King of Jazz

King of Jazz 
 
(John Murray Anderson, 1930)
 
Rating: 4/5 
 
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster 
 
Summary: A musical of merit and miraculous energy, King of Jazz is a crowning achievement in Hollywood’s most flamboyant genre. 
 
1930! 1930! It’s hard to believe that King of Jazz came out way back in 1930. Sure, it looks dated (after all it is a Hollywood musical from way back when) but this was ahead of its time. Shot in early Technicolor, but also breaking the fourth wall and having an animated number within the first 10 minutes, it’s hard to imagine a film this audacious pre-WW2. 
 
The plot is loose and unimportant. What matters is that these sketches and musical numbers add up to trailblazing glory - it was pictures like King of Jazz, The Jazz Singer and Singin’ in the Rain that gave Hollywood its colourful charge, its voice and sheer dynamism. 
 
 
When King of Jazz burst onto screens, it was more than just a film - it was a nail in the coffin of silent cinema, a warning shot at staged theatre and a rallying cry to all the young filmmakers, animators, songwriters and dancers: the gauntlet was down. 
 
(Top) hats off to Criterion for once again releasing a truly important film in the best possible quality, supplemented with a host of thoughtfully amassed bonus features and good old fashioned written material in the included booklet. Be sure to pick this one up if you’re a fan of Hollywood musicals. It’s even got a young Bing Crosby strutting his stuff. 
 
Made during the early years of the movie musical, this exuberant revue was one of the most extravagant, eclectic and technically ambitious Hollywood productions of its day. Starring the bandleader PAUL WHITEMAN, then widely celebrated as the King of Jazz, the film drew from Broadway variety shows of the time to present a spectacular array of sketches, performances by such acts as the Rhythm Boys (featuring a young BING CROSBY) and orchestral numbers overseen by Whiteman himself (including a larger-than-life rendition of GEORGE GERSHWIN's Rhapsody in Blue) all lavishly staged by veteran theatre director JOHN MURRAY ANDERSON and beautifully shot in early Technicolour. Long available only in incomplete form, King of Jazz appears here newly restored to its original glory, offering a fascinating snapshot of the way mainstream American popular culture viewed itself at the dawn of the 1930s.
 
 
BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
 
  • New 4K digital restoration by Universal Pictures, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • New audio commentary featuring jazz and film critic Gary Giddens, music and cultural critic Gene Seymour and musician and bandleader Vince Giordano
  • New introduction by Giddens
  • New interview with musician and pianist Michael Feinstein
  • Four new video essays by authors and archivists James Layton and David Pierce on the development and making of King of Jazz
  • Deleted scenes and alternate opening-title sequence
  • All Americans, a 1929 short film featuring a version of the Melting Pot number that was restaged for the finale of King of Jazz
  • I Know Everybody and Everybody's Racket, a 1933 short film featuring Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra
  • Two Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons from 1930, featuring music and animation from King of Jazz

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