THE JAZZ SINGER is certainly a creaky old celluloid antique by today's cinematic expectations. While it's acknowledged as the first talking picture, there's actually only two minutes' worth of (imperfectly) synchronized talking and a handful of songs, sung by Jolson and others. The bulk of the dialog is conveyed through silent film caption cards. In this much alone, the black-and-white film holds a great deal of value as cinematic history; it virtually reveals the "strings" working the mechanism of movies. It's also a compelling artifact from the dawn of modern America, when immigrants (here, Jews) were balancing assimilation with their traditional heritage. This personal struggle between the old world and the new is further shown in the inception of jazz music itself. Jolson's music -- old timey though it will seem to our kids -- was, in its day, daring, exciting, and even sexy.
Certainly modern audiences will be somewhat preoccupied by the film's overly theatrical performances, which are highly stylized and stereotypical and can be, unintentionally, quite comical. The narrative, likewise, is very simple, and the production is obviously rudimentary and crudely rendered. But those who can look past these limitations will see that the questions of personal identity, ambition, family, and faith are still relevant. Moreover, the music offers an unfiltered look at an early stage in the evolution to rock and roll and beyond.