Warner Home Video is leading the way in film restoration and preservation. Their latest effort brings you the special edition box set of Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer (1927) in stunning visual and audio quality.
Although often regarded as the first talking picture, which it is not, it is the first sound film to make such an impact with film audiences that it ushered in the sound era literally overnight! The Jazz singer is really a silent film with a synchronized music score and synchronized sound sequences featuring Jolson performing some of his signature songs. As the film transitions from silence to sound you see and hear why they called Jolson the “World’s Greatest Entertainer”. He is simply hypnotizing and he certainly knows how to handle the new sound technology that ended so many silent actors’ careers. The story comes off as dull and sappy but it’s worth watching for Jolson’s performances and also for its importance in film history.
Also on this disc are some Jolson short subjects including the recently recovered “Plantation Act”, Jolson’s first sound film. The digital restoration work is first rate with picture elements looking as if they were shot yesterday. The remastered soundtrack restored from the best surviving Vitaphone discs sounds excellent and is free of any distracting noise.
Disc 2 contains the documentary “The Dawn of Sound: How movies learned to talk”. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the coming of sound films and the technical obstacles that stood in the way. Also included on this disc and not to be missed are two surviving excerpts from the second ever all-talking film shot in Technicolor, “Gold Diggers of Broadway” from 1929. For some reason the first clip “Tip Toe through the Tulips” is missing from my copy and in its place appears a ballet sequence beautifully shot in two-colour Technicolor, probably from the missing 1930 film “Rouge Song”. I still would like to see Tulips and hope that Warner makes available a disc with the missing number.
What excites me most about this set is the treasure trove of restored Vitaphone shorts on disc three. Here you’ll see (and hear) familiar names like Burns & Allen but you’ll also see forgotten vaudevillians in what may be the only surviving examples of their work! These shorts seen here for the first time since their original release have also received extensive restoration work and they look and sound great.
If you like early sound films this is a must have for your DVD collection!