The Birth of Spectacle: Our Review of ‘King of Jazz’ on Blu-Ray

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Movies by - March 28, 2018
The Birth of Spectacle: Our Review of ‘King of Jazz’ on Blu-Ray

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It’s always interesting to see where genres really start out…

Less of a film with a straight narrative and more of a musical revue, King Of Jazz stands as one of the more technically ambitious projects of not only the early years of the movie musical but in many ways of the moving image itself as it pushes boundaries and takes audience to places that they had never seen before.

Starring Paul Whiteman, who was then widely known and celebrated as the ‘King of Jazz’, this is an exuberant and extravagant revue that draws from an array of Broadway variety shows, sketches and performances numbers from a wide array of acts, including the likes of a very young Bing Crosby that were lavishly staged by veteran theatre director John Murray Anderson.

I can’t lie; this isn’t a movie that you can judge by any traditional sense of the word as it really is more visual and musical experiment then straight narrative but King of Jazz has had an undeniable influence on the movie musical in all of its forms over the past 88 years and it will be universally adored by any fans of the genre.

While he may have been a revered theatre director this stands as the only time that John Murray Anderson ever put anything to film and the results for the time are just ground breaking.  Playing with light, shadow, and colour along with the musical numbers this plays as a pure spectacle.  It’s not selling us on a story, but rather the entertainment value that it is forcing up on to the screen.  It’s an early Technicolor effort and you can only imagine how well some of these sight gags and visual tricks that everyone involved put into practice on this film you can imagine audiences being dazzled and dumbfounded all at the same time.  It’s no wonder that the film won and Academy Award at the time for art direction, because even know it looks like something special as we get a kaleidoscopic cavalcade of musical numbers interspersed with moments of comedy given to us by the underappreciated Harry Ruskin.

A clear forerunner for the likes of Baz Luhrmann and even Bob Fosse; King Of Jazz is seemingly one of the very first movie musicals to put the spectacle ahead of the narrative story, something that feels pretty unheard of but can produce some amazingly fun results.

The film looks great thanks to a brand new 4K digital restoration and features a brand new feature length audio commentary track from film and jazz critic Gary Giddins, music and cultural critic Gene Seymour along with musician and bandleader Vince Giordano.  There’s also a new introduction to the film by Giddins, a new interview with musician Michael Feinstein along with four brand new video essays by authors and archivists James Layton and David Pierce looking at the making of the King Of Jazz.  There are also two short films & two Oswald & The Lucky Rabbit cartoons that either drew direct influence from or were inspired by the King of Jazz, along with an essay in the booklet from critic Farran Smith Nehme.

At the end of the day, King of Jazz may really only be for the classic fans of the movie musical but it also an undeniable piece of cinematic history that deserves a place of affection on the shelf of any hardcore film fan.

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  • Release Date: 3/27/2018
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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