Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Jazz Singer (1980)

Year 2, Day 12 - 1/12/10 - Movie #377

BEFORE: Last night's film about tribute bands made me think of the trip we took to Las Vegas a few years ago, where we attended a show by Jay White, America's premier Neil Diamond impersonator...sorry, tribute act. What a show it was! I'm actually dipping into my wife's VHS collection tonight, but an unwatched film is an unwatched film.

THE PLOT: The son of a Jewish Cantor must defy his father in order to pursue his dream of being a pop singer.

AFTER: This film shares its title with a 1927 movie that was one of the first "talkies", starring Al Jolson, who made his living putting on blackface makeup and singing Southern spirituals. It was a different time, and that sort of thing is now considered racially offensive. I haven't seen that film, so I didn't see much of a connection here, or why this film would be called "The Jazz Singer", when Neil Diamond clearly sings pop, not jazz.

But then, about 10 minutes into the movie, Jess Robin (Diamond) is approached by his African-American friends, who are a man short for their singing act at an all-black club - and so Neil Diamond slathers on a lot of 1970's instant tanning lotion or something and an afro wig, and pretends to be part of the act! Seriously, performing in blackface in the 1980's? What the heck was he thinking?

The character's full name is Yussel Rabinovitch, and he's an assistant cantor at the Jewish Temple of Bad Stereotypes, on the Lower East Side. He gets a chance to go to L.A. when a rock star wants to record his song "Love on the Rocks", and his wife and father (Laurence Olivier) let him go, provided he doesn't change his name, reject his faith, or fall in love with a shiksa. (uh-oh...)

After 2 weeks in L.A. "Jess Robin" has a demo tape, a manager/love interest, and a gig opening up for a famous comedian, Zany Grey (who we never see in the film...). And after his wife comes to L.A. to see the big concert, the marriage is pretty much over, because clearly there's no way two people can stay together if they have such different interests... So, the marriage gets shrugged off, and nobody seems to have much to say about it (not even the chair...)

But like Chris "Izzy" Cole in "Rock Star", Jess starts acting like a diva, wearing silk shirts and throwing tantrums, so he disappears on a road trip across America to find himself and his music again. And this was in the days before cell phones, so no one can find him, except another musician - because we all know that musicians have built-in tracking software, right?

Points off for unleashing the horrible anthem "Coming to America" upon an unsuspecting populace. But look for cameos from John Witherspoon and (future Ghostbuster) Ernie Hudson in the black club.

RATING: 5 out of 10 yamulkes

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