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Episode 176 - The Jazz Singer: LIVE!


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#1 Elektra Boogaloo

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 08:19 AM

Am I allowed to start a thread even though I am not July? The episode is up.

I am the asshole with the 'Fuck you. I watched this fucking movie, bro!" sign.

#2 grudlian.

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 08:36 AM

I know the official topic got posted late last week and the two threads were merged. With this being a holiday weekend, I'm not sure when the official one will get posted. Also, nice sign!

Correction: The highest award given out for record sales is diamond for 10 million sales. Platinum is 1 million. Gold is 100,000.

Neil Diamond's age is brought up a few times. Neil at 39 is way too old for this story to make much sense but Al Jolson was 41 in the original. Danny Thomas was 40 in the 1950s version. Jerry Lewis was 33 when he made it for an episode of Startime on tv in 1959. If you want to count The Simpsons' episode Like Father Like Clown which is clearly inspired by The Jazz Singer, Krusty's voice actor, Dan Castellaneta, was 37 when the episode aired but Krusty was a much more logical young adult during the falling out with his father.

#3 grudlian.

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 08:58 AM

Does anyone else wonder if Forever NYU is just Neil diamond rewriting the lyrics to Forever In Blue Jeans?

#4 Elektra Boogaloo

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 11:05 AM

I have a theory that Bubba is the real hero of the movie (because Neil Diamond sucks).

June alluded to this when she said Diamond got ahead off the backs of White women and black men, but Bubba is also a singer. He is part of the Black face Band, obviously. And sings backup for Diamond in LA.

What I find odd is the scene where Diamond and Molly are waiting around for Bubba's call. I believe she says Bubba has been bussing tables at a club and talked to the manager about an open slot.

What makes NO SENSE is why he would not take that spot for himself. He is the one who works there, the one busting his hump (and presumably the one who could sing for the manager to prove his talent instead of just relying on a bus boy's word?).

Then there is how awful Diamond is to Bubba. I mean yeah he does him a favor by singing in the Black face Group. But they do get arrested because of it. Then Diamond gets them FIRED from their initial backup gig, singing for that Billy Idol-wannabe. I would say he owes Diamond NOTHING at that point.

Yet he secures the gig for Diamond. Then gets treated like shit by Diamond in the recording session. And despite this he travels ACROSS THE COUNTRY to bring him home when they find him in Texas.

I think this is above and beyond. So Bubba must be the hero, right? Maybe he even sings Jazz and that is why the movie is called the Jazz Singer?


#5 July Diaz

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 11:40 AM

Thanks Elektra Boogaloo! I'll pin your thread to the episode page.
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#6 Blast Hardcheese

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 12:50 PM

My wife and I were initially perplexed why this innocuous-seeming film was picked for this week's episode, so we went to watch the trailer on Amazon prior to watching the movie. It was one of those non-trailer trailers which was actually a cut scene from the film. It featured the minstrel scene in the African-American music club. Yikes...! We instantly realized why it was chosen after that.

This week's episode ironically coincided with my History of Sound in Cinema class's discussion of the introduction of sound in film, and, of course, 1927's The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson, is prominently featured due to it's innovative use of sound. It was how, I am slightly embarrassed (but not too much) to say, I realized 1980's The Jazz Singer was a remake of the 1927 film. So then I got to wondering, what producer (or producers) thought remaking this infamously racially insensitive movie in 1980 was a good idea? That would be like an 80's remake of Birth of A Nation (a film notable for its groundbreaking cinematic achievement in narrative form, yeah, but you know... )

So, back to that club scene: which is more egregious? The black face or the idea that, up until Ernie Hudson outs him, the all-African-American crowd is duped by the ruse and totally into Diamond's act? Like the producers thought that this was a hilarious conceit: fooling black people into believing this white boy in blackface is convincingly pulling it off.

Okay, one last thing: I'm half Jewish myself and my best friend used to date a woman who would do this over-the-top "Jewish voice" thing whenever we'd hang out. I remember not being offended by the stereotypical "oy vey"s and elongated vowels in the middle of her words as much by the fact it wasn't particularly funny. If you're going to do minstrel Jewish voice, bring something new to the game, shiksa.

#7 Elektra Boogaloo

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 01:26 PM

Blast, do you know if the original Jazz Singer was well-received because I thought it was. But then I read your post comparing it to Birth of a Nation and I know that was a huge blockbuster and it was only later that people saw how problematic it was. I guess I thought the original Jazz Singer was still respected with an asterisk?

(Although if it was respected except for the minstrel stuff why make that the one "homage"? Why not do a cover of one that music or have a photo of him somewhere?)

I guess I can't figure out why Diamond didn't just write a new musical if he wrote the songs?

Why did you do this to is, Neil Diamond?

#8 grudlian.

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 01:56 PM

According to Wikipedia, reception to the original Jazz Singer was largely positive. I think that's based on two things: it's the first movie with synchronised sound which blew people away and Al Jolson was extremely popular. I get the impression people reacted almost like a concert.

I happened to see the original earlier this year and it's terrible. If literally any other movie had synchronised sound first, Jazz Singer and Jolson would be almost entirely forgotten. At most, I think it might be a footnote of it weren't the first.

At the very least, I think Neil diamond's version is just kind of boring other than a handful of notably bad parts. Jolson's is just bad.

#9 Wil Dride

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 02:09 PM

The Simpsons captured this story better in a 22 minute episode and Krusty the Clown than this movie did.

#10 SeaSkunk

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 02:58 PM

Every time June said 'minstrel' I heard it as 'menstrual' and at first I thought she was talking about a part of the movie I missed by turning it off half way.

The only time in this movie that Neil Diamond seemed less than cardboard was when he was singing.

#11 Cam Bert

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 03:46 PM

View Postgrudlian., on 24 November 2017 - 01:56 PM, said:

According to Wikipedia, reception to the original Jazz Singer was largely positive. I think that's based on two things: it's the first movie with synchronised sound which blew people away and Al Jolson was extremely popular. I get the impression people reacted almost like a concert.

I happened to see the original earlier this year and it's terrible. If literally any other movie had synchronised sound first, Jazz Singer and Jolson would be almost entirely forgotten. At most, I think it might be a footnote of it weren't the first.

At the very least, I think Neil diamond's version is just kind of boring other than a handful of notably bad parts. Jolson's is just bad.

I just watched the original as well and the one thing I feel it does much better than this version is the conflict about singing at the end.

Like Chris Gethard pointed out the Neil Diamond one is so low stakes. He hasn't talked to his dad who has a minor medical problem that prevents him from singing, but he also has the day off from his show so he has nothing but time. While in the original Al Jolson version this is the emotional climax of the movie. He already tried to patch things up with his father once before which didn't work out well. Now his father is on his death bed and his mom is begging him to come sing for his father for Yom Kippur but it also happens to be the opening night of his first Broadway show. Now, it is melodramatic but there are at least stakes. He can reconcile with his father before he passes and honor his religion or he can live his dream and be who he is meant to be.
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#12 The_Triple_Lindy

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 03:55 PM

Speaking as a musician ... fuck this movie.

Somewhere in 1980's America, some little kid with dreams of becoming a rockstar watched this terrible flick (probably with their bubbie during movie-and-bingo night at the retirement home in Arizona) and said to himself, "Oh, I can make it! All I have to do is carve out two weeks of my life to follow my real musician friends out to the West Coast, inexplicably charm a woman the instant I get there, move into her beach house, take advantage of her tenuous music business connections, whine my way into hours of free studio, put together a 50-piece orchestra comprised of musicians who will apparently work on the cheap for a nobody, fill a club to capacity for my first gig ever, watch my first record go gold by accident, and garner a huge fan base practically overnight despite having no stage presence or charisma or good songs."

And he does this not once BUT TWICE. He gets off the bus in Laredo, plays "You Are My Sunshine" for the easiest-to-please bar owner in the world, and suddenly, there's another band ready to back him for another packed house.

There's no way that Neil Diamond just fell so ass-backward into his success, and the fact that he would make a movie that sells such a narrative makes me want to punch him just for all the struggling musicians out there.

#13 The_Triple_Lindy

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 04:02 PM

View PostCam Bert, on 24 November 2017 - 03:46 PM, said:

I just watched the original as well and the one thing I feel it does much better than this version is the conflict about singing at the end.

Like Chris Gethard pointed out the Neil Diamond one is so low stakes. He hasn't talked to his dad who has a minor medical problem that prevents him from singing, but he also has the day off from his show so he has nothing but time. While in the original Al Jolson version this is the emotional climax of the movie. He already tried to patch things up with his father once before which didn't work out well. Now his father is on his death bed and his mom is begging him to come sing for his father for Yom Kippur but it also happens to be the opening night of his first Broadway show. Now, it is melodramatic but there are at least stakes. He can reconcile with his father before he passes and honor his religion or he can live his dream and be who he is meant to be.

There can never be stakes in a movie where the protagonist does nothing for himself other than tell everyone he meets that he wants to be successful and they then just go make it happen for him. And even if he never really makes it, he just goes back home where he seems to be the most important person in the lives of everyone who knows him.

#14 grudlian.

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 04:33 PM

View PostCam Bert, on 24 November 2017 - 03:46 PM, said:

I just watched the original as well and the one thing I feel it does much better than this version is the conflict about singing at the end.

Like Chris Gethard pointed out the Neil Diamond one is so low stakes. He hasn't talked to his dad who has a minor medical problem that prevents him from singing, but he also has the day off from his show so he has nothing but time. While in the original Al Jolson version this is the emotional climax of the movie. He already tried to patch things up with his father once before which didn't work out well. Now his father is on his death bed and his mom is begging him to come sing for his father for Yom Kippur but it also happens to be the opening night of his first Broadway show. Now, it is melodramatic but there are at least stakes. He can reconcile with his father before he passes and honor his religion or he can live his dream and be who he is meant to be.

You're right that the original has stakes. The weird thing is that even going back for yom kippur doesn't really reconcile them. It's having a grandson that does it. So, even the religious theme doesn't really hold up.

#15 Cameron H.

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 04:52 PM

View PostThe_Triple_Lindy, on 24 November 2017 - 03:55 PM, said:

Speaking as a musician ... fuck this movie.

Somewhere in 1980's America, some little kid with dreams of becoming a rockstar watched this terrible flick (probably with their bubbie during movie-and-bingo night at the retirement home in Arizona) and said to himself, "Oh, I can make it! All I have to do is carve out two weeks of my life to follow my real musician friends out to the West Coast, inexplicably charm a woman the instant I get there, move into her beach house, take advantage of her tenuous music business connections, whine my way into hours of free studio, put together a 50-piece orchestra comprised of musicians who will apparently work on the cheap for a nobody, fill a club to capacity for my first gig ever, watch my first record go gold by accident, and garner a huge fan base practically overnight despite having no stage presence or charisma or good songs."

And he does this not once BUT TWICE. He gets off the bus in Laredo, plays "You Are My Sunshine" for the easiest-to-please bar owner in the world, and suddenly, there's another band ready to back him for another packed house.

There's no way that Neil Diamond just fell so ass-backward into his success, and the fact that he would make a movie that sells such a narrative makes me want to punch him just for all the struggling musicians out there.


(Full disclosure: I’ve not listened to the episode or finished the movie [yes, Letterboxd followers, I know I’ve already reviewed it])

Speaking also as a person who once tried his hand at a professional music career, I don’t have any problem with how the movie portrays his success. And if a kid really watched this movie and thought it was a blueprint for success, I’d think that kid was an idiot.

As to some of your other points, we know his character has been singing, playing music, and writing songs his entire life. He’s a cantor. That’s literally his 9-5 job. So it’s not like he doesn’t have any talent, he just doesn’t have a support system at home to pursue the type of music he’d like to be playing. His “real musician friends” are making their careers off the back of the songs he’s writing. Yes, they make the connections in LA for him, but only because it’s his song they’re doing. He then meets a woman who’s worked her whole professional life in the music industry and is successful enough to be sitting in on a record session with one of the biggest rock stars in the world. So while she might not have all the “ins,” I’d hardly call her connections tenuous. As far as session musicians go, they are just that. They get paid by the studio, not the artist. The Wrecking Crew (whom Neil worked with extensively) were mostly jazz musicians, and would play music they didn’t really like for artists they didn’t particularly care for. Whether they were playing backup for Neil Diamond or Brian Wilson, they’re probably making the same amount of money for their time.

As far as filling a club to capacity, didn’t Bubba get him that gig? Aren’t we told it’s one of the hottest clubs? I’ve never been, but if the place was something like the Whiskey a go go, it was going to be packed regardless. Was that a lucky break? Of course, but not unheard of.

And I get that you don’t like Neil or his songs, but a lot of people do. I thought his live performances were great and I loved the songs.

Ultimately, you’re right. A young musician shouldn’t watch this movie and think, “Oh, that’s easy” any more than you should watch Saved by the Bell and assume that’s what high school will be like. The fact of the matter is, aside from being a cantor, this movie very much mirrors Diamond’s real life journey. He was a Jewish kid who moved out to LA and wrote hits for other artists (“I’m a Believer” for The Monkees for one). He didn’t like how other artists’ interpreted his songs, and with the connections and clout he’d established, started recording his songs for himself. The Jazz Singer is basically his real life journey compressed into a few weeks, but it’s not too far off from what actually happened. And I’m sure it was a huge reason this project appealed to him.

My point is: everyone’s journey is different. For some, things come right away; for others, it takes longer - if it happens at all. But I wouldn’t say his success is just dumb luck. Whether you like his music or not, he put in the work, he had the talent, and he made the connections. If someone is serious about their success, isn’t that all they can do?
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#16 Elektra Boogaloo

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 05:00 PM

View PostCam Bert, on 24 November 2017 - 03:46 PM, said:

I just watched the original as well and the one thing I feel it does much better than this version is the conflict about singing at the end.

Like Chris Gethard pointed out the Neil Diamond one is so low stakes. He hasn't talked to his dad who has a minor medical problem that prevents him from singing, but he also has the day off from his show so he has nothing but time. While in the original Al Jolson version this is the emotional climax of the movie. He already tried to patch things up with his father once before which didn't work out well. Now his father is on his death bed and his mom is begging him to come sing for his father for Yom Kippur but it also happens to be the opening night of his first Broadway show. Now, it is melodramatic but there are at least stakes. He can reconcile with his father before he passes and honor his religion or he can live his dream and be who he is meant to be.

Thanks for info on the original, Cam Bert and grudlian. I had never heard of it before I was forced to watch this one.

I guess it makes more sense for the fame and religion to come into more conflict. But I bet Neil Diamond wasn't capable of showing the internal so struggle, maybe? As far as I can tell the biggest acting "choice" was growing a beard.

View PostThe_Triple_Lindy, on 24 November 2017 - 03:55 PM, said:

Speaking as a musician ... fuck this movie.
.

I wish I could go back in time and put this on my sign. Aside: I originally had planned to do a sign that said "the theme song should be longer!" But I changed it after watching this.

#17 The_Triple_Lindy

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 06:17 PM

View PostCameron H., on 24 November 2017 - 04:52 PM, said:

I get that you don’t like Neil or his songs, but a lot of people do. I thought his live performances were great and I loved the songs.


First, let's make it clear, this isn't really about my personal opinions on Neil Diamond. I've walked around singing the "Mon Cheri" song ever since I heard the trailer in the mini-episode. I don't have a problem with Neil Diamond. Yussel Robinowitz, on the other hand, is a douche bag.

View PostCameron H., on 24 November 2017 - 04:52 PM, said:

As far as session musicians go, they are just that. They get paid by the studio, not the artist. The Wrecking Crew (whom Neil worked with extensively) were mostly jazz musicians, and would play music they didn’t really like for artists they didn’t particularly care for. Whether they were playing backup for Neil Diamond or Brian Wilson, they’re probably making the same amount of money for their time.


Those aren't session musicians on stage with him at the gigs. Those are 2-3 dozen working musicians that will expect to be paid. Meanwhile, the band he came to LA with is in the audience with his new girlfriend. That's a douche move, bro.

View PostCameron H., on 24 November 2017 - 04:52 PM, said:

As far as filling a club to capacity, didn’t Bubba get him that gig? Aren’t we told it’s one of the hottest clubs? I’ve never been, but if the place was something like the Whiskey a go go, it was going to be packed regardless. Was that a lucky break? Of course, but not unheard of.


Even the "hottest clubs" around are ghost towns if the act is a no-namer. Maybe things were different in the 80's, so I'll concede that, but I've played to 20 people in rooms that were packed the night before. Being a musician means night after night of that kind of gig for a long time before the good shows start coming around.

View PostCameron H., on 24 November 2017 - 04:52 PM, said:

As to some of your other points, we know his character has been singing, playing music, and writing songs his entire life. He’s a cantor. That’s literally his 9-5 job. So it’s not like he doesn’t have any talent, he just doesn’t have a support system at home to pursue the type of music he’d like to be playing. His “real musician friends” are making their careers off the back of the songs he’s writing. Yes, they make the connections in LA for him, but only because it’s his song they’re doing. He then meets a woman who’s worked her whole professional life in the music industry and is successful enough to be sitting in on a record session with one of the biggest rock stars in the world. So while she might not have all the “ins,” I’d hardly call her connections tenuous.


OK, maybe that's a low-blow on Molly to call her an industry scrub, but Jess? Granted, you're probably right that he's been grinding for two decades, paying his dues, playing to nobody in the clubs around his hometown, but absolutely none of that hard work you describe takes place on screen. Aside from showing up and being sad, he does nothing; it's Bubba that gets him the gigs and Molly that puts his demo in the exec's hand. This movie should really be about how Molly and Bubba turned a 40-year-old manbaby into an overnight superstar.

Again, I don't mean to knock Neil or anyone who likes his music. He's an easy target because his sound is so soft, but props to anyone who makes it big. And maybe there's no kid using this as a blueprint for success, but I just hate seeing achievement trivialized like this in movies. This isn't some whimsical teen fantasy movie where I can suspend my adult disbelief in some kid's meteoric rise to stardom -- this movie wants me to take it seriously, and I just can't. The movie even has Molly saying "Nothing ever happens in two weeks" and then, in the very same scene, she gets the phone call that keeps him in LA. The script isn't even listening to itself.

#18 Cam Bert

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 06:29 PM

If you're curious in what other ways the original differs, I'll just summarize the entirety of the original.

In New York city a young son of a cantor loves to sing jazz songs. His father the cantor finds out and beats him, and the young boy runs away. Cut to years later he's now a grownup and in Chicago singing songs. He meets a dancer and starts touring with her and her show. She gets scouted and goes to Broadway. He sings some more. Eventually, he's given a chance to go be on Broadway and moves back to New York. He goes back home on his father's birthday to try to make amends, but his father doubles down on how he has no son and he's dead to him. Al Jolson for the second time leaves vowing never to return. His dancer friend gets him an audition, and he's now going to be headlining a show on Broadway. His dad falls ill, and a friendly neighbour urges him to come talk to him. Al Jolson refuses. Now it's the night of atonement and also the opening night of the show, his father is in his last moments and Al Jolson's mother and neighbour go to the show to urge him to come back and sing and make amends. Between the dress and opening he goes home and sees his dying father. His mother and neighbour urge him to stay and sing while the dancer and director urge him to come back to the show. He stays and sings. Show is cancelled but reopens the next season and he's a star.
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#19 PollyDarton

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 06:31 PM

I would argue that this movie is ultimately not about his rise to be a successful/popular musician at all. That seems to be a foregone conclusion and as it was pointed out on the podcast - there are pretty much zero hurdles to make his "dream" come true. He gives it a small effort and he succeeds because of course he will.
This movie is really about his journey to do a wife upgrade.
Besides bar brawls over blackface, pretty much every obstacle in the movie is about his love life.
First there's his arguing with Rivka and his father about his leaving and how long he is going to be gone ("A husband should be with his wife!") Then there's the scene where he and Rivka break up and then the scene with his father meeting Molly for the first time.
The biggest - MOST RIDICULOUS - conflict that "sends him to Loredo" is on the surface about his recording session, but is actually him being upset over his dad's reaction to meeting Molly.
Also -Molly is the FIRST WOMAN he meets in LA. He is so desperate to wife swap that he's like "YEP YOU'LL DO."
This is not about his rise to fame - oh no... this is really about a 39 year old man going through a midlife crisis.

#20 The_Triple_Lindy

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Posted 24 November 2017 - 06:38 PM

View PostCam Bert, on 24 November 2017 - 06:29 PM, said:

If you're curious in what other ways the original differs, I'll just summarize the entirety of the original.

In New York city a young son of a cantor loves to sing jazz songs. His father the cantor finds out and beats him, and the young boy runs away. Cut to years later he's now a grownup and in Chicago singing songs.

[...]

Now it's the night of atonement and also the opening night of the show, his father is in his last moments and Al Jolson's mother and neighbour go to the show to urge him to come back and sing and make amends. Between the dress and opening he goes home and sees his dying father. His mother and neighbour urge him to stay and sing while the dancer and director urge him to come back to the show. He stays and sings. Show is cancelled but reopens the next season and he's a star.

See that? He overcame adversity and then sacrificed a gig and delayed his success in order to do right by his family. That's stakes for you!

Meanwhile, the entire time Jess is in LA, he knows that if he fails, the worst that happens is he'll go back home where he'll be welcomed with tearful open arms by the entire city. Sure he wouldn't have achieved his dreams, but he ain't in the gutter.