Hollywood’s first talking film marked the beginning of the end for some of cinema’s biggest stars with either squeaky voices or strong Brooklyn accents, but The Jazz Singer did preserve on celluloid the talent of Al Jolson and the remarkable voice of Judaism’s most famous cantor, Joseff Rosenblatt.
It is only a year since The Jazz Singer broke upon us, but the revolution occasioned by this sudden appearance of a talking movie-play has been as thorough as could possibly be imagined. The one regrettable result of the revolution has been the virtual disappearance of the silent picture from the bigger houses on Broadway. Thus the week beginning June 9 witnessed, among the Broadway first runs, fourteen talking pictures and only three silent ones. One need not share the sophomoric enthusiasm which has recently developed for the silent picture, or pay much attention to the confused and often ignorant theories with which this enthusiasm is usually buttressed, to feel distressed at the sight of this wholesale slaughter. It looks as if the silent picture as an entertainment for the masses were definitely facing extinction. A year or so until the picture houses are “wired” for sound in this country, a little longer perhaps in other parts of the world, and the only silent pictures left will be those especially intended for the small ranks of admirers of cinematic art. But, deploring this fact as we may, let us also remember that among the films made during the past twenty-five years one would be hard put to it to count an equal number of cinematic masterpieces (outside of Chaplin’s work, most, though by no means all, of which is certain to survive, thanks to Chaplin’s own genius as a performer). In a sense, therefore, one may welcome the present commercial eclipse of the silent picture as a means of its emancipation from Hollywood with the possibility of its renaissance on an entirely new aesthetic foundation. The technical improvements forecast by the talkies, such as the enlarged projection and effects of color and depth, are also sure to redound to the benefit of the silent picture whose means will thus be enriched for the conquest of forms of expression which are no less fascinating than the flat monochrome of the film of today. And now we may ask what progress has been made during the year of talkies. Judging by the opinions voiced in the press the progress must have been enormous. On closer examination, however, one finds that it is usually the fickle critic’s conversion to the talking picture that is announced as improvement of the pictures themselves.