Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 20
October 6, 1927
The Jazz Singer has NYC premiere

On October 6, a day before Yon Kippur, Warner Brothers premiered what would become a breakthrough in film history––the first sound film with both musical and talking parts. The film was the collision of two separate movements. On the one hand, Warner Brothers, who had dabbled in sound pictures for the last few years, was being pushed by brother Sam to make an all talking, all musical film. Previously sound had being restricted to vaudeville shorts and to the musical background of features like Don Juan. On the other hand was the popularity of the stage musical The Jazz Singer, which George Jessel was starring in on Broadway. The two were brought together in the idea of a sound film version of The Jazz Singer. The story of a young Jewish cantor wanting to abandon his father’s tradition of sacred liturgical music for popular song was a story of a generational clash. That same clash was embodied in the idea of a sound film. As the film moved forward, changes occurred.  George Jessel would be out of the film, and the lead would go to the Al Jolson, the man on whom the character in The Jazz Singer was partially based. Just before it was to premiere, Sam Warner, the film's strongest proponent, died. But when the movie screened for the first time at the Warner Brothers theater in New York, it surpassed all expectations. Hardly an exceptional piece of movie making, the film created an uproar, especially when Jolson ad libbed at the start, “Wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet,” Within months, the film had broken all sorts of box office records and forced the film industry, both studios and theaters, to face the future of sound film.


More Flashbacks
Robert Altman November 20, 2006
Robert Altman dies

On this day in 2006, the legendary film director Robert Altman passed away at the age of 81 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Nov. 20, 1992
Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opens

The unlikeliest franchise was born on November 20, 1992, when Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant opened in New York City. Produced by Ed Pressman, written by Zoe Lund and Paul Calderon, and starring Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant boldly yoked a tale of a distraught Catholic cop seeking redemption by pursuing the rapists of a nun to a sordid, walk-on-the-wild side panorama of downtown New York in the early '90s.

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November 20, 1981
Ragtime Starts Up

Released on November 20, 1981, Milos Forman's Ragtime presented a sweeping picture of America at the beginning of the 20th century. While based on E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling novel, the film centers on the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr (Howard E. Rollins Jr.), a young black pianist who fights to have his honor restored after being abused by racist volunteer firemen. For Forman, the film’s story of oppression connected to his own struggle in Communist Czechoslovakia. For others, the story was a reflection of America’s own new Gilded Age, especially as the holiday season approached. But all saw the 155-minute spectacle, with a massive cast that included actors and celebrities like James Cagney, Donald O’Connor, Pat O’Brien, Elizabeth McGovern, Norman Mailer, Mandy Patinkin, and many more, as a movie event. It took an impressive $17 million and was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, and even spawned a Broadway musical; today, however, Ragtime, a historical epic to remind of past excesses, has sadly been all but forgotten.

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