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    SUBJECTS — Cinema; U.S./1913-1929, Diversity & New York; Music/Popular;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out;Talent;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Caring.
    Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 1927; 89 minutes; B & W; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     A cantor is a person who leads religous songs and chanted prayers in a synagogue. This movie tells the story of a young Jewish boy from a long line of cantors who decides to break with family tradition to become a jazz singer.

    Benefits of the Movie:     This movie was the first talking picture ever made. Jolson's prophetic opening line, "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet!" were the first words spoken by a movie actor on a widely distributed film. The movie contains a number of famous songs, including "Mammy," "Toot Toot Tootsie Goodby," and "Blue Skies." It also contains two beautiful scenes of the Yom Kippur service of Kol Nidre. Possible Problems:    MINOR. This film is mixed silent and talkie. Jolson's mannerisms are at times dated but if children can get beyond these, it is an enjoyable movie. There are some stereotypical portrayals of Jewish men who live in New York. Jolson was, for much of his career, a minstrel singer. He puts on black face for his final performance.

    Parenting Points:     The is the first talkie and it is in black and white. The acting style is dated. Therefore, usually only children interested in the history of film or who have a strong Jewish background will be interested in this film. However, there are still important lessons to be learned for those children who do watch the movie. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:   1929 Academy Awards: Warner Brothers was given a special award for producing the pioneer talking film. 1929 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Effects; Best Adaptation; This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" film. This film is ranked #90 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006).

      Featured Actors:  Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland, William Demarest, Eugenie Besserer, Myrna Loy.

      Director:  Alan Crosland.


Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   Did Jackie do the right thing to abandon the life of a cantor, the life his family wanted him to lead, and become a jazz singer?

Suggested Response: There is no one right answer to this question. A good answer would deal with the issue of Jackie's responsibility to himself to fulfill his potential and live his own life. A person should seriously consider what his or her family wants him to do, but ultimately we must all do what we think is best. A very good answer would use the analysis in Principled Decision Making or Making Ethical Decisions, examining the values of each stakeholder that are affected and balancing those values. (For another version of this question, see the Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions.)

    Helpful Background:

    The Kol Nidre prayer is the height of the Yom Kippur service, the most solemn service of the Jewish religion.

    "Cantors" are the men (and now women) who lead the chants and songs during Jewish religious services. The post of Cantor is one of prominence and honor in the temple. The position was sometimes handed down from father to son, as it had been for generations in the Rabinowitz family. However, more often a cantor's son would take a position as a cantor in another temple.

    Before the 1960s, many Jewish stage performers anglicized their names.

    The United States has been referred to as a "melting pot" in which the various traditions of Europe and some from Africa and Asia were combined to produce a uniquely "American" culture. This movie shows the "assimilation" of Jake Rabinowitz into the American mainstream.

    It was said that a good Cantor had a voice with "a tear" in it. It was a tradition on the stage before the 1940s for white performers to appear in black face and impersonate black minstrel entertainers.

For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: Yom Kippur, Kol Nidre, cantor, shiksa, black face, minstrel show, melting pot.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    1.  Did Jackie do the right thing to abandon the life of a cantor, the life his family wanted him to lead, and become a jazz singer?

    2.  What did Cantor Rabinowitz mean when he accused his son of "debasing the voice God gave you?"

    3.  Was Jackie's father right to throw him out of the house when he refused to be a cantor?


    4.  Was there any way that Jolson could develop his talent but remain within the confines of his family's traditions?

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

    1.  Jackie was torn by his sense of obligation to his family and his need to live his own life according to his own lights. Analyze the decision that he made using Principled Decision Making or the Ethical Decision-Making Model suggested by the Josephson Institute of Ethics. See Making Ethical Decisions. Include in your analysis a description of the stakeholders in the decision. Discuss which of The Six Pillars of Character Jackie would honor by staying within the fold and being a cantor all his life and which Pillars would he comply with by developing his talents to their fullest through a career as a jazz singer. Describe any important factors involved in the decision that are not based on ethical principles. Finally, answer the question, "Did Jackie make the right decision?"


    (Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

    2.  Compare this film to Fiddler on the Roof. Cantor Rabinowitz and Tevye faced similar problems with changing traditions and assimilation. What were the differences in the way that they handled these situations?

    3.  Who were the stakeholders in Cantor Rabinowitz' decision to disown his son? Did Mr. Rabinowitz appear to think about the affect of his decision on the other stakeholders?

    4.  Did the ethical principle of caring play any role of caring in Jackie's decision to leave home and become a jazz singer? If it didn't, should it have?

Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

    Bridges to Reading:   None.
  MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Amadeus (music is referred to as the voice of God in both); Fiddler on the Roof.


    Bibliography:    None.

    Last updated December 10, 2009.

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