertainment. It was interesting that Jakie was nearly straying away from his Jewish roots by being involved in Jazz, but Jazz mainly an African American art form. Jakie was involved in something that was not tied to his race.

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    1. I enjoyed listening to the music of The Jazz Singer as well, and just the times when Al Jolson was singing. The background music definitely tied in with the story. This was a movie that you had to watch closely in order to understand everything. And while I still have problems concerning the blackface that shows at the end of the movie, I still enjoyed hear Jakie singing his songs.

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    2. I had not seen a 1920’s film either, and I also found that in order to understand the movie I had to watch it closely unlike modern films where you can zone out in parts and still understand them. The music that was used in the film contributed to the films themes on traditionalism and modernism.

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    3. Like yourself, this was also one of the first times I watched a movie from the 20s. I was interested in how much cinema has evolved and developed throughout history. This movie defintiely helped to usher in a new genre of film, otherwise known as the “talkie”. Racial depiction and controversies aside, I thought this film was beneficial towards the art of filmmaking, due to how revolutionary it was.

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  23. I guess I was supposed to leave my answers in the comments? I sent it via making a new blog post, but I was not sure. I’ll post my answers here.

    1) How did you respond to the film? How does it compare – be as specific as you can – to contemporary films you enjoy?

    The Jazz Singer was quite excellent and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Jakie, or Jack as he is referred to throughout the film, was an interestingly dynamic character that ended up very enjoyable, and the rest of the supporting characters made his struggle feel very real. It goes without saying that it’s quite different from movies made today; it is a black-and-white, silent film after all. But, looking more into it, this was actually one of the first films to break out of silent films since it primarily presented singing and dialogue between characters without complete reliance on intertitles. As I looked more into the film however, and read Rogin’s review of the film, I was disappointed that the version shown was a censored version. However, the censorship in the film didn’t exactly deflect the content of the film.

    2) What themes about tradition and modernity does the film introduce through the protagonist’s struggles? Be specific.

    The obvious theme presented throughout the film is the struggle between living a pious life and living what we would describe as a ‘modern’ life. Jack at the end of the film has to struggle whether to sing at the synagogue in his father’s place, or perform at Broadway where his life will skyrocket towards the fame and fortune he’s dreamed of. While the film does give Jack a happy ending to all of this, the struggle to decide between betraying your family or reconciling with them was actually hard to watch. There’s an obvious two-faced identity with Jack, as shown early when the protagonist changed his name. In both the modern and postmodern day, it’s a very real struggle whether you should live to the expectations that the previous generation set up, or if you should pave your own way to the future.

    3) How does its portrayal of immigration and race compare to their representation in our time, in a work of literature or film you are familiar with?

    I think it goes without saying that the primary detail you see at the end of the film is the infamous ‘black face’ seen back in that era. From a glance, it’s quite offensive, but looking more at the actor’s history, it seems that he was actually one of the first to bridge African-American art and music to the people. Would the portrayal of someone in black face be entirely unnecessary? Of course it would be; the film is quite controversial because it. When it comes to the portrayal of the Jewish, I think it was amazingly tame compared to how certain films would villainize them, or make them a race of sympathy. You could easily replace the Jewish with Christians and the message could very well be the same.

    4) What is Rogin’s argument? Summarize it briefly, with minimal quotations.

    Rogin points out primarily the huge unfairness of critics looking at The Jazz Singer, stating that it should be given a lot more credit than other films that featured blackface. Due to the presence of blackface, it is heavily criticized and overshadows the “equal weight to all three stories” the film provides. He also gives note that the film did several favors to the cinematic world, such as being the first film to bring sound to movies. One part of his argument primarily is that blackface “has two meanings… heightened authenticity and American acceptance for the (Jewish) individual, subordination for the anonymous (black) mass”.

    5) In what ways does Rogin’s argument illuminate the film for you, if it does?

    Rogin’s argument is sound throughout most of his review. The Jazz Singer definitely addresses many issues and has multiple themes of interests hidden in each and every one of its scenes. It’s hard to really appreciate how jazz was seen back then as opposed to how it is today. One of the primary arguments within the paper talks about jazz and what it meant to Jack’s father, and what it meant for Jack himself. It’s quite interesting, but once you reach the end of the film, where most critics focus on, it’s unfortunately overshadowed. Overall, it definitely did point out some stuff I didn’t think of when watching the film.

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  24. Stephanie Shamblin

    1) How did you respond to the film? How does it compare – be as specific as you can – to contemporary films you enjoy?
    I enjoyed the film, but it was a little silly the way Jolson was so excited about his three loves, jazz, Mary and his mother. His enthusiasm was unrealistic to me. I found it odd that the only black I remember is the girl following Mary. I also thought that he would be wearing the blackface in more of his performances.
    2) What themes about tradition and modernity does the film introduce through the protagonist’s struggles? Be specific.
    His main struggle was between the pressure from his father wanting him to carry on the tradition of singing for his religion and family, and his love and desire to sing jazz. The differences between the two genres is profound. One being very dull and the other being very exciting.
    3) How does its portrayal of immigration and race compare to their representation in our time, in a work of literature or film you are familiar with?
    One that comes to mind is the Harry Potter series. Harry has a miserable life with a family that hates him. He gets his big break when he finally gets the opportunity to immigrate to Hogwarts. At Hogwarts, there is racial discrimination against the muggle born Hermione. Even after a year at Hogwarts his family still tries to keep him locked up and keep him from what he was born to do.
    4) What is Rogin’s argument? Summarize it briefly, with minimal quotations.
    Life was tough on immigrants, Jewish or other. Blackface represented oppressed blacks and Jews and to hide your ethnicity by changing your name and covering his face. Perhaps if he acts black people won’t see him as a Jew.
    5) In what ways does Rogin’s argument illuminate the film for you, if it does?
    I was surprised to read how the real life of Sam Warner was the influence for the movie. I watched the film thinking it was just another movie about a child wanting to lead a more modern life than the traditional one of his parents, but found that it was a little more in depth regarding acceptance of race and religion.

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  25. I was familiar with the film so I was expecting some disturbing blackface and racial stereotypes. I love musicals, but when it comes to older musicals it is very apparent that they were meant for a particular audience. An audience lacking diversity if you know what I mean. I think it’s important to keep watching these films to remind us that not long ago this was socially acceptable. There was something strange about Jack Robin talking about his race and the cry of his people while in blackface. How he looked in the mirror and saw his father. As soon as he put on his black makeup his posture changed and he slumped more with his neck out. Why was it necessary for him to slump?

    Jakie, or Jack, is the main character who is trying to live his dream. Unfortunately, his dream and his father’s dream did not align. His father wanted him to take on the position of a Jewish cantor and follow the footsteps of the patriarchs in his family. Jakie, on the other hand wanted to sing in the theater and make it big. This is a theme we see in current films as well. The parent who holds traditional views against the son or daughter who want to branch out and do something different. This film seems to glorify the American dream. This new American dream has no room for old traditional values. The Jewish father is seen as out dated and rigid.

    The way the film handled immigrants and race is strange to me. There were no black people in the film, just the blackface performances. He claimed to play jazz, but there was no improvisation, a key element found in jazz. He played and sang minstrel music instead. He wanted to be an African American performer but he still wanted to relate to the audience. A film that was made decades later, The Benny Goodman Story, had a much better approach. While the storyline differs in that Benny didn’t suffer the loss of his family over his dream, it is similar in that he has the American dream and it’s to be a jazz musician. Now Benny Goodman was an actual successful jazz musician and he had a mixed race band. He was one of the first bandleaders to do so. In the movie, there are African American men playing the roles of African American jazz musicians. Even though Benny himself is white, he doesn’t put on a blackface sing minstrel songs and call himself a jazz musician. He was a jazz musician because he played jazz. He didn’t mock or appropriate the music. Sure, the film was decades later, but blackface was still going on. I believe the last recorded blackface minstrel show was on a television show sometime in the fifties. The Benny Goodman Story is a much better example of the American dream and jazz music without belittling an entire race.

    Rogin had a great argument. He pointed out the differences between films with blackface and films without. The anti-semitism and racism found in the film is fueled by minstrelsy and a response to the Jewish influence in the film industry.

    His argument made me think about why the film was portrayed the way it was. We have this way of romanticizing groups of people that have been marginalized in the past, from the Romani people to African American slaves. Minstrelsy served to fuel this curiosity of the South from a Northern perspective. They took African American music and mixed in European melodies and harmonies to make the music sound more familiar to the audience. Then they claimed their music was authentic jazz or African music. Exoticism and appropriation both take place. A curiosity without any compassion. No human interest.

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    1. I think he slumped because he was disappointed with himself and knew his father was too. He loves singing “jazz” but the familial pull was taking hold and taking the enjoyment out of his lifestyle. For once, he sincerely cared about the life he left behind.

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  26. When I first began to watch this film, I thought it was going to be long and boring, especially since it wasn’t in color. To my surprise it was quite interesting. I initially responded with feeling of empathy towards the young boy. Though I thought he was bit young to be so defiant, I felt his passion for singing. I think that everyone is entitled to their own views however, the boy was only 13 years of age and therefore needed to respect his family values. This film showcased how passionate this young man was about singing. He was ready to give up family traditions to follow his dream as a Jazz singer. The story presents an interesting twist when he puts on the black face. He was way too comfortable wearing it. So much so, that I began to feel uncomfortable. With that said, Rogin introduced very important information that shed light on the wearing of the black face. He mentions how Jews and Blacks were seen as inferior to whites and how performing in a black mask helped Jews blend into society. This piece of information made me ponder the idea of the wearing of the black mask. I began to think that the boy was in search of worldly acceptance all along.

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    1. I completely agree with your response on The Jazz Singer and what Rogin wrote about. I noticed that you mentioned how the boy was 13 years old and he should respect his family values. I also agree with that because ideally no one that young would walk out on there family however from watching the film I noticed that his love and passion for singing overpowered his families belief. I felt uncomfortable seeing the blackface as well however reading Rogins article opened my eyes to why they were doing it back then.

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      1. Rogin’s article served as a reference to me as well. I believe that he argued that blackface wasn’t seen as controversial in the 20s, because it was during this time that whiteness determined someone’s American rights. Because racial division was prominent in the 20s, it wasn’t seen as uncomfortable or wrong. In fact, the way the Jazz Singer portrayed black people was commonplace during this time.

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  27. When I first began watching The Jazz Singer I was completely bored, however as the movie went on I began to become more and more intrigued. The films I watch are nothing like this film. For example, I watch Marvel movies, which are mostly filled with action and comedic relief; they do not require a lot of attention to get the gist of the story. With The Jazz Singer it was the opposite, because of the lack of talking it required me to pay more attention to facial expressions and background music. It also required paying attention to the sentences it would show from time to time.

    The film is about Jack Robin’s struggles with his family obligations and his dreams. Through his struggles we can see the clash between the Jewish tradition and wanting to fit into this new modern world. We see how strong tradition is for the older generation and how the younger generation wants to grow into this new modern idea of life, leaving tradition behind. It’s portrayal of immigration and race is different from our time because of the way a Jewish man, who is from a family of immigrants, is trying to find his place by using blackface as a way to step away from his traditions.

    Rogin argues that blackface was a way for American Immigrants to become more American, in other words it was a way for them to fit in and leave their old traditions behind. “Blackface may seem not to express Jewishness at all but to hide it, so that even your own mother wouldn’t know you” (99-100). Jack Robin uses blackface to hide his Jewish identity. Rogin’s argument gave a little bit of an explanation of blackface because when watching the film it caught me off guard when Jack Robin was in blackface. His argument showed how even white immigrants struggled to fit in, in America.

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    1. I agree with you, it was like nothing I’ve seen before. The movie does require the audience to pay attention so that they are able to understand what is going on. There is conflict between the older generation which sticks to tradition and the younger generation which are interested in the modern world. The blackface seems to be the mask that the younger generation uses to disguise their past.

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    2. You mentioned that you were paying more attention to the facial expressions since there was rarely any talking in the film. I thought that this was interesting because the acting was more similar to stage and theater productions than film as we know it today. The subtlety of modern acting couldn’t possibly achieve the same effect that Crosland was attempting. The facial and physical mannerisms needed to be exaggerated in order for us to be engaged due to the lack of any real dialogue.
      I think almost everyone in this blog agree that blackface made us feel uncomfortable. Although Rogin’s argument seems to have made us all feel a little less uneasy, it makes me wonder what people a century from now will think when studying the film. I imagine that as time passes and cultural and societal progression continues, this film will only become more and more difficult for newer generations to watch.

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  28. As most of my classmates have stated, the appearance of blackface is unnerving. Watching this years and years later is hard to digest the blatant racism that is appearing in the film. Often times we tend to forget that these events, such as blackface, surely happened in history so to be exposed to it in a form of entertainment is something to be spoken about. Surely this film was meant to be shown to a particular (white) audience at the time and this all may have come across as normal and even comedic. During the first half of the film, I was unamused. I felt as though the movie was dragging on however I knew that since there was no noise I had to focus a lot more on what was actually happening. However as the plot continued I felt not only empathy for Jack Robin but frustration for the circumstances he is put under-choosing between his family or his passion for singing. Personally, I find that musicals are the worst kind of movies out there and on top of that it’s a black and white movie….not typically a fan, however I did find the Jazz Singer sort of amusing. One of my personal favorite movies is The Help and these two films share somewhat similar themes such as racism and injustice in a community.

    What themes about tradition and modernity does the film introduce through the protagonist’s struggles? Be specific.
    Jack was ready to challenge the traditional Jewish customs of his family in order to follow his passion for singing. What he thought was a beneficial decision for himself was not what his family seemed to agree with. He outwardly challenged the modernity of what his family knew to be “normal” or “traditional” and was met with backlash.

    How does its portrayal of immigration and race compare to their representation in our time, in a work of literature or film you are familiar with?
    As previously pointed out by others, blackface is simply something that is no longer accepted in present day, which is vastly contrasted to the way it was presented in The Jazz Singer which was used for entertainment purposes. Fast forward to present day immigration is still a very heavy issue, all you would need to do is turn on the news to witness the monstrosity that our Executive branch is conducting. As for films that portray similar racial faux pas I would have to say The Help (2011) would be a good example.

    What is Rogin’s argument? Summarize it briefly, with minimal quotations.
    Robin was trying to hybridize American culture with that of Jewish custom. What may seem racist in modern times was actually used by Rogin to help him become better integrated into Ameican culture with a Jewish identity. While having to choose between living his dream or obeying deep rooted Jewish customs is something that young Rogin had to balance out at a very young age.

    In what ways does Rogin’s argument illuminate the film for you, if it does?
    I can commend Rogin for challenging the typical status quo of his time at such a young age, 13 I believe. The ending was a bit disappointing seeing how he did get the best of both worlds, I found it predictable.

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  29. The Jazz Singer is a memorable film, released in the 20s, and one which introduced a refreshing formula for the movie industry. It was the first “talkie” or the first film to introduce sound. However, although it has consistently been seen as revolutionary, it has all the while been seen as controversial as well.

    Perhaps the film is most memorable for its interesting use of “blackface”, as actor Al Jolson famously painted his face black to appear as an African American. Today, this stunt is widely seen as racist and in bad taste. However, just recently in the contemporary film White Chicks, the Wayans brothers decided to pull a reverse black face, and made themselves appear as stereotypical dumb, blonde white women. Surprisingly, this was seen as excusable comedy, and the film was made less than 15 years ago. Questions about the morality of the film were rarely brought up. This leads me to wonder: why is this example of racial dress-up hardly questioned and seen as entertainment, and less severe than The Jazz Singer? Meanwhile the use of blackface, which was used to actually serve as a statement on society, is almost unanimously seen as crude and racist. Although these two films are drastically different in the storytelling, these two examples of racial portrayal couldn’t be more similar. After all, the casts of each film deemed it necessary to dress up as someone outside of their respective ethnicities.

    In the article “Blackface, White Noise” author Michael Rogin relays the idea that Jolson “Puts on the mask of a group that must remain fixed at the bottom.” After all, this film was made during a time of intense racial strife between blacks and whites in America. This strife was the norm, or tradition of the 20s. An example of modernism occurs when Jack refuses to sing to his father during the day of atonement, instead choosing to fulfill his acting dreams. This rejection of religion and his portrayal of the Jazz Singer marked a symbol of a new way of thinking, an example of leaving behind past philosophy and adopting a new one.

    In essence, Rogin’s argument, which came from viewing The Jazz Singer, is that it was made in a time that performing as blackface was not quite so controversial. In fact, it was normalized, as this practice was commonly seen in many playwrights and films. Not only that, but putting on blackface was seen as a humorous way to depict the stereotypes that negros had been given, in a society that favored whites. During this time, the measure of one’s whiteness was a measure of their American selves. As Rogin put it, “Segregation was only half of white supremacy, for it coexisted alongside racial cross-dressing.” This argument helped me to understand the philosophies and background of American culture during the time in which the film was made. In a time that whites reigned supreme, it was fair game to depict almost any other ethnicity, as long as whites weren’t being offended themselves.

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  30. I have to admit when I first began watching The Jazz Singer I was completely bored. As I got further into the movie it became a little interesting tome. The movies I usually watch are nothing like this. With the film I had to actually concentrate on the film well I was watching it. I had to watch in in depth for the facial expressions and body language because of the lack of talking. This is something I am not used to doing the movies I watch are all action with talking.
    The film is about Jack’s struggle with his dreams and his family. You can see how tradition is strong in the older generation and the younger one are pushing to be more modern than traditional. The young boy was so ready to leave tradition to follow his dream of becoming a jazz singer. The boy then went back to wearing the black face. Then there was interesting information told about the meaning of the black face. Wearing the black mask help jews blend into society since jews and blacks were considered inferior.

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  31. Hi class,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments on The Jazz Singer. I appreciate your insights about the different modes of performance in the film and contemporary movies; please keep those in mind as you listen to early recordings of poets reading their work, and think about how their modes of performance compare with your expectations for poetry reading.

    Please make sure you do address my prompts fully, and avoid grammatical errors and going off topic too much. While we began with a film, our subsequent blog responses will always require textual evidence to illustrate and develop your ideas.

    Certainly the use of blackface in the film is disturbing! If you need an antidote to it, watch Spike Lee’s 2000 film Bamboozled! Part of Rogin’s argument about the film is that Jakie Rabinowitz, in order to succeed on Broadway, assimilates to white culture not only by adopting an Anglo name — Jack Robin — but by adopting the racist persona of blackface. The blackface minstrelsy that he performs is rural nostalgia for the pre-Civil War slavery era, which imagines African-Americans as happy and emotive. The cultural locale of his performances — a rapidly modernizing urban setting of New York, with a growing immigrant population — embraces popular music form associated with racist rural nostalgia, not the jazz (ragtime, to be more specific) that Jakie / Jake loves.

    The conflicts between tradition and modernity play out in the generational conflict in the Rabinowitz family, and also between sacred music, minstrelsy and jazz. The racism against and cultural appropriation of African-Americans and their art forms, the implied context of an anti-Semitic America that would not allow Jakie / Jack to succeed under his own name, and the somewhat threatening figure of the independent woman (opposed to the mother figure) will persist in modernist texts. A rapidly changing American generated considerable anxiety about national identity and modernization and traditional gender, racial, and ethnic roles, and we will see these themes play out in our readings.

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  32. I enjoyed the film because I appreciate the classical aspects of film. The mannerisms of the actors and actresses were appropriate for the period, but would fail in a contemporary theater because they are directed towards an audience of a different era. In relation to newer films, the editing and themes were very similar to contemporary film; however, it is a bit dated due to the expectations of the audience during that time period.

    Thematically, the film presents the dichotomy between traditional practice versus new-age progression. Jakie is torn between adhering to his father’s strict religious discipline and following his heart singing the music he loves – jazz. His father has no belief in the merit of the music Jake loves; instead, he stubbornly denies his son, leaving his supportive mother torn, between father and son, in the middle.

    The way race and migrants were portrayed in this film in starkly different than contemporary cinema. This film was created before any sort of progressive civil rights movements had taken place and segregation was still prevalent in the southern United States. Contemporary films, such as American History X, which face race head-on, differ from The Jazz Singer because the way in which race is handled is in a more direct and stern manner; whereas in Jazz Singer the normalcy in which the racist blackface paint is presented is from a far less educated and evolved societal pedestal.

    Rogin’s argument speaks to the fact that immigrants to America are always searching for pathways to assimilation. When people migrate to the United States they are in search of the quality and freedom they did not have in their home country. In choosing to have the Jewish protagonist portray an African-American man, the filmmakers were illustrating the struggles of minority peoples through the dichotomy of proper religious indoctrination and laissez-faire artistry. Learning Rogin’s stance enriched the experience for me because I was able to observe the connection and ponder the similarities of all immigrant people and helped me identify with the very real struggle they endure.

    Jamie Arneson

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  33. I think one of the most interesting concepts about The Jazz Singer is the use of black face. While granted it was appropriate during the time, in today’s world it is very inappropriate to use. It was very uncomfortable to watch a video such as this. Granted the use of blackface was very prevalent, it was very odd to watch the blatant use of such a technique. It was also interesting to watch a film that presented the themes this film did, such as reaching one’s dreams against the wishes of one’s family.

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