Friday, January 26, 2007

The Jazz Singer and The French Connection

[The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927): Okay. Let's get one thing straight. I realize that this is, in the history of cinema, a very important film. People call it "the first sound film", or something along those lines, and, as a marker for the advent of the use of ears in the cinema, I suppose it has some lasting value. But... I'm sorry. It's just not good. At all. History has been extraordinarily kind to The Jazz Singer, and in more ways the one. The first thing you'll notice when you finally take it upon yourself to watch this 'landmark' is that, well, they barely talk at all. In fact, apart from one brief scene between Jack Robin (Al Jolson) and his mother (Eugenie Besserer), the only sound of display here is the scenes were Jolson (excruciatingly) sings. The rest of the movie relies of the silent cinema tradition of intertitles telling us shorthand what's being said. Is this really the first talkie if they barely talk? I'm not really qualified to make that judgment. However, I would say I'm qualified to say that, as a film, straight-up, The Jazz Singer is rather bad. Apart from the fact that Jolson- a very popular star in his day- is one of the most annoying people I've ever had to watch, The Jazz Singer repeatedly strikes some dull and often offensive notes. Yes, there's blackface going on here, for no apparent reason, as well as a horrific line in "He sounds like Jakie, but he looks like his shadow!"- which made my fellow classmates gasp. The maudlin story is very threadbare and uninvolving- an interior battle between career and faith- and ends very predictably and melodramatically. I suppose I have to give The Jazz Singer a reasonable grade just for what it signifies in the course of film history- but if I were you, I'd let it be. Grade: C]

[The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971): Before seeing William Friedkin's superb Bug (currently pending release in 2007) I'd never actually seen anything by the Oscar-winning director, not even his infamous The Exorcist, so I jumped at the chance to watch 1971's 'Best Picture' The French Connection, though, to be frank, I wasn't expecting much from it. On it's limited plot, though, The French Connection manages to hang a lot of stuff: the grittiness here was, perhaps, a first for a mainstream action film, as was the anti-hero in Gene Hackman's volatile 'Popeye' Doyle. Much of the central section of the film consists of Hackman and his fellow police officers tracking various suspects around New York- this is done silently, stealthily and with skill, making a potentially deadening sequence quietly thrilling. Perhaps the film goes a bit off-track with it's poorly orchestrated shootout sequence, as well as a confusing final shot (in both senses of the word), but The French Connection makes a strong case for the awards it recieved and holds up surprisingly well. Oh, and there's that car chase too, of course, which immediatly makes the case for the Best Scene Ever. But you know all about that. Grade: B+]


Emma said...

Nice reviews.

Dave said...

Thanks, Emma! Your blog is really good too... and has a much large readership than mine. ;)