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Blackface, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz
Singer Finds His Voice
1. Movies and the Black Question
Each transformative moment in the history of American film has founded itself on the surplus symbolic value of blacks, the power to make African Americans stand for something besides themselves. There have been four such moments. Edwin S. Porter's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903), bringing the most performed theatrical spectacle of the late nineteenth century into the movies, marked the transition from popular theater to motion pictures that characterized the prehistory of classic Hollywood cinema. The most lavish and expensive film to date, and the first to use intertitles, Uncle Tom'sCabin was the first extended movie narrative with a black character and, therefore, since African Americans were forbidden to play African Americans in serious, dramatic roles, the first substantial blackface film. Porter's one-reeler straddles the border between the most popular form of nineteenth-century entertainment, blackface minstrelsy,
Fred Schaffer assembled the materials from which this analysis began. I am greatly in his debt. Thanks also to the Center for Twentieth Century Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (particularly Gordon Hutner, Patrice Petro, and Kathleen Woodward); the Interdisciplinary Group in History and English, Texas A & M University; the Center for the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University; the Program in Liberal Studies, Emory University; the English department, Indiana University; the Social Thought and Ethics Program and the Conference for the Study of Political Thought at Yale University; and to Elizabeth Abel, Ann Banfield, James E. B. Breslin, Kim Chernin, Norman Jacobson, Charles Wolfe, and the readers for Critical Inquiry.
Critical Inquiry 18 (Spring 1992) ? 1992 by Michael Rogin. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint may be obtained only from the author.
The Jewish Jazz Singer
and the most popular entertainment form of the first half of the twentieth century, motion pictures. Undercutting Stowe's novel, Porter introduced the plantation myth into American movies.' D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) originated Hollywood cinema in the ride of the Ku Klux Klan against black political and sexual revolution. Its technique, cost, length, mass audience, critical reception, and influential historical vision all identify Birth as the single most important American movie ever made. Uncle Tom's Cabin, with Porter at the camera, derived from the artisanal mode of film production; Birth confirmed the period of directorial control.2 TheJazz Singer (1927), founding movie of Hollywood sound, introduced the blackface performer, Al Jolson, to feature films. Jolson was the most popular entertainer of his day, and TheJazz Singer's souvenir program (unlike critical attention since) devoted far more attention to blackface than to Western Electric's new sound and film projection system, Vitaphone. TheJazz Singer was a pure product of the studio producer system; the Warner brothers were in charge. Finally, David O. Selznick's Gone with the Wind (1939), an early example of the producer unit system that would come to dominate Hollywood, established the future of the Technicolor spectacular by returning to American film origins in the
1. See William L. Slout, "Uncle Tom's Cabin in American Film History," Journal of Popular Film 2 (Spring 1973): 137-52; Donald Bogle, Toms,Coons,Mulattoes, Mammies,and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films (New York, 1973), p. 3; Charles Musser, Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company (Berkeley, 199 1); Thomas Cripps, SlowFade to Black: TheNegro in AmericanFilm, 1900-1912 (New York, 1977), pp. 12-14; Robert C. Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth CenturyAmerica(New York, 1974), pp. 1-5; Edward D. C. Campbell,Jr., The Celluloid South: Hollywood and the Southern Myth (Knoxville, Tenn., 1981), pp. 12-14, 37-39; David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema:Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (New York, 1985), p. 183. Eric Lott, "'The Seeming Counterfeit': Racial Politics and Early Blackface Minstrelsy," American Quarterly43 (June 1991): 223-54, and "Love and Theft: The Racial Unconscious of Blackface," Representations (forthcoming) came to my attention after this article was completed. These important essays suggest, for example, that what I call surplus symbolic value derived from surplus labor value under slavery, and from a white attraction to black bodies for which the term symbolic is too ethereal. 2. See Michael Rogin, "'The Sword Became a Flashing Vision': D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation," in "Ronald Reagan," the Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology (Berkeley, 1987), pp. 190-235; and Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema, pp. 90-142.
Michael Rogin teaches political science at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Fathers and Children:AndrewJackson and the Subjugation of theAmericanIndian (1975), SubversiveGenealogy:ThePolitics and Art ofHerman Melville (1983), and "RonaldReagan,"theMovie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology(1987).
Geduld. 1975). Henry Nash Smith. 1960). 213n. H. a product of the progressive movement. TheJazz Singer broke all existing box office records.. See the table in Lary May. Mass. See J. pp. In the 1920s westerns were the single most common film genre. 1923). the white in blackface. Birth and TheJazz Singer ostensibly exploit blacks in opposite ways. Birth. Richard Slotkin.. Lawrence. black resubordination. The Birth of the Talkies:From Edison toJolson (Bloomington. industrial metropolis. expropriated from its black roots. 1980). Studies in Classic American Literature (New York. If. he rises from black/white conflict in film. 1973). Harry M. American Silent Film (New York. The Jazz Singer makes its subject that which is buried in Birth. Birth was the most widely seen movie of the silent period. Fiedler. the latter on screen) use black men for access to forbidden white women. Birth makes war on blacks in the name of the fathers. ventriloquizing the black. has national 3. pp. andJolson's blackface sequel. 373-74. The claim about the formative significance of black/white relations to film speaks to transformative moments.7-13 Jan. All three were eclipsed by Gonewith the Wind. Hoberman. the jazz singer. that the interracial double is not the exotic other but the split self. 1977). 1978). . Conn. Virgin Land: The American Westas Symboland Myth (Cambridge. Leslie A.-Apr. p. 32. as Leslie Fiedler suggested. as critics from D. TheJazz Singer's protagonist adopts a black mask and kills his father. American film was born from white depictions of blacks. 1-20. 215. for just as the frontier period in American history generated the classic literature (beginning with captivity narratives). old-world constraints and establishes his independence against Indians. Steve Whitfield. so American film was born from the conjunction between southern defeat in the Civil War. Everson. The Birth of a Nation. and William K. I am indebted to Peter Wollen for first adding Gone with the Wind to the sequence. Love and Death in the American Novel (New York. 1981. H. and the emergence of mass entertainment. lynches the black."Souvenir Programs of TwelveClassic Movies 1927-1941. climaxing the worst period of violence against blacks in southern history. Lawrence to Richard Slotkin have argued. ed. p. 138. classical Hollywood's top box office success. established its national identity in the struggle between Indians and whites. and national reintegration. Screeningout thePast: TheBirth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry (New York. Ind. pp. the rise of the multiethnic. African Americans were marginalized or absent from the routine Hollywood product until very recently. The Singing Fool (1928). then Birth and TheJazz Singer (the former in the psychological subtext of the film.4 The white male hero of our classic literature frees himself from paternal. as the locus of Americanization. "TheJazz Singer. hereafter abbreviated SP. See D.3 American literature." Moment6 (Mar. 4. "Is 'The Jazz Singer' Good for the Jews?" The Village Voice. Regeneration through Violence: The Mythologyof the American Frontier (1600-1860) (Middletown. became the leading money-maker of the 1920s.. sings through his mouth. These alternative racial roots are not arbitrary. Miles Krieger (New York.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 419 plantation myth. 1981): 20. 1950). "Jazz Singers. the white male literary hero replaces the white woman with his red brother.
7 Oct. p.." Variety. 1977): 39-41. not white and black. But each reprinted movie stills that unavoidably made visible what their texts had repressed. Andrew Sarris. black and white marry in neither." pp. Celebrating the blackface identification that Birth of a Nation denies. Whitfield. by apparent contrast with Birth. comes to the surface in TheJazz Singer. . and "The Jazz Singer. 134-45. powerfully unconscious in Birth. downplayed sound in favor of the story. 1927. 1981): 34-48. An Empireof Their Own:How theJews Invented Hollywood (New York. with TheJazz Singer securely established as the first talking picture and blackface an embarrassment. "Some Intersections of Jews. 70-110. Ind. 24. 6. The black desire for white women. "Is 'The Jazz Singer' Good for the Jews?" pp." in From Hester Street to Hollywood:TheJewish-American Stage and Screen. 1982). 1927. enacted in blackface in Birth. Larry Swindell.420 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer political purpose. 1984). Sarah Blacher Cohen (Bloomington. Mark Slobin. See Jonathan D. 1988). "The Jazz Singer." Journal of the UniversityFilm Association 30 (Winter 1978): 21-25. "Jews on the Screen. Blackface marries ancient rivals in both movies. all the articles showed Jolson in blackface. 1977): 24-31. North and South." special section of Film Comment17 (July-Aug. TheJew in American Cinema (Bloomington. ed. Neal Gabler. celebrates not political regeneration but urban entertainment. 12 Oct." AmericanFilm 3 (Oct. 1978): 28-32. Griffith used blacks not to restore plantation patriarchy but to give birth to a new nation. The immigrants absent from his screen were present in his audience. pp. 31-33. so the grinning.6 The 5. TheJazz Singer does no favor to blacks. the four film journal commemorative articles barely mentioned blackface." Film Comment 13 (Sept. minstrelsy mask kills blacks with kindness. p. 19-25. "The Cultural Guilt of Musical Movies. "The Day the Silents Stopped. pp. Tankel. Ind. White identification with (imaginary) black sexual desire. miscegenation as well as assimilation energizes both movies. The blackface jazz singer is neither a jazz singer nor black. 48-53. pp. See Mordaunt Hall..Jazz Singer. Hollywood'sImage of theJew (New York. and the perceived pacification of the (fantasized) southern black threat. These historical contrasts in the use of blackface arise from an underlying identity.-Oct. as Birth used black/white conflict to Americanize them. stimulated in part by Neil Diamond's self-consciously Jewish 1981 remake. 1983). generational conflict. Friedman. Critics in the 1980s. marking the retreat from public to private life in the jazz age. but it facilitates the union of Gentile and Jew." TakeOne 6 (Jan. and Theater. Blackface promotes interracial marriage in TheJazz Singer. Just as Birth offers a regeneration through violence." New YorkTimes. Lester D. "JazzSingers. The original reviews of The Jazz Singer responded as much to Jolson's blackface as to Vitaphone. Audrey Kupferberg. pp. 16. 1. Music. Patricia Erens. Hoberman. "The Impact of The Jazz Singer on the Conversion to Sound.justifies not only the political and sexual repression of blacks but also the marriage of Civil War enemies. "Al Jolson and the Vitaphone. 36-69.5 On the film's fiftieth anniversary. Moreover. TheJazz Singer. and Jewish assimilation. The jazz singer also escapes his immigrant identity through blackface.
p. Bernard Frechtman (New York. pantomime gestures. and none incorporated words and music into the story. White masks fail to hide black skin. he announces a cinematic revolution. for the first time in feature films a voice issues forth from a mouth. "The Day the Silents Stopped. in Frantz Fanon's analysis. Black Skin. and intertitles. 9. An Empire of Their Own. 7." says AlJolson.8 These innovations are still electrifying because they are preceded within the film by the earlier forms this movie will destroy-silent. When the grown Jack Robin (formerly Jakie Rabinowitz) sings "Dirty Hands. Dirty Face" at Coffee Dan's. trans. Far from being separate but equal. so that one story can be rescued from its contamination by others. Wait a minute. Charles Lam Markmann (1952. "The Impact of TheJazz Singer on the Conversion to Sound. lower East Side scenes. authentically felt interior. 143. The second sound interval is even more startling. White Masks." p. documentary. Substituting racial masquerade for the mixing of bodily fluids. and turn African into European.trans. a kind of performative. however. announce-you ain't heard nothing yet-the birth of sound movies and the death of silent film. it allows the blackface performer to speak from his own. and the conversion by blackface. 1960) for the asymmetrical inversion of whites in blackface. None used sound to cut away from and yet retain the previously visible action. See Tankel. When young Jakie Rabinowitz sings in Muller's cafe bar. has killed silent movies. But if the shift from bodily interior to beholder's eye inflicts an epidermal consciousness on the black masked as white. patriarchal defeat to obfuscate new world power. the conversion of the Jews. 1967) and Jean Genet. and appropriated an imaginary blackness to Americanize the immigrant son. You ain't heard nothing yet. Frantz Fanon. . "Wait a minute. Talking Pictures and the Jewish Question Although it is always problematic to identify revolutionary innovations with a single achievement.9 These first words of feature movie speech. New York.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 421 Jazz Singer. and Gabler. Jack then breaks free of both the intertitles that have carried the dialogue and the musical accompaniment that has carried the sound. not simply racial aversion. 8. the film announced old-world. actually gives equal weight to all three stories: the conversion to sound. the film amalgamates all three. repeating the lines he'd already made famous in vaudeville. 23. See Swindell. The vaudeville performer. TheJazz Singer speaks from racial desire.7 2. The Blacks: A Clown Show. for example. TheJazz Singer can legitimately claim the status of the first talking picture. As immigration and technological innovations were creating American mass culture. No feature film before TheJazz Singer had either lip synchronized musical performance or dialogue. 28. and speaks his own words." p. See. Al Jolson.
Cantor Rabinowitz stops Jakie's singing in the first scene. synthesis-with the Jewish mother at the center." p. critics charged it with destroying the family. steals a kiss from her. will hug and kiss her in the dark mill at Coney Island. returning the film to silence. of silent movies and the Jewish patriarch. CantorJakie Rabinowitz would lose his own voice. But there is no dialogue at Coffee Dan's. Jakie wants to sing jazz. and the first dialogue. Sara Rabinowitz frantically caresses her son and murmurs an embarrassed few words as she and Jack play a love scene. within the film. But Jakie does not want to submerge his individual identity in ancient. the chant on the day of atonement for the forgiveness of sins. Jack talks for the first time in the second scene. TheJazz Singer links its twin killings. 41. Jewish father stops the voice (antithesis). the result is family war. takes the place of Jakie's singing in the movie's opening scenes. however. Cantor Rabinowitz expects Jakie to become a cantor. The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youthin the 1920s (New York. p. 22. talking pictures displaced both. See Paula S. Fass. he sings and speaks to his mother. when he drags his son from the stage."'• The jazz singer may have killed silent movies. the first lip-synchronized singing and first lines of speech. thesis. sacred community. Jack sings "Blue Skies" to his mother. He throws the grownJack Robin out of his house. since Vitaphone carries the generational conflict in its three. tells her he'd rather please her than anyone he knows. "AlJolson became the first scapegoat for the cultural guilt assumed by movie musicals as the slayers of silent cinema. character-embedded. after the heroine admires his song. 1977)." Although TheJazz Singer and The Singing Fool were box office hits. Jack's first spoken words introduce the Jewish/gentile romance.422 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer Jolson paid for his triumph. The cultural guilt of the first talking picture arises from assimilation and parricide." Jakie's decision to become a jazz singer kills his father. Sarris's extraordinary formalism ignores the connection on which the film insists. His father beats him for singing "raggy time" songs. Sarris. gentile woman elicits it (thesis). When he returns home. Jack only speaks from the stage to announce his next number. he kills his father. 11. between the death of silent movies and the death of the Jewish patriarch. Sarris writes. Jazz was the emblem of generational revolt in the jazz age. Jolson's career did not prosper in the 1930s. promises to buy her a new dress. . however. Vaudeville and silent movies complemented each other. singing voice. revolutionary scenes-the first. like generations of Rabinowitzes before him. returns to the piano to play a "jazzy"version of"Blue 10. Familially and musically. "The Cultural Guilt of Musical Movies. Kol Nidre. Together these scenes form an oedipal triangle-antithesis. a sacrifice to what Andrew Sarris has called "the cultural guilt of musical movies. in the climax at the center of the film.
but "Stop!"is the last spoken word in the film." returns.. Hollywood'sImage of theJew. hereafter abbreviatedJS. See also Friedman. Sherwood. 27 Oct. Hobsbawm]. and fail. borrowed his nom-de-plume from an African-American jazz trumpeter.. 48. and Gabler. Mother and son try to placate the father." and asks her if she liked "that slappin' business" on the keyboard. the sexual origins of the word jazz (in copulation) have never been more spectacularly. and a voice from the mouth shouts. ed. pp. 1).. p. Hobsbawm. 1979). Carringer (Madison. 1960). "Stop!"'2 (fig. p." Life. 275.13 In choosing TheJazz Singer as the first talking picture. the camera isolates his menacing head and shoulders. p. but it will cost him and silent movies their lives. 24.. In stopping at the same time the music and the romance between son and mother. . Cantor Rabinowitz ends speech. putting on blackface. Jolson's singing will as well. Jack's father may have the power to stop speech in this film. 150. 1927.. Wis. E.. See TheJazz Singer. in gestures and intertitles. "The Jazz Singer. 144-45. TheJazz Scene (New York. A small door opens in the background. east European music. Compare R. An Empire of Their Own. inappropriately present. For the first and only time in the film there is an extended period of silence. 1 Skies. Cantor Rabinowitz sendsJack from the house in silence.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 423 IA . "the itinerant 12. but the damage to silent pictures and the father has been done. Slapping was the jazz term for pizzicato playing. 13. before mournful. FIG. Robert L. the tiny figure of the patriarch appears. p. replacing "Blue Skies. See also Francis Newton [EricJ.
Al. "The faithful portrayal ofJewish home life is largely due to the unobtrusive assistance of Mr. however. was being implicated in a Jewish home life of shouting. See Gabler. 1989. See Gabler. pp. An Empire of Their Own." The New Yorker. Sam did not normally make movies. TheJazz Singer. luftmenschen fathers. pp. asJ.14 Neal Gabler has recently shown how the Jewish moguls created Hollywood against their paternal inheritance. Sam. was the enthusiast for sound. pp. Harry. and Sam Warner stressed the harmonious generational cooperation that had produced TheJazz Singer. suggests the history of the men who made Hollywood. however. pp. 140. and death. as was once thought. Paternal approval. moreover.p. and after his older brothers married Jewish women uninvolved in show business. Herbert G. "Is 'The Jazz Singer' Good for the Jews?"p. 3-4. 9). 18. Jack Robin was enacting Sam Warner's upward mobility through Vitaphone. 123-24. Sam reshot Jack Robin's homecoming. An Empire of Their Own. See Hoberman. father of the producers. beating. 16. and was in charge of the Vitaphone project. Hoberman.Jolson: The . but he came west to supervise TheJazz Singer's production. 57]. storefront peepshows into" one of the country's major industries were telling their own story. 57. 13 Feb. and thereby created the love scene with the mother. is the first to make this point. 15. Goldman. and ardent admirer of'TheJazz Singer"' (SP. As the souvenir program explained. loosely based on Jolson's own life. (His brothers called it "'Sam's toy phonograph"' ["GG. in rebellion against their failed. was enlisted for paternal overthrow. but his youngest son. Jack. exile. Sam chose in 1925 a gentile dancer. Benjamin Warner. Hoberman writes. Sam's brothers were furious at him for marrying "a little eighteen-year-old shiksa. An Empire of Their Own. a desperate attempt to stave off bankruptcy). Benjamin Warner was poor and devout." p. 167-79. Sam was antireligious. But the Warner who paid for generational rebellion in TheJazz Singer was not Benjamin Warner. Screening out the Past. the moguls Americanized themselves by interpreting gentile dreams."5 Perhaps because its parricidal implications disturbed them." See also Gabler. junk-dealers. and sweatshop entrepreneurs who had parlayed their slum-located. As his wife.) Since the Warner brothers' investment in sound was part of a coordinated strategy to expand their small studio's market share and challenge the preeminence of Hollywood's big three (and not. 32. and also May. p. 124-37. Lina Basquette. 17. 3-4."'7 Sam Warner had brought his brothers into the motion picture business. hereafter abbreviated "GG. "The Godless Girl. Doting on their mothers. added dialogue. "Is 'The Jazz Singer' Good for the Jews?" p.'6 The Warner brothers' patriarch.424 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer peddlers. recalls.18 14. Quoted in Barry Paris. 31. After Jolson ad-libbed his famous line at Coffee Dan's.
33. Mixing movie with worldly time. 1988). 30. "The Jazz Singer. or going on with the vaudeville show. ed. and Douglas Gomery. The night before Cantor Rabinowitz was to die in New York. the nightJack learns that his father is dying and that he must choose between show business and filial piety. ed. 1977). 1987). Sam Warner died in Los Angeles. link this hysterical Jewish melodrama to flight rather than exposure. 99-100.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 425 Jack faces the crisis of his life after his father forces him to choose between his mother and jazz. Diner. But this evocation of the Jewish anarchic "Yom Kippur Ball. Jack's sin would be to choose vaudeville stardom ("Blue Skies") over Kol Nidre. the studio wanted Cantor Rabinowitz's death and Jack's Kol Nidre to fall as close as possible to the actual Jewish holiday. Conn. and Gabler. in recent readings of film melodrama. 1. the holiest night in the Jewish calendar. An Empire of Their Own. fulfilled by the dying Cantor Rabinowitz. pp. happened first over his own deathbed. In the film's climax. The Downtown Jews: Portraits of an Immigrant Generation (New York.." p.JS. 30. 1987). 58)-appeared again the next night on screen at the deathbed of the Jewish patriarch. Because The Jazz Singer depicts the costs of assimilation to family and immigrant community. could not be enjoyed by the Warner brothers. "The Melodramatic Field: An Investigation. "The Coming of Sound: Technological Change in the American Film Industry. 1985). 236-39.. all in Los Angeles to arrange the funeral. the Warner brothers. The Jazz Singer exemplifies the hysterical text. 101. p. Sam was buried on Yom Kippur eve. Tino Balio. 142-43. At the film's Legend Comes to Life (New York. Gledhill (London. 20. also flirting with blasphemy. Hobernian calls it "the bluntest and most resonant movie Hollywood ever produced on the subject of American Jews. and his three brothers." p. . family frame." a satanic night of feasting during the holy fast. ed. pp. 140. Hoberman. 9. 151. Wis. Hasia R. pp. pp. He died of a brain abscess at the age of thirty-nine. 18. Kol Nidre is sung on the one night each year when the skies open andJews can speak directly to God to ask for forgiveness of sins."20 But The Jazz Singer's ending and its overall. premiered TheJazz Singer on the night before Yom Kippur.19 Reflection and perhaps agent of generational war to the death. Sam's dream of bringing together Jewish mother and gentile wife. he is torn between replacing his dying father to sing Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur eve. exposing the familial conflicts buried in the name of realism." in The American Film Industry. missed the movie premiere." in HomeIs Wherethe Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman'sFilm. See Ronald Sanders. See also Christine Gledhill. The "screaming and wailing" mother at his deathbed-I'm quoting Basquette ("GG. pp. In the Almost Promised Land: AmericanJews and Blacks 1915-1935 (Westport. The Jazz Singer can hardly be accused of glossing over family conflict. rev. Kupferberg. 19. Thanks to Aliza Bresky for the characterization of Yom Kippur. (Madison. pp. "Is 'The Jazz Singer' Good for the Jews?" p.
Erens. Instead of pitting Jews against nativism. responds only to the attractions of Americanization. For an academic study in TheJazz Singer tradition. 138. 220-21. 354-56. An Empire of Their Own. See Gabler. Jewish mother and gentile wife. pp. and then "My Mammy" to his mother and girlfriend at the Winter Garden Theater. Otto Friedrich. "Moguls-That's a Jewish Word. external pressure upon it. 67. But to weigh the costs displayed within the movie against its happy ending accepts TheJazz Singer on its own terms. TheJazz Singer pits father against son. Jack is a "cultural schizophrenic.Feb.21 The Jazz Singer's happy ending hardly wipes away the conflict that dominates the film. pp. none are with the Gentiles. and community organizations. 1976): 48.426 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer most hysterical moment. harmonious reconciliation between Jewishness and America. transforming Jewish history in the United States into family melodrama. Cantor Rabinowitz's hostility to American entertainment is not balanced by any American hostility to Jews. . pp. in trade unions. Mainstream and Margins: Jews." Film Comment 17 (July-Aug. Carlos Clarens. 142-49. p.23 Also excised from TheJazz Singer are the social struggles that united Jews. That was not what happened in Hollywood. 162. TheJudenfreiing of the Rabinowitz name. City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s (New York. See Friedman." in Peter Rose's phrase. pp." Film Comment 17 (July-Aug. radical movements. particularly in the few years after TheJazz Singer. Hollywood's Image of theJew. Generational-conflict Jewish films continued to appear occasionally. 1986). 1981): 36. Although Sollors complicates descentby showing one can choose one's grandfather. 1983). N. often across generations. the context wished away by the first talking picture. so central to the story as we shall see. 22. Domesticating the prob21. 46-47. businesses. Blacks and Other Americans (New Brunswick. TheJazz Singer culminates the tradition of ethnic films that emplotted generational conflict over intermarriage rather than racial prejudice. Jewish past and American future. BeyondEthnicity: ebration of the melting pot that frees ethnic history from nativism and makes music its central metaphor. but the documents that chronicle that story join generational conflict within the community to hostile. Erens. Americanized Jews ultimately would retain Jewish identities. he simplifies consent to cover all adaptations to the dominant culture. Hoberman. and Erens. TheJew in American Cinema. The struggle of sons against fathers was an immigrant social fact. The moguls left their Jewish wives for gentile women in the 1930s and eliminated Jewish life from the screen. pp. not to the prejudices against Jews.J. 1986).22 the movie allows no easy. Peter Rose.. "Mentshlekhkayt Conquers All: The Yiddish Cinema in America. but there was no going back to the lower East Side. Jack sings first Kol Nidre at the synagogue over his father's dying body. 1981): 35. The movie was promising that the son could have it all. "Yiddish Transit. TheJew in American Cinema. All Jack's problems are with his father. but that film marks the apogee of the immigrant film in Hollywood. 54-57. 23. 73. They bid farewell to their Jewish pasts with TheJazz Singer. another celSollors." Film Comment12 (Jan. compare Werner Consentand Descentin AmericanCulture(New York.
Shifting from ethnocultural to generational conflict. antiCatholic Ku Klux Klan (legacy of Birth of a Nation) flourished in the 1920s.. Scott Fitzgerald. 67-90. as critics of family melodrama would predict. Quoted in Arnold Shaw. House of Representatives Committee on Immigration and Naturalization had warned. Two 1988). Murray. Feldman (New York. Three years before TheJazz Singer. and The Culture of Consumption:Critical Essays in American History. which makes the 1920s the harbinger of the future. 1914-1932 (Chicago. who "claimed credit for naming" "the Jazz Age. William Leuchtenberg. Aliens and Dissenters:Federal Suppression of Radicals. Robert K. 26. TheJazz Age:Popular Music in the 1920's (New York. 1860-1925 (New Brunswick."26 The shift from radical protest to popular culture. Scott Fitzgerald.' 1955). "The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black. 25." TheJew as Pariah:Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age.S. The Jazz Singer lets America off the hook and fragments Jewish community. ed. 1983). made possible TheJazz Singer." understood that it "extended from the suppression of the riots of May Day 1919 to the crash of the stock market in 1929. TheJazz Singer. for its protagonist rises from the defeat not only of his cantor father but of radical. which makes the 1920s the last decade of the nineteenth century. Newer interpretations include Fass. 1978). united with other outcast groups. The Damned and the Beautiful. the racist immigration law of 1924 pretty well closed immigration from southern and eastern Europe. William Preston. as traditional rivalry between immigrant and old-stock Americans coalesced with ideological racism. 1922).. 14. Jr. the film celebrates not the Jew as pariah. 1987). For the older historiography. Jackson Lears (New York. "May Day. see John Higham. enforced by continuing nativism. For a comparable shift from radical politics to aesthetics." Tales of theJazz Age (New York.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 427 lem of the Jewish son. Provincial. viii. The anti-Semitic. pp. ("By far the largest percentage of immigrants [were] peoples of Jewish extraction. backwardlooking nativism triumphs in the former view. J. 1919-1920 (Minneapolis. ethnic-based politics as well. "The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition.24 Two historiographies interpret the 1920s. Compare Hannah Arendt. Ron H. see Henry Louis Gates. Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria. . and Robert A. 1958). encapsulated in the changed meaning of the term the new Negro. an older approach by way of ethnocultural conflict and a newer one stressing the alliance between youth revolt and the culture of consumption. J. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism. Burt. Mass." the U. 1903-1933 (Cambridge. 1880-1980. The Perils ofProsperity. the Jewish percentage of net migra24.25 F. 1963). but the Jew as parvenu. pp. The jazz age introduced modern anti-Semitism into American politics. Richard Wightman Fox and T. entertainment-centered self-fulfillment triumphs in the latter view.no." Representations.. ed. N. 24 (Fall 1988): 129-55. See also F. visible data for the more recent historiography. 61-125. p. Urban. JewishJustices: Outcasts in the Promised Land (Berkeley. 1955). supports the older by what it hides.
See Lee J. Henry Ford's ravings about "Jewish supremacy in the motion picture world" notwithstanding. pp. Bennett. 44.28 but from just the context of gentile sufferance that the moguls did not fA4 ][I U UUII-]UIIU. "Kike!"A DocumentaryHistory of Anti-Semitismin America. 94. 2 27. Quoted in David H. David Levering Lewis. pp.2 per cent in 1920. The movie emerged from the moguls' wish to evacuate anti-Semitism from the Jewish question. 1981). Michael Seizer (New York. p.428 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer tion to the United States.C. the final victims of the postwar red scare. That wish derived not from Jewish power." in Charles Herbert Stember et al. 1925). 240-51. N. "American Anti-Semitism Historically Reconsidered. Higham. p.) TheJazz Singer premiered six weeks after the judicial murder of Sacco and Vanzetti. 1966). p. 28.Jews in theMind ofAmerica (New York. 117... The Causes of Anti-Semitismin the United States (Philadelphia. ed. The Party of Fear: From Nativist Movementsto the New Right in American History (Chapel Hill.) IL -71UIIU FIG. . 21. 9-15. 1988). Levinger. 1972). 205.27 Nativist pressure created TheJazz Singer's invisible frame. WhenHarlem Wasin Vogue(New York. was reduced by the law to close to zero.
Blues. . Sampson..' It was to become obsessional and fetishistic. Ideology. For black interpretations of and responses to blackface minstrelsy. As the body became more or less immobilized and the look was enthroned. The sign of what has been left behind appears not in collective Jewish identity but in the instrument of the jazz singer's individual success. TheJazz Singer blacks out the non-Jewish group behind the blackface mask. 2). and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory (Chicago. The cinema was 'innocent' and 'dirty. Figures in Black: Words.. insists that one can understand neither the cultural guilt of slaying silents nor the cultural guilt of slaying the father without harkening to yet a deeper layer.29 Jack Robin rises through blackface. and render invisible the broken-up. J. the close-up. With the arrival of montage. New York. White painted mouth and white gloved hands sing and gesture in blackface performance. 1980). Blackface carries TheJazz Singer backward to the origins of mass entertainment and forward to American acceptance. "Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke. pp. and the "Racial" Self (New York. see Houston A. 3-6. Wishing away anti-Semitism required the disappearance of the Jews. 1984). A large image of Al Jolson in blackface rises above Sarris's title. The visible cost it leaves behind is borne by Jolson as he plays not a Jew but a black. immobile actors. returning to haunt the text that represses it. racist icons. see Ralph Ellison. Anti-Semitism is TheJazz Singer's structuring absence. in a word. lover. On the black hole as problematic ground for black artists. 29. absent black body. Blacks in Blackface:A Sourcebookon Early Black Musical Shows (Metuchen. African Americans. That picture. 3. 45-59. pp. the look (and its corollary-the banishment of histrionics) an entire facade of the cinema seems to disappear and be lost forever. and Henry T. as vaudeville entertainer. The obscenity did not disappear. Jolson's blackface performance dominates the crisis and resolution of the film.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 429 want to acknowledge on film. the cultural guilt of exploiting blacks. it was interiorized." writes Pascal Bonitzer: What we have here is a cinematic revolution. 144-54. Signs. 50-60. all the excrement of vaudeville. Jr. Riveting sympathetic attention on parents and son. stand in for. and Jewish son. The lips that speak Jack's personal voice are caricatured. pp.." Shadow and Act (1958. united by the movie's affect as they are divided by its plot. N. moralized and passed into the register of desire. Gates. Jews and the Blackface Question "This is the turning point represented by Griffith. "The Cultural Guilt of Musical Movies" (fig. Black holes in space fragment. 1987). The description of Jolson in blackface is indebted to Lemuel Johnson and Anne Norton... 1972). the pasteboard mask that points to another American pariah group. Baker.
Blacking Up. The Film: A PsychologicalStudy. The "desire" that carries forward this "interiorized. Blackface reinstated the exaggerated pantomime that restrained filmic gestures had supposedly displaced. and Gomery. Vaudeville absorbed minstrelsy. Whitfield. employed restless movement 30. Each of these spectacles. It revived the roots of movies one more time. 1976): 315-30. "Film History and Visual Pleasure: Weimar Cinema." pp. but Jack develops his character. Vaudeville. 229-51. in turn. however. Robert C. was in turn displaced by movies. the sound versions revealed the shortcomings of the silents. moralized" oedipal narrative. Silent films. jokes. with blackface. and live vaudeville coexisted with silent movies in the 1920s motion picture palace. Early sound movie shorts returned to film origins-newsreel documentaries (mainly Fox) and vaudeville performances (mainly Warner Brothers)-to show they could improve on silent pictures. innocent and dirty. 1980). The first talking picture went backward in order to go forward and enter the era of sound. and Jolson himself (Heywood Broun called him "the master minstrel of them all" [quoted in SP. Cinema Practices. perversion and desire intervened for the first time in the cinema. 31. and "Problems in Film History: How Fox Innovated Sound. is Jack's "innocent and dirty" desire-sung as "Dirty Hands. TheJazz Singer's success would begin to bring it to an end. vaudeville performer. Vaudevilleand Film. expresses his interior. p. Eddie Cantor. The Jazz Singer revived them. 1970). 15]) gave blackface a new lease on life.31 TheJazz Singer condensed into a single feature film the entire history of American popular entertainment. as Jewish vaudeville entertainers like George Burns. finds his own voice by employing blackface caricature. 274. 20. See Toll. Classical movies. p. 58. The silent versions of these shorts had exposed the limitations of the stage. could not reproduce vaudeville noise (musical numbers. however. "Jazz Singers.30 But Griffith did not banish histrionics forever from film. Quoted in Thomas Elsaesser.. George Jessel. p.430 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer morality." in Cinema Histories. interior characters. Hugo Munsterberg. Dirty Face"-to become a histrionic. One-reelers. to recall Bonitzer's words. for the first feature film to bring sound into the diegesis incorporated vaudeville minstrelsy as well. 7. 1895-1915: A Study in Media Interaction (New York. to use David Bordwell's oppositions." p. Md. may have replaced stock vaudeville caricatures with individuated. sound effects. was linked to its predecessor.The Silent Photoplayin 1916 (New York. were originally run in vaudeville shows. . patter). p. Allen. culminating in sound. ed. "The Coming of Sound. Patricia Mellencamp and Philip Rosen (Frederick. Characterization. which succeeded blackface minstrelsy as the most popular American entertainment form. Blackface was the legacy of vaudeville entertainment and the silent screen. 1984). from minstrelsy through vaudeville to silent films to talking pictures." Quarterly Review of Film Studies 1 (Aug.
and fixed at the bottom. Jack plays all their love scenes in blackface. Staiger. "Jack Robin is my name now. 83). "Vitaphone Shorts and TheJazz Singer. a doubles movie. The closeup.32 Blackface supports its antithesis. see fig. Yudelson. montage. The Studentfrom Prague (1913." the vaudeville performer writes his mother. p. and "playing a romantic scene in blackface" proved too risky "an experiment. Repeated viewings support. I believe. and Thompson. one a grinning black face.33 Two Al Jolson heads dominate TheJazz Singer's souvenir program." Wide Angle 12 (July 1990): 58-78. and Charles Wolfe. which emphasizes frontal performance. the other in white floating slightly above and in front (fig. Jack Robin and his black double emerge as split halves of a single self when Jakie Rabinowitz changes his name. my language in the text. character development. "It talks like Jakie. unassimilable. "Last time you forgot and addressed me Jakie Rabinowitz. writes Thomas Elsaesser. It does so by splitting the protagonist into forward. Jack in his dressing gown and a black maid in the wings are residues of the original plan. 4). he sees his father before the congregation. The scene brings Jack and Mary into intimate contact. the next scene was to show him in blackface for the first time. See Bordwell. but it looks like a nigger. p. with the intertitle. 136. The Studentfrom Prague." says the old Jew. . Blocked mobility. for 32. 3). Other films that employ the magical doubling device also fail completely to conform to models of the classic narrative film. pp. When blackfaced Jack looks in the mirror." as the scriptwriter. p. 177. but blackface's source in split Jewish identity remains. 1926. in the shooting script when he first sees Jack in blackface. and shot/reverse-shot editing (rudimentary and centered on the jazz singer's performance as the latter is) establish the register of desire between Jack and Mary. which differs slightly from the version reprinted in the shooting script. Compare The Jazz Singer with two examples. 80). 189-93. I have quotedJack's letter from the movie intertitle. These films typically signal a social obstacle in their openings and then shift to the fantastic. Alfred Cohn. The Classical Hollywood Cinema.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 431 rather than replacing it. feared it might (JS. one. TheJazz Singer is. "Orchard Street would have had some difficulty recognizing Jakie Rabinowitz of Beth-El choir under the burnt cork of Jack Robin" (JS. denies there is shot/reverse-shot editing in the scene where Jack meets Mary. however. as Jack courts Mary in white face. but after their initial encounter. the brief analysis here conflates the two versions) from German expressionist cinema. The jazz singer rises by putting on the mask of a group that must remain immobile. the film techniques. Charlie Chaplin's TheIdle Class (1921) from the vaudeville comic legacy. and knows that it is. the intertitle changed "a nigger" to "his shadow" (JS. and the other.and backward-looking halves. for Jack's blackface shadow. 33. generates the doubles on the German silent screen. Wolfe's splendid article. and triumph of sound that will destroy it." Before it was changed in production.
trans. Jr. and ed. it brings him success. 4-7. But there is no Scapinelli in TheJazz Singer. out of ego's control. Interrupting eros. it enacts forbidden aggression. and then takes payment by splitting the student in two. New York. pp. ed. begins with infantilized student life from which the protagonist is estranged. 2 (1982): 15-17. 1979). Whereas a black magician controls the student's double. no. See Elsaesser. Jack is the 34. and Otto Rank. killing the aristocratic rival the student has promised not to harm in a duel. Eric Rentschler (New York. Scapinelli seizes the student's mirror image.ii! FIG. 3 example. It does his bidding. and then introduces the old (Jewish-looking) Scapinelli. another at the Jewish cemetery. Liberation of his shadow side finally destroys the student.432 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer Iii !J ." in GermanFilm and Literature:Adaptations and Transformations. 9-24. . shooting into the mirror (in the 1926 version). Scapinelli. Heide Schliipmann. (1925. Harry Tucker. pp." Wide Angle 5. he kills himself. turns out merely to reproduce him. 1986). Jack Robin controls his own black double. magically produces gold. 24-25. it comes between the student and his love. the student from Prague splits in two to fulfill transgressive desires. "The First German Art Film: Rye's The Student ofPrague. "Social Mobility and the Fantastic: German Silent Cinema. Scapinelli arranges for the student to rescue a young countess.34 Like Jakie Rabinowitz. The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study. apparent permission-giving alternative to the countess's father. The double interrupts one kiss in the countess's bedroom.
.of .. ~~?5le ???-.. --• i~ri ~??.- ... .!" .. FIG. 4 .. nw?r ~ .:.r . i iA • ." 'i" .Ir V--.df ri-'?ii~AP .
both played by Chaplin in The Idle Class. p. An Empire of Their Own. As Jakie shuffles on stage (fig. finally women. his blackface double is his slave. it also wants the music to have Jewish roots. The images put blacks into the picture. YoungJakie Rabinowitz never appears in blackface. Rather than fixing him in the one where he began. SP has Jakie singing in "his best darkey manner" (p. This anarchic. gestural residue of nickelodeon silent shorts makes fun of the rich. p.434 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer "master minstrel" in the souvenir program's words. sick. divided soul. The texts-original short story. "Distorted. unconscious of its destination. then assimilation through upward mobility. and the film would lose its humor and its social point. p. Contrast the cooperation between the two Jack Robins with the conflict between the tramp and the man of the leisure class. 4). play. . But it requires that the classes end where they began. "Jazzis prayer. Jakie finds his voice through black music. to be sure.. "In seeking a symbol of the vital chaos of America's soul. B. movie shooting script. Jack will succeed as a blackface singer. to be sure. and intertitles-transfer Jewish sacred music to American jazz. B. in one dark body. Du Bois's "two souls . 136). jazz linked polyglot. I find no more adequate one than jazz. E. TheSouls ofBlack Folk:Essaysand Sketches (Chicago. warring ." two bodies. The intertitle that follows the movie credits. and so represents jazz as the link between Jews and America. 62). See also Gabler. 61. p. the original shooting script had called them "nigger songs" (JS. Blackface is the instrument that transfers identities from immigrant Jew to American. heal Jack's single. that the tramp return to the road and not displace his double in the family. W. rebellious. but he gets the first individual voice in feature films by singing (as the shooting script puts it) "in the most approved darkie manner" (JS. Blackface functions in precisely the opposite way in TheJazz Singer. Du Bois. reprinted in the souvenir program of the movie. But if the movie insists on the black origins of jazz (I will return to its use of that claim). E.. Instead of W.35 Mistaken identity at a fancy dress ball gives the tramp temporary access to the rich man's wife and authorizes slapstick violence by the poor Chaplin against his rich double. 1903).. 36. east European music. Otherwise there would be no difference between them.36 Second. new world 35. assimilation. it allows the protagonist to exchange selves."appears to a background of mournful." Raphaelson explained.." wrote Sampson Raphaelson in the preface to his published play. one blacked and one white. By taking on blackface the Jewish jazz singer acquires that which is forbidden to the tramp and the student: first his own voice. 136. 2. 5). First his voice. Yudelson reports to Cantor Rabinowitz (in an intertitle) that he is singing "raggy time songs".
If political progressivism had failed to regenerate America." says the intertitle.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 435 ~llr'r ." "He sings like his Poppa. p. p. FIG. Sampson Raphaelson. one dead." as the narrator puts it in "The Day of Atonement. When the white-robed and skull-capped Jack replaces his father on Yom Kippur (fig. 14). 7). The island communities of traditional America would be homogenized by idols of consumption.. "Carrying on the tradition of plaintive religious melody of his forefathers." In blessing Jack's movement from cantor's son to jazz singer. with a tear in his voice. the other powerless to be born. 6. "My songs mean as much to my audience as yours to your congregation." in JS. the shooting script had "stage's greatest blackface comedian" [JS. 5 America to the ancient. p. 133]) and then puts on wool cap and burnt cork to sing "My Mammy" (fig. . 151." the short story from which TheJazz Singer derived. "The Day of Atonement." says Sara when she hears him in blackface as the cantor is about to die. He belongs to the world. "He's not my boy any more."'"37 "You taught me that music is the voice of God. he is exchanging one religious robe of office for another. Sara sustains his claim that entertainment was the new American religion. "ajazz singer singing to his God. wandering Jews (SP." Jack tells his father in the movie. the jazz age would bring the younger generation 37. "Jakie was simply translating the age-old music of the cantorsthat vast loneliness of a race wandering 'between two worlds.
6 and 7 .. FIGS.r: S.
1-3. 1967).41 "We speak of jazz as if it were a product of the Negro alone. Much of the early success of Jolson's generation of Jewish entertainers was. like its rhythms.)40 "Originating with the Negroes." "There is one vocation. "gained from acts done in blackface. jazz "has become a Jewish interpretation of the Negro. The Search For Order 1877-1920 (New York. 223-24. Blackface gives back to the racial shadow the music taken from its substance. My summary comes from the actual movie. p. pp. "Irving Berlin. Screening out the Past. and Shaw. pp. neither Raphaelson nor the intertitles acknowledge blackface as the instrument of that transformation. 47. Music. Cripps. pp.. 160. 1985). p. all the known members of which could pass a synagogue door unchallenged." New York Times." and Jews had almost entirely taken over blackface entertainment by the early twentieth century. pp. quoted in MacDonald Smith Moore. Marilyn Berger." as John Tasker Howard expressed the consensus of enthusiasts and detractors alike. Wiebe. 204. 1984). p. p. 7-8. and Theater.p. its primary associations. 131-60. See also Friedman. 41. musical miscegenation set in 38. The Jazz Age. Worldof Our Fathers (New York. On the moving picture cathedral in the 1920s. 19. . melting pot sound of the jazz age." (Berlin had written "Yiddle on Your Fiddle Play Some Ragtime" two years earlier.. One would never know from Raphaelson-any more than from Henry Ford's accusation that the "Jewish song trust makes you sing"39-that African Americans and not Jews had created jazz." wrote Isaac Goldberg the month before The Jazz Singer premiere: True enough. because those who made up "The Syncopated Symphony" were Jews. 147-66. 5-17. hereafter abbreviated W. p. see Robert H.. 1989. Irving Berlin (with whose "Blue Skies"Jack Robin seduces his mother) scored his first big hit in 1911 with the minstrel number. John Tasker Howard.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 437 of classes and ethnic groups together around the performer as commodity fetish. 23 Sept. Gary Giddins. Irving Howe. "Some Intersections of Jews.." 39. "Alexander's Ragtime Band.38 Insisting on the shift from Hebraic particularism to American universalism. 1981). deriving ultimately from the African Southland. see also pp. on island communities. as Irving Howe puts it. Ind. are black. Quoted in Bennett. Hollywood'sImage of theJew. Dies. YankeeBlues: Musical Culture and American Identity (Bloomington. 1976). but in between it has been touched by the commercial wand of the Jew. 40. Nation's Songwriter. It reaches from the black South to the black North. So Let's Hear the Applause (London." announced Varietyin 1920. Jewish song writers also turned to black-derived music to create the uniquely American. Slow Fade to Black. 1. What we call loosely by the name is thus no longer jet black. 22-23. Goldman. on the jazz singer as religious figure. Variety. pp. The Party of Fear. 40.Jolson. Riding on a Blue Note:Jazz and AmericanPop (New York. see Slobin. see May. 70-71. 562.quoted in Michael Freedland.
it is 42.. and Jewish philanthropy and legal services supported black civic institutions and court fights. James Weldon Johnson. 1927. Isaac Goldberg. Ralph Ellison accused Howe of "appearing ." AmericanMercury 12 (Sept. p. and today it would be a wise son if it knew its own father. Jerome Kern. explained the black writer. 44.. like the blackface singer. dismissing sensitivity to distinctive cultural perspectives as the status- . "Jazz Indebted to the Jews. an easy target for a Jew from the next generation.pp. as this (graybearded) Jewish son. 111)." pp." the "musical amalgamation of the American Negro and the American Jew" had given birth to jazz. himself. with one woe speaking through the voice of another. Compare Diner. "American Anti-Semitism Historically Reconsidered. In theAlmostPromisedLand. Diner."42 "Musical miscegenation" was only part of the uniquely cooperative relationship between Jewish and African Americans in the first decades of the twentieth century. In fighting for our rights. 148. Jewish clothing unions organized black workers while American Federation of Labor craft organizations excluded them. uses blacks to declare his independence from the patriarch. in blackface. protesting against lynchings and other antiblack violence. Baltimore Afro-American. Irving Howe-and thereby. "The World and the Jug. 112-15." writes Howe. Nativist coalescence of race and ethnic stereotypes into a single. In the Almost Promised Land. although the "Negro ancestry" of Irving Berlin. compared race riots against blacks to pogroms against Jews. Goldberg continued." Shadow and Act [New York. Sollors. 1927): 634. "Black became a mask for Jewish expressiveness. like Jolson before him. The Baltimore Afro-Americanexcerpted Goldberg's essay under the headline.438 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer from the beginning. 9. The Yiddish press. Richard Wright (Ralph Ellison. See Higham. even at the risk of contaminating the questioner. 1964]. 100-102. For to attack blackface (who would now defend it?) may simply be another way of putting it on. Wealthy German Jews made common cause with "talented tenth" Negroes in the struggle for civil rights.45 Still. "Blacking their faces seems to have enabled the Jewish performers to reach a spontaneity and assertiveness in the declaration of their Jewish selves" (W. who risks imitating by reversing TheJazz Singer. Jews also fight for their own. Lewis. WhenHarlem Wasin Vogue. and George Gershwin was "certainly questionable. "Aaron Copland and HisJazz. pretends to speak for blacks as well. 43. 10 Sept. p. 250-51. 45. p. 563).43 It is against that background of interracial cooperation that Howe accounts sympathetically for the Jewish attraction to blackface." as the good son reminding Ellison and James Baldwin of their debt to their social protest father.44 This fileopiety to the blackface Jewish fathers makes Howe. monstrous alien pushed Jews to think of themselves as allied with other minorities. pp. Jews had made more than a commercial impact on jazz.
The full discussion is in Goldberg. after Howe. 46." says Sara when she first sees her son in blackface.46 But why should the member of one pariah group hide his identity under the mask of another? Where Howe sees only solidarity. 1931). . Carl Van African Americans as well. wrote Goldberg. But TheJazz Singer refuses that self-interpretation. she inadvertently seeking of "biological insiders. For Jews and blacks were not moving in the same direction in the 1920s. he confuses the experience of varying cultures with the claim of different natures. not the cooperative creation of something new but assimilation to old inequalities. Blackface mimed that process in order to reverse it. Blacks may have seemed the most distinctively American people.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 439 necessary to ask. 563). the jazz singer acquires exchange value at the expense of blacks. in which the children of Jewish immigrants found new. Compare Ruth Perlmutter. whatJewish "woe"and which "Jewishselves" the jazz singer's blackface ventriloquizes? Blackface may seem not to express Jewishness at all but to hide it. I see transfer as well. because the dark drove out the light. Beyond Ethnicity.47 Take them apart and their doubling supports the flight of Jack Robin above them both. The jazz singer's parricide Vechten-and spreads. Hutchins Hapgood." Film Reader 5 (1982): 248. the black-inspired music of urban Jews was a declaration of war against the racial hierarchy of Protestant. it confines rebellion within the Jewish family. Put Yiddish and black together. for Sollors attributes biological racism not to nativists but to members of minority groups. p. See Sollors. out to the paternal cultural guardians of the dominant society. Stereotypes located within both pariah groups were exteriorized as black. Screening out the polyglot metropolis of the second generation. 47. 11-12. from that perspective. GeorgeGershwin:A Study in AmericanMusic (New York. Substituting blackface doubling for ethnic and racial variety. the movie points in spite of itself to another truth about the melting pot. children of oldstock Americans-Randolph Bourne. pp. "The Melting Pot and the Humoring of America: Hollywood and the Jew. When the historian of Jewish support for racial justice calls Jews "mouthpieces" for the more powerless blacks. cosmopolitan identities among Jews. 41. Miscegenation was regression. Switching identities. "and they spell Al Jolson" (quoted in W. other immigrants. this ain't you. Infatuated by the power of the melting pot. p. Urban entertainment created an alternative. genteel culture. but integral to that distinctiveness was their exclusion from the ethnic intermixture that defined the melting pot. in racialist theory. the furthest from the old-world identities of Americanizing immigrants. so that even your own mother wouldn't know you." unwittingly mimics American nativism. embraced as regenerative. "Jakie. polyglot world. Like the Jewish struggle for racial justice. and left (along with actual blacks) behind.
The blackface singer makes those qualities his own. p. at the same time that it allied Jews with blacks. intense emotionality and its form of musical expression. 29. pp. "The Daemonic in the American Theatre. Unlike the hero of the short story. In the Almost Promised Land. that would revivify American life. See Goldman. 1957). 187-88." p. 16. he washes himself white. 35-36. and blacks under the Orientalist umbrella. as expression it creates identity as difference. and "TheJazz Singer. As disguise blackface capitalizes on identity as sameness. Goldberg. primitivist qualities. Orientalist alien. "racial" identities of African American and Jew. Interiority generated and repressed by the culture of origin finds public form through the blackface mask. communal identicalness. blackface." American Mercury 11 (Aug. But Orientalism also had a redemptive meaning in the jazz age. by contrast.440 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer invokes the cultural form." Critical Inquiry 15 (Spring 1989): 527-28. YankeeBlues. in part black achievements (jazz)." Supplying his spontaneity and freeing him to be himself. and Hutchins Hapgood." TheSevenLivelyArts (1924. 1967). See Edward W. 63. Asians.49 The conflation of racial minorities into a single. which bore fruit in the 1924 immigration restriction bill. The Spirit of the Ghetto:Studies of theJewish Quarter in New York(1902. it signified racially alien. Moore. Blue Note. 1927): 393-94. Griffith's Intolerance. p. Said. Varietyexplained. "The cry of my race" pulls Jack back to his family. as he sees his father behind his own blackface. 131-36. and we will be turning to The Jazz Singer's relation to both. 49. pp. also provided the movie jazz singer with his way out. His "musical miscegenation" produces the excitement of racial contact without its sexual dangers. . moreover. "As soon as [Jolson] gets under the cork. 50. blackface frees the performer from the pull of his inherited. Gilbert Seldes.Jolson. WhenHarlem Wasin Vogue. the black 48. pp. p. Freeing Jack from his inner blackness. Orientalism (New York. 239. In part these were white fantasies. "The Great Mother Domesticated: Sexual Difference and Sexual Indifference in D. By painting himself black. 155. Blackface also gives Jack access to allegedly black qualities. 175-77. mirror reflection. Evoking an imagined alternative communal identity. New York. The depersonalizing mask reaches a substrate of emotional expression out of which a new selfhood is born. bound together Jews. 17. Rudolph Fisher.5o Freeing the son from the Jewish father on the one hand. Jewish.48 A common set of racial stereotypes. Lewis. Michael Rogin. Diner. W. liberates the performer from the fixed. 1978).pp. "The Caucasian Storms Harlem. blackface frees him from his father." Variety. p. Mass. the lens picks up that spark of individual personality solely identified with him. forJack's child is his music and his own reborn self. embraced by Jewish and black musicians. Blackface. Compare Giddins. Al Jolson plays a person of color instead of being confused with one. blackface made Jolson a unique and therefore representative American. Cambridge. "Aaron Copland and His Jazz.. that spoke for assimilating Jews and silenced African Americans.
"' On the relation between mixed gender and mixed genre. 466-516. 199-201. then rebirth through mass entertainment (expropriating black music) won the city. Just as the white man in classic American literature uses Indians to establish an American identity against the old world. ed. 33. and finally acquires them both." Raritan 3 (Fall 1983): 130-49. pp. expresses their conflicting demands on him. Carol J. black. Gender Trouble:Feminismand the Subversionof Identity (New York.52Jack's double gives him access both to his mother and to her gentile rival." so the jazz singer acquires transformative black qualities by masquerade instead of miscegenation. Compare Judith Butler. allows the white man to acquire the envied (fantasized) qualities of the other sex (here race) and yet reassure himself of his own identity: I am not really black. 1990). Elizabeth Abel (Chicago. as he puts it. and Elaine Showalter. Nonetheless. The double's aggression blocks access to the higher 51. 2-3 (1964): 220-26. J. Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film. and show the actual members of the stigmatized group how best to play themselves. pp. 1986). underneath the burnt cork is a white skin. gender-destabilized. 4-7. "A Contribution to the Study of Gender Identity. Blackface is not the instrument of aggression. 52. Iconology: Image. blackface disempowers both threatening participants. pp. Compare Robert J. 2 (1965): 207-18. Clover. Text. "Male Political Hysteria. If regeneration through violence against Indians won the West. blackface is racial cross-dressing. But whereas the double usually signifies sexual catastrophe. so the jazz singer uses blacks. "'The Seeming Counterfeit. pp. which is how doubling functions in its comic (tramp) and gothic (student) forms." PsychoanalyticQuarterly 34. Stoller. 1982). I am neglecting an important strand in feminist theory. "Critical Cross-Dressing: Male Feminists and the Woman of the Year. and Lott. however. 11. half a man whose double takes charge. "Costumes of the Mind: Transvestitism as Metaphor in Modern Literature. See also Fred Schaffer. The Double. itself. says Elaine Showalter." unpublished seminar paper. is replayed as the tramp's comic fantasy. 104-15. Just as Leatherstocking can put on and take off the signs of nature and remain. Regeneration through Violence. no. see W. for the movie's romance unites the two. without "a cross of Indian blood. Gilbert. Sandra M. The student from Prague is a passive. "Her Body. T." in Writingand Sexual Difference. allows the white man to speak for women (here blacks) instead of to them. To identify the appropriative desire in blackface is not to espouse a racial essentialism in which white should remain white and black. in relying on hostile accounts of cross-dressing.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 441 pariah on the other. as for the Prague student and the tramp. . 20 (Fall 1987): 187-228.no. that between black man and white woman. Mitchell. The blackface shadow points to forbidden women. whose bearing on blackface must be explored elsewhere. See Slotkin. but rather to interpret racial cross-dressing as generated and contaminated by the rigid boundary.5' Blackface does not simply substitute racial for sexual cross-dressing. Miming the most tabooed romance in American culture. Cross-dressing. which initiates their tragic romance." Representations. Blackface takes Jack from his mother to Mary. Ideology (Chicago. See Rank. Cross-dressing. The student's rescue of the count's daughter on a runaway horse. says Sandra Gilbert. no. 1987." International Journal ofPsycho-Analysis45. 73. and "The Sense of Maleness.
53 Enacting submission made Jolson.442 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer status woman. Minstrelsy made African Americans into lazy. When his mother enters. Standing as Jack sits in the scene's opening. Mary wears a giant tiara on her head. undressed in scanty dance costume. however. Her visible limbs convey a phallic power that. 120). Ike Levisky. Blacks in Films: A Study of Racial Themesand Images in the AmericanFilm (London. the black mask of deference enforced on one pariah group covered the ambition attributed to the other. in tightfitting pants and shirt. displaying the singer's divided loyalties. pp. Mary. another slides from Sara to Jack. boastful creatures of physical need. Harlem Renaissance (New York. the "master not only of laughter but of pathos" (SP. her availability for the male gaze notwithstanding. but not in his movie hits. and it is Mary. who first showed Jack how to use it (figs. The first scene. greedy. accentuates the blackface performer's passivity. "he starts to kiss her. Jolson. "then remembers her [sic] makeup" (JS." the published shooting script explains. See Goldman. TheJazz Singer and The Singing Fool. but the child Negro of the restored 1920s plantation myth. pp. the aggressive. Jack actually remembers his burnt cork. Jack wears black skin as his costume.54 Jack appears between Sara and Mary in two scenes. the two in which he wears blackface. To complete the disorientation. white Protestants. pp. Joyless Streets: Womenand Melodramatic Representationin Weimar Germany(Princeton.p. 9 for the three protagonists. 19. . 17. and Nathan Irvin Huggins. 10 and 11). the underside of hardworking. See Patrice Petro. Prominent teeth and grinning mouth had established the minstrel as a needy. Drained of the sexuality and aggression that were permitted only as self-ridicule. the clothing salesman in Levisky's Holiday (1913). Joel Williamson. 110-21. 1984). and Fass. p. 54. 1975). he is blacking his face and putting on a black wool wig.J. as the souvenir program put it. Neither Jack nor Mary appear in the everyday clothes that signify sexual difference. Mary towers above him. 251-56. 482. Eddie Cantor played Salome in blackface and drag. In a decade that feared Jewish aggression and kept blacks securely in their place.) As one sexual signifier floats from Jack to Mary.. Jim Pines. (See fig. flirts with racial as sexual cross-dressing. 69. by contrast to both. as a production still from the souvenir program indicates. oral self. whereas the aggressive tramp temporarily gets her. is all white. and Birth of a Nation fantasy. progressive. He plays not the black sexual menace of reconstruction. p. The Crucible of Race: Black/ White Relations in the American South since Emancipation (New York. pp. Jolson played blackface trickster on Broadway. self-confident Jack Robin (at Coffee Dan's and in the love scene with his mother) is feminized in blackface. TheJazz Singer left behind a pure figure of longing (fig. 65. the editorial "sic"underlines the fact that the makeup is on the wrong sex. 7). and when white collegians considered blacks less aggressive than Jews. 1971). N. 1989). 8). The Damned and the Beautiful. ambitious. I have no reproduction of Jack beneath Mary. disguises himself as a 53. 155-58.
.. .. Jack's racial cross-dressing nevertheless has a transvestite component... IN ii? "L . 8 bearded lady to enter the circus without a ticket. See Friedman.. Whether as woman-identified or merely (some viewers may think) as child... FIG......__ it A ....... . Hollywood's Image of the Jew.-. he is made the target in a "Hit the Nigger" booth. 23....• .. .. .............. .. .. ... IN. too..... and his son sells the rotten eggs.. 50....• . blackface allows Jack to leave home and have it..55 Neither menacing nor comic. pp.. Putting on the mask of weak55.i. . Discovered. neither anti-Semitic nor consciously antiblack. ..Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 443 . It masks self-assertiveness in racial cum sexual drag.
...:.. the camera cuts from the blackface performer on stage to the two adoring women. See Rank.. when Jack first sings the agony of choosing..... W•l[ NL. doubling the mother instead..- FIG.".. The fadeout on Jolson with his arms outstretched surely means.. ?!N • .... The two women come together in blackface...9 56. ......p. TheDouble.. ?. .. .444 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer ness. .-...: . :Eil tw Xr 71 ??.. Ell• .9H... The blackface shadow... Doubles are traditionally fraternal rivals for a single woman.. .. . . in the Uncle Tom'sCabin tradition. Ell.. then the ecstasy of double possession. the upwardly mobile immigrant acquires the American girl without losing the Jewish mother. . . acquires two women for his white substance..... Tootsie") or Sara ("Blue Skies"). blackface performs ecstatic synthesis in the movie's finale.56 as in The Student from Prague and The Idle Class. as the singer moves from Sara to ... play. : • ?•• ? ..... 10....N :r. ... ?..... ..~• .... and shooting script. Toot.. .. . . one in the audience and the other in the wings. 75.Elk .. BlackfaceJack's sacrifice empowers the man behind the mask... As Jack sings "My Mammy" at Jolson's Winter Garden Theater.. Emblematic of division in short story. to evoke Christ on the cross.. Whiteface enforced a choice on Jack Robin: either Mary ("Toot.. .""••: . . however.. ..
10 .P O I FIG.
Hazel Carby. and Daphne Duval Harrison. The Collection. On the safe distance between mother and son. 58. liner notes to Mean Mothers and Women's Rosetta Records RR 1300. 20.""58 As a song of repentance for sins he knows he will repeat. papa. 1988). Martha Fineman believes that there is unwarranted sexualization of the homecoming scene in my interpretation. trans. Compare Rosetta Reisz. 12-108.. "The Melting Pot and the Humoring of America. in Martha Fineman's view. Jack sings on bended knee at the Winter Garden Theater." The ImmortalKing Oliver. introduced "My Yiddishe Momma" in 1925.Y. The body in motion of "Blue Skies" reduces not to The Birth of a Nation's castrated black phallus but to exaggerated white lips that give and ask for nurture. 1969). "My 57. 1986): 6-13." Radical America 20 (Apr. "Oh Papa Blues. No use wearing out your knees. but this staged. 1301. for one of your smiles"-the purely nurturing one." The Blues 1923-1937." p. include Sara Martin. Tucker's record sold a million copies. and the powerful erotic bond remains that between mother and son. "ItJust Be's Dat Way Sometime: The Sexual Politics of Women's Blues. You can't win me back that way. 1982)." Blues: Ma Rainey.446 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer Mary. Nausea. pp. blackface courtship ritual frees Jack from the sexualized mother at home to give him back at a safe distance-"I'd walk a million miles. and who learned "Some of These Days" from her black maid. Riverside RLP Railroad Blues. W. 203. pp. Sophie Tucker (born to Jewish parents in Poland. With Yiddish on one side and English on the other. Blackface expresses the "Jewish . p. At the same time. Denis Hollier.57 Blackface allows Jack to play the fort/da game. 2. Whitfield.. Sophie Tucker. losing his mother and getting her back. . Politique de la prose: Jean-Paul Sartre et l'an quarante (Paris. who gets Jack his break. Milestone MLP 2006. the plot diminishes Mary from career woman. 168. 1 12. TheJazz Age." Bessie Smith. It is hard from the son's point of view not to feel the intermixture of Oedipus and separation in the maternal home. CBS 7461-44441. 178. Bessie Smith. "Reckless Blues. 561. woe" of leaving the maternal home. and Ida Cox. 22. expresses less incestuous desire and more the anxiety of maternal loss. 249. who'd begun in New York vaudeville doing blackface in the afternoon and whiteface at night. by linking the black mammy to the Jewish mother. 176. "Jazz Singers. N. Shaw. from the Jewish woman with an earthly husband to the Christian woman without one. Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s (New Brunswick. Get up off your knees. 22. Self-identifications of the blues mama. and Ma Rainey. 1945). N.J. "Mean Tight Mama. Some of TheseDays: The Autobiography of Sophie Tucker(Garden City. though Sartre thought she was black). New York. BBC RFB 683. Sara wants to hold her family together. compare Perlmutter." pp. pp.Jean-Paul Sartre. No response comes from her like that Ethel Waters gave a year later to another man who thinks he can come and go at will: "Stand up when you're making your pleas. Maternal hysteria in the "Blue Skies" scene. the kneeling jazz singer reduces his Jewish mammy to passivity. Lloyd Alexander (1938." indebted to such classic blues mamas as Ma Rainey.. Ethel Waters. which demand comparison with the mammy in mainstream popular culture.. "Get Up Off Your Knees. But if Tucker was also a "Red Hot Mamma. and Ethel Waters. to suppliant and admirer.
60 But a sinister paradox inheres in this choice. "Jazz is Irving Berlin. TheJazz Age. I am indebted to Norman Jacobson. was the acknowledged "King of Jazz. Slobin. In a sinister version of the psychoanalytic phrase. chose the black. "Some Intersections ofJews. and Goldman. The Lithuanian Jew who has lost his mother (Jolson's died when he was eight). pp. wrote Constance Rourke. By wiping out all difference except black and white. For the link between Kol Nidre and "My Mammy. imposed on blacks. to be sure."61As 59. Papa's Maybe" uses a surrogate black mammy to escape a real white father. 31. Jelly Roll Morton. p." p. were the three humorous masks for establishing a uniquely American identity. blackface also replaced the black. That segregation. he would (I am pretty sure) like to be held no more responsible for the analysis than Cantor Rabinowitz for Jack's music. Sophie Tucker.Jolson. is giving up hisJewish for an American dream. silences their voices and sings in their name. Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book" Diacritics 17 (Summer 1987): 79-80. "Mama's Baby. 14). 41-44. unmentioned in all the critical commentary. pp. Al Jolson may have saved minstrelsy from extinction by giving it a syncopated beat. Goldman. 139. 102. Shaw. as Hoberman claims. Some of These Days. is that it contains no jazz. and longs in blackface for a mammy. PsychoanalyticExplorations in Art (New York. it more thoroughly abandons blacks. and Fletcher Henderson. and Jolson gave Boston's first jazz recital in 1919. 1952). 4. pp. The most obvious fact about TheJazz Singer. Spillers. embraces the exteriorized identity as regenerative. Assimilation is achieved through the mask of the most segregated." proclaimed Raphaelson (SP. The "jazz"of the jazz age.Jazz Himself" is a 1917 Irving Berlin song." as for so much in my approach here. Paul Whiteman. Replacing the Jew. however. 74. who led the most popular band of the 1920s and sold millions of records. George Gershwin. See Constance Rourke. . and black. racially stigmatized. Louis Armstrong. but it no longer asks forgiveness from the Jewish Father God. 61. See Hoberman. 95-104. Music. Al Jolson. p. urban Jews.59 Blackface exteriorizes Jewishness. Tucker's billing changed in the course of her career from "World Renowned Coon Shouter" to "Queen of Jazz. 35. and leaves it behind.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 447 Mammy" is a blackface Kol Nidre. and Tucker. but it does so by retaining the fundamental binary opposition. The linguistic ambiguity of that "it" has a cultural referent. See Hortense J. Yankee." "Mr. but he rescued minstrelsy by blocking out jazz. pp. frontiersman.Jolson. 60. "Is 'TheJazz Singer' Good for the Jews?"p. for however thoroughly blackface relinquishes the Jewish past. was not the music of King Oliver. blackface is a regression in the service of the ego. 1931). and Theater. blackface turns Rabinowitz into Robin. American Humor: A Study of the National Character (New York. 62. the blackface that offers Jews mobility keeps the blacks fixed in place. For this blackface inversion of Hortense Spillers's "Mama's Baby. see also Ernst Kris.
Henry O. from New Orleans to Chicago to Kansas City. and San Francisco. Jazz was identified with freedom as emotional release rather than as technical prowess. See William J."''62 Blackface did the work of black faces. So This Is Jazz (1926. Joining a lost southern to a lost Jewish to a lost maternal past.. 1988). p. p. 67-109. 1926): 578-85. Don Knowlton. was overlooked as central to jazz. pp. Almost without exception. by contrast. Lee" to begin the sound revolution in talking pictures. pp. When Harlem Was in Vogue. The ReceptionofJazz in America: A New View (Brooklyn. Yankee Blues. 1936): 567-74. Domesticating the primitive. Harlem. 25 Oct. 1968). points to the importance of slavery for the new music as well. 1926. 1922. and. It took a decade before a critic linked jazz improvisation to the act of speech. New York. speech. TheJazz Singer returned them to the plantation." Literary Digest. in the renderings of Jolson and other songwriters and performers. King of Jazz. 63. "King Jazz and the Jazz Kings. blackface 'jazz" restored them all. most egregiously. and that delayed insight suggests both why the first talking picture wanted to lay claim to jazz (sensing the link between jazz." Harper's 172 (Apr. Jakie sings "Waiting for the Robert E. Osgood. James Lincoln Collier's revisionist interpretation of the reception ofjazz.64 Blackface began under slavery. The Seven LivelyArts. valuable as it is. 1929). Phillip's celebratory Life and Labor in the Old South. .Y. New Negro. Seldes. ignores the racial question in the 1920s. 99. when blacks were forbidden access to the stage.63 An "industrialized folk music. 30 Jan. "Hot Music: Rediscovering Jazz. and individual freedom)."jazz allegedly combined the sounds of the jungle and the metropolis. Phillips. instead of being recognized in African-American musicians. African-American jazz was the music of the urban. 171. 438. Improvisational skill. and Lewis." Harper's 152 (Apr. See Gunther Schuller." The Nation. The History of Jazz (New York. the lavish 1930 Paul Whiteman film. Jack sings "My Mammy" to end the movie. Blues People: Negro Music in WhiteAmerica (New York. For the jazz/speech analogy. N. the plantation supplied the lost-and-longed-for. among many other examples. See. and why (in a racially hierarchical society) TheJazz Singer assigned freedom to a blackface ventriloquist rather than to an African-American jazz musician. popular culture writing in the 1920s treated Negro primitivism as the raw material out of which whites fashioned jazz.65 62. see Reed Dickerson. 64. contemporaneous with Ulrich B. xv. 37-42. 1978). and attributed to such performers as Jolson instead. "Jazz. ventriloquized blacks as rural nostalgia. 1963). innocent origins of jazz. pp. standing not for what is now called jazz but for the melting pot music of the jazz age. Blackface minstrelsy in the jazz age. and Ulrich B. See James Lincoln Collier.448 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer Amiri Baraka puts it. Leroi Jones [Amiri Baraka]. Savage not polyphonic rhythm was heard in black music. "The Anatomy of Jazz. Shultz. 65. But Jolson's success. Life and Labor in the Old South (New York. Compare also Moore. "Jazz had rushed into the mainstream without so much as one black face.
67. 4. urban present by symbolizing the peaceful. 1981). Andjust as the first sound picture returned to and domesticated the "slum" origins of movies. 68. and T. It goes back and forth not only between sound and silence. Jack's putting on and taking off blackface is synecdochical for the movie's reversibility. Jazz may have been the jazz age's name for any up-tempo music. Image of the People: Gustave Courbetand the Second French Republic. racial. blackface was talking pictures' transi66. Lee. dirty origins of movies in order to go forward into sound. Thanks to Michael Fried and Ruth Leys for this perception. so it expropriated jazz. The Birth of a Nation invented black. Conn. it is a liminal movie. 1848-1851 (Greenwich. 1890-1930 (Chicago. J. its promise that nothing is fixed or lost forever. As Raymond Williams has argued for England and T. pp. 140-54. Just as African-American performers introduced the cabaret songs that first underlay modern urban night life. The Country and the City (London. Adolph Zukor's desire "to kill the slum tradition in the movies" is quoted in Miriam Hansen. The Jazz Singer emasculated revolutionary. but also between Kol Nidre and "The Robert E. TheJazz Singer is also about blocked mobility. urban parvenus required the myth of the stable countryside. reconstruction aggression to unite North and South against it." Jew and Gentile. But whereas the tramp and the student from Prague are defeated by their doubles. and then were replaced by whites. so they invented jazz. In the silenced.68 Going back to the innocent. black modern music in the name of paying it homage. . "Early Silent Cinema: Whose Public Sphere?" New German Critique. street and stage. Signifying the omitted referent claims possession of it. blackface and white. black story. as urban mass entertainment let it be known it was capitalizing on its origins. See Raymond Williams. 1973). J. but that no more excuses TheJazz Singer's missing sound than blackface compensates for its absence of blacks. 1973). Clark for France. Steppin' Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformationof American Culture.67 In the thematized.66 The plantation played that function in the postbellum. like no picture before or since. Jewish story. generational.. Blackface and the Talking Pictures Question The Jazz Singer retains its magic because. blackface blocks mobility for the black double (and the woman) so that his white alter ego can rise. an American agrarian myth that imprisoned blacks. 27 (Spring-Summer 1983): 151. male and female.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 449 TheJazz Singer's blackface facilitated upward mobility in the competitive. Clark. rural past. See Lewis Erenberg. Like the other doubles movies. the white noise of my title is the sacred chant that silences the jazz singer's voice. Jolson's white noise obliterates jazz. no. industrializing United States. music and intertitles.
Dixie. The first movie musical. and how can cultural guilt attach to the destruction of that vicious practice? The dominant form of nineteenth-century entertainment. Compare Jane Feuer. pleasure to desire. interiorized one during the course of the movie. I have been suggesting. Without encompassing TheJazz Singer's social and technological spread. TheJazz Singer's self-awareness about the former called attention to the role of performance in creating individuality. making blackface its subject and not merely its method. "My Mammy"'s pleasure principle set the precedent for production numbers in talking pictures Hollywood. and with the beginnings of the 69. TheJazz Singer was also the first movie to work musical numbers into its plot. Jack sings in whiteface before the paternal "Stop!" -in blackface thereafter. patriotically to celebrate its own origins in the minstrel show. Rick Altman (London. however. . p. minstrels under cork (like Fred Astaire in Swingtime)sang and danced with the emotional intensity enabled by blackface performance. dominates the rest of the film. Blackface was the victim of the technological revolution for which it had fronted. It gathered together the shift from gesture to look. In what sense did the talkies kill blackface. ed. Sarris's cultural guilt of musical movies thus returns. Jack never appears in blackface before his father's prohibition stops speech. World War II Hollywood featured blackface. Blackface condensed two meanings. histrionic technique displaces the more advanced. which occasionally also featured blackface. and the "My Mammy" climax abandoned verisimilitude entirely for a utopian plenitude of feeling. It bears the same paradoxical relation to speech. by linking him to the groups he was leaving behind. immigrant community to mobile individual. blackface withdrew from center stage and finally disappeared from the twentiethcentury motion picture. The more primitive. Blackface emancipated the jazz singer from Jews and blacks. the latter was the top grossing picture of 1949. 1981).69 This conjunction of narrative and spectacle did not simply serve realism. 160. "The Self-Reflective Musical and the Myth of Entertainment. subordination for the anonymous (black) mass." in Genre: The Musical. and the USO called minstrelsy "the one form of American entertainment which is purely our own. I have argued: heightened authenticity and American acceptance for the (Jewish) individual. and Holiday Inn. vaudeville to Hollywood.450 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer tional object. is central to that trajectory. in silent scenes and song. But in the wake of the post-World War II embarrassment about racial subordination and stereotyping. But speech drove out blackface in the movies that followed TheJazz Singer. and only then became dispensable." TheJolson Story and Jolson Sings Again revived Jolson's popularity after the war. pointing not only to the slaying of silent pictures in general but to the specific destruction of blackface. in Babes in Arms. silence to sound. The first talking picture. Blackface.
" in Actors and Actresses. 1:17-40. and African Americans. and Gomery. for production numbers. but one can hardly overstate the importance of blackface more broadly understood in contemporary American culture. For it exposed the illusion that the individual was speaking and not being spoken for-whether by lan70. White actors might perform under cork in musicals. 1980). Sambo:The Rise and Demise of an AmericanJester (New York. for the most part. The "Hawthorne experiment" is as germinal in industrial sociology as The Jazz Singer is in the history of film. 100-101. For the emphasis on performance in TheJazz Singer. See Gomery. Getting workers to talk and feel listened to. 2 vols. that it issued forth from an authentic interior. . 1986). Noel Burch. Coons. TheSocialProblemsofan Industrial Civilization(Boston. pp. these backward looks finally brought movie blackface to an end. N. Evan William Cameron. 88 (for the USO quote)." What Is Cinema?trans. and the two have speaking in common. the company stood behind the workers' words. See also Genre: The Musical. pp. and Elton Mayo. 1982): 19-20. 302. Jolson to their blackface.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 451 movement for civil rights. and Thompson. it was universalized as well. of course. 1986). 41. 39. Better to bequeath blackface to the African Americans who played the parts minstrelsy had prepared. but to play blackface dramatic roles violated cinematic conventions of realism. Bordwell. Gledhill.Y. "The Coming of Sound. see Wolfe.70 Musicals were an important talking pictures genre. Mulattoes. encouraged as inner self-expression. 257-58. blackface had to go. efficient human machines. 1945). (Berkeley. blackface would then expose the illusion that the individual was in charge of his or her voice. Sound and the Cinema: The Coming of Sound to American Film. Toms. 72. Andre Bazin. the jazz singer becomes a component part of standardized organizations and standardized dreams.7" But blackface was not only left behind. ed. 71. "Cultural Guilt of Musical Movies. xii-xiii. and Gomery. During the period when it was perfecting Vitaphone. In production as in consumption. Movies no longer employ traditional blackface. 234-35. Western Electric was also conducting an experiment at the site of production.. The Classical HollywoodCinema. the company discovered. "Hollywood Converts to Sound: Chaos or Order?" in Sound and the Cinema. pp. "The Melodramatic Field. 1967). Hugh Gray. See Bogle. Freed from traditional cultural and communal restraints. Sarris. 245-48." p. To cover up that mode of production. ed. "Narrative/DiegesisThresholds. pp. James Vinson (Chicago. p. pp. 12. The Birth of Talkies." Screen 23 (July-Aug. and Bucks. pp. Limits. Cameron (Pleasantville.72 "Master Minstrel" Al Jolson models the dreams of his fans. Calling attention to the figure behind the mask." pp."p. nostalgia. from Elvis Presley to Vanilla Ice. "Al Jolson. "Vitaphone Shorts and TheJazz Singer. 26-33. "The Myth of Total Cinema. sound intensified the aspiration to verisimilitude that had defined movies since Griffith. Geduld. functioned as social control." p. however. 20-90. in work as at play. 335-36. increased productivity more than did the effort to create silent. Joseph Boskin. Talk. dreams produced socially for private consumption and ventriloquized as one's own. introduction. Mammies. Staiger.
29. in the article that prints it. at least." p. See Kupferberg. 74. You ain't heard nothing. The image thus undercuts the caption that misidentifies its picture. He represents the rows of blackface automatons. the mass consumption industries. Jolson's "wait a minute. talking pictures Hollywood. the photograph makes visible the link between blackface iir Alf FIG. . A blow-up reveals that the singer is Jolson himself. Tootsie" alone in whiteface in TheJazz Singer. Unmentioned. I tell ya. 12 73.7 The picture is captioned with the first words of speech in a feature movie. That. blackface drummers seated around and behind him.452 Michael Rogin The Jewish Jazz Singer guage. capital. themselves synecdochical for the reproduction of identical identities in film technology and mass society. "The Jazz Singer. is the conclusion suggested by an extraordinary picture published as part of the fiftieth anniversary celebration of The Jazz Singer. his arms outstretched in song. You want'a hear 'Toot. Tootsie?'" The photo (fig. or the locus of all three for thirty years after TheJazz Singer (returning to haunt us in the 1980s). One figure in blackface stands front and center. with rows of identical-looking. Credit Adrienne MacLean for discovering Jolson under the blackface. 12) shows a white man sitting on a throne-like chair. Toot.74 But Jolson sang "Toot. like blackface itself. Toot. the photograph reabsorbs him into a minstrel troupe.
but to the unidentified king of blackface. his authority sustained by the interchangeable identities of those who sing his song. For this silent picture assigns control over speech not to democratic.Critical Inquiry Spring 1992 453 and sound repressed in the text. . or collective voices. individual.
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