BluRay/DVD Reviews

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

By • May 10th, 2011 •

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Genres find their appropriate homes, and BluRay is a reason to celebrate the musical genre. Whether you love the The Musical or not, BluRay was made for it. Add to your Musical shelf the 40th Anniversary BluRay FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Norman Jewison’s remarkable balancing act of desaturated cinematography and set design with dazzling music, lyrics, and energetic acting. Much of its success was in the hiring – knowing who, on both sides of the camera, could play with those counterpointed concepts, keeping audiences glued to the screen.

Oswald Morris was certainly an inspired choice as DP. Known (even by himself) as an ‘experimental’ director of photography for his work on such films as MOBY DICK, MOULIN ROUGE, OUR MAN IN HAVANA, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (uncredited), OLIVER!, and his last, THE DARK CRYSTAL, he understood how to subdue the look of FIDDLER and yet keep viewers involved for over three hours. His work is manifested in an exemplary manner by the BluRay transfer.

Robert Lawrence was an equally smart choice as one of the editors. At home with epic-sized films – SPARTACUS, EL CID, 55 DAYS AT PEKING, THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, and IS PARIS BURNING?, there could have been no doubt that he was capable of assembling the pieces and weaving together a spectacular cut on a film of FIDDLER’s scale. Tackling the tension-filled, chaotic third act of 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE fifteen years later proved he’d lost none of his gift for pacing. FIDDLER’s cutting patterns alternate between long, conversational takes, and energized montages. For the most part, the erratic flow keeps us interested and involved.

Norman Jewison – not Jewish, by the way, despite his name and despite the subject matter – is as versatile a director as ever strode onto a set. THE CINCINNATI KID, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, all came before FIDDLER, and none indicated that he would be the right choice to helm this – his first musical. But before his entrée into features, he’d worked on TV, on ‘Your Hit Parade,’ ‘The Chevy Showroom Starring Andy Williams,’ and ‘Belafonte New York,’ so there was a strong background in the genre, just not feature-length.

I was on the set of THE CINCINNATI KID and got to watch Jewison direct. He’d had to hastily replace Sam Peckinpah as director, and had come to New Orleans with Terry Southern in tow to help him patch up the script. Having to cope with the likes of Ann-Margaret, Edward G. Robinson, Steve McQueen, and Karl Malden, all heavyweights who could have easily overpowered a neophyte feature director under such sudden circumstances, I sensed no concern, but rather a friendly confidence about the man. He moved around the location easily, methodically, never appearing rattled, and the end result was a fine piece of entertainment.

Being that FIDDLER comes from the Broadway stage, and is populated with intentionally Jewish archetypes, Jewison makes a noble effort to acknowledge the tone of the script, and at the same time keep his cast emoting with a kind of emboldened realism. It works. Additionally, the BluRay gives us a profound and vivid sense of the musical score that weaves through the story, in particular the occasional fiddle riffs. Jewison tells us that he pushed for a more sweeping tempo to the story, including the music, which used a larger orchestra than the stage productions.

Topol and Jewison regale us in this way on the commentary track. The journey they take us on through the arduous filming period is most enlightening. It’s also beautifully miked. It’s amusing to hear Jewison explain how they had a white target on a stick off camera to represent God whenever a cast member had to look and address Him. Not unlike the way Ray Harryhausen set his actors’ focus when they were supposed to be staring at various mythological creatures.

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