Eighty years ago this Saturday, audiences heard something that most of them had never heard in a movie before: sound. Yes, Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer premiered on Oct. 6, 1927, the first feature-length film to use pre-recorded dialogue. (A few shorts had done it before, and a few features had used music and sound effects but no talking.) And thus the "talkie" was born! Movies have hardly shut up since then.

To celebrate the anniversary, American Cinematheque in Los Angeles is presenting "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet: A Tribute to Al Jolson," a series of Jolson tributes and screenings, all in honor of the man who at one point was known as the World's Greatest Entertainer. (Who has that title now? I can't really think of anyone who qualifies, can you?)

A full run-down of the schedule is here, but these are the major points:
  • Oct. 5: A screening of The Jazz Singer, from a newly restored and digitally projected print.
  • Oct. 6: Richard Halpern performs a live musical revue of Jolson's songs; plus a screening of a 1926 talking short starring Jolson, entitled A Plantation Act; plus a screening of 1946's The Jolson Story, a singing-and-dancing biopic starring Larry Parks as Jolson. There will also be a panel discussion.
Al Jolson was a hugely popular live entertainer, and seeing his act is like seeing a slice of history. The Jazz Singer isn't even a particularly great movie, and it only has a few scenes of dialogue and singing (the rest is a regular ol' silent film). It's certainly jarring to see him in blackface, at a time when that was an acceptable thing to do. But anyone interested in film history ought to see it -- and on the big screen, with a newly restored print...! If you're in L.A., you definitely ought to take advantage of the opportunity.
categories Cinematical