'The Jazz Singer' Academy Screening

The Jazz Singer by Alan CroslandLast night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the American Cinematheque presented a tribute to the 80th anniversary of The Jazz Singer at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

There were several celebs in attendance, including Rose Marie, Forrest Ackerman, Judy Lewis, Julie Newmar, and Michele Lee, in addition to a nice pre-screening buffet for select guests. (I just happened to get invited by a VIP who had an extra ticket.)

The screening began with an amusing theatrical trailer for The Jazz Singer, hosted by silent film actor John Miljan. Curiously, there was more talking in the trailer than in the entire film it was promoting. As a plus, the trailer offered a fascinating look at the Jazz Singer New York premiere at the Warners' Theatre, including several shots of the celebrity audience.

Host Leonard Maltin made the opening statements, and introduced a few special guests, among them the granddaughter and great-grand children of Eugenie Besserer, who played Al Jolson's mother in the film.

Maltin talked about both the coming of sound and the new The Jazz Singer DVD. The print screened last night was digitally transferred from the original negative while the sound was taken from the original discs found in a private collection.

Maltin's intro was followed by a screening of the 1929 Vitaphone short Baby Rose Marie, The Child Wonder. I had never seen Rose Marie as a child, and I must admit that I was mesmerized by her singing performance. In fact, I thought she outperformed any child star I've ever seen, including Shirley Temple. (That said, I also must admit that don't know how she was at acting.)

After the short, Maltin interviewed Rose Marie, 84, about her career as a child performer. She said that Jolson was a “mean man,” adding that actress-model Evelyn Nesbit gave her the moniker “Baby” Rose Marie – she had originally been named “Dainty” Rose Marie, but Nesbit convinced the girl's father to change it. (“Baby” this or that was a popular show business “title” during the first few decades of the 20th century.)

Now, even though I've never been a huge fan of The Jazz Singer it was a treat seeing the restored print all the same. I was amazed at the quality of both the picture and the sound despite the fact that it wasn't “perfect” for they kept the original flaws, e.g., some scenes are out of sync and there's some accidental looping at certain moments.

According to Maltin, the new DVD includes about 40 Vitaphone shorts, in addition to a documentary on the coming of sound and other unusual extras.

I'm looking forward to it.

© Allan R. Ellenberger.

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