in , ,

The Jazz Singer


‘…a wildly amusing film, a vanity project from a star who has got little to be modest about…’

A guilty pleasure? Guilty as charged, your honour; this is a film that winds up with a middling to poor rating from critcs and audiences, but even writing about it conjures up waves of off-kilter enthusiasm. Richard Fleischer’s 1980 vehicle for Neil Diamond is something of a strange proposition; after all, what TF has Neil Diamond got to do with jazz anyway? The AOR Singer presumably wasn’t a title that appealed, but Diamond’s music has endured, and he certainly brought his A-game to providing an ace set of songs for the soundtrack.

America, Hello Again and Love On The Rocks are belters in any era, and it’s no surprise the soundtrack made more money than the film. On reflection, could there been conceptual errors behind a film that starts in rather offensive fashion with Neil Diamond in black-face? Probably; the point of this cultural-identity crisis is that only by blacking–up can Jess (Diamond) escape the Jewish traditions his father (Laurence Olivier) wants him to take on board, and the more popular Jess’ music is, the more his father disapproves.

‘Ay hef no son!’ is Cantor Rabonovich’s much-quoted dismissal of Jess’s career choice, but things end happily enough with Olivier jigging away in a stadium gig to the synth-blast opening of America. The Jazz Singer is a wildly amusing film, a vanity project from a star who has got little to be modest about; Diamond has maintained a sky-high level of stardom by touring and reinvention, and The Jazz Singer is exactly the kind of excessive project a real star creates.

I’ve reworked this review because during a previous posting, I used an image of Diamond in blackface to illustrate the oddness of some of the film’s conceits, and then watched horrified as the review was widely shared. If you have to ask if people might be offended, then it’s probably true that they will, and Diamond’s misculculations about race are of their time, some forty plus years ago. Instead, I’ll award bonus points for Paul Nicholas in a wonderfully awful cameo as a British rock star whose laughable speed-metal cover of Love on the Rocks irks Diamond, and with good reason.


Leave a Reply
  1. Steered clear of this one at the time. Diamond went through an odd transition from acclaimed singer-songwriter to being dumped on from a great height as rock knocked pop off its perch. I remember listening with awe to his African Trilogy from the Tap Root Manuscript in 1970 and thinking this was the sounds of the 70s, an experimental piece that knocked your socks off. To find him being dumped in the AOR section and not embraced by critics was a bit harsh.

  2. My dad was a big fan of Neil Diamond so I grew up with his songs as a kind of background music to my pre-teen years. I remember enjoying this film when I first saw it, mostly for the soundtrack, but partly because we got to see an aged Olivier “jigging away” as you say. It’s a cracker!

  3. Well, I’m STILL offended, because you used double ss’s for jass. I obviously can’t write the word and letters you used, because even my rightwing, conservative, moral self (all the right and conservative is US based, not UK) has lines it won’t cross. And you good sir, totally crossed that line.

    I’m so offended. How are we going to remain blogging friends? I think we need therapy…

  4. Agreed, ‘a guilty pleasure and wildly amusing’…and a secret revealed. Diamond collab’ed with FR artist/songwriter singer Gilbert Becaud for several songs in movie/album. Becaud was one of the composites I envisioned when creating character of Chaz in Act of Ambition. The title works for me not because it’s loosely based on Al Jolson talkie, but because jazz and this movie is a bit of scat, an expression of differing feelings, high/low notes, and improv?

    • Aha, another Diamond fan! Music comes and goes out of fashion, but this really is a fabulous soundtrack, great collection of songs! Every days’s a schoolday for me, because I had no idea that these bangers were collaborations, so hats off for the intel! By way of a cultural exchange, I’ll trow in one of my obsessions, the FR singer Michel Polnareff; he rocks over decades! Will be goodling Becaud for some time to come…That title is problematic for me since surely the last thing that Diamond wanted to do was to evoke Jolson, and blackface which is an issue here, but I guess its highly recognisable to anyone with a passing interest in film! For all its faults, I’m very fond of this film, so thrilled to hear I’m not alone in appreciating both virtues and vices here….

Leave a Reply