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Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof(1971)

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teaser Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Outside the town of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, the cast and crew of the film version of Fiddler on the Roof (1971) charged ahead with the heady task of outdoing their greatest competition: the long-running Broadway stage version of the same name. At the time of filming, Fiddler was the most popular theatrical musical of the day; it has been estimated that over thirty million people in over thirty countries had viewed the play. So, director Norman Jewison was under serious pressure to produce a hit, and after extensive locale scouting, nine million dollars, and lots of pairs of ladies - nylon stockings - I'll explain later - he did.

Fiddler was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1971 including Best Picture, Actor, and Director. It took home Oscars® for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Scoring. Although picked and panned fairly evenly by the critics, Fiddler on the Roof was a popular success with movie audiences and successfully emerged from the shadow of its stage origins.

The story line of Fiddler on the Roof is fairly simple; in the director's own words, "It's the story of a man and his God, and his problems with his five daughters." The man, Tevye, struggles between the traditions of his Jewish faith and the wills of his headstrong daughters, three of whom are of marrying age and eager to do something about it. In a role originated on Broadway by comic Zero Mostel, the film's casting drew controversy when the man playing Tevye in the London version, an Israeli actor named only Topol, was chosen for the part. His understated performance, however, was a success on film, and served as a sharp contrast to Mostel's over the top antics that worked best onstage. Topol, however, quickly faded into obscurity after Fiddler - as did the rest of the cast, actually - with one exception. [Paul] Michael Glaser, as the character Perchik, one of the daughter's suitors, would enjoy some television success in the kitschy, mid-1970's series Starsky and Hutch as cool cop Dave Starsky.

Norman Jewison was well respected as a director, thanks to In the Heat of the Night (1967) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), two very tough and masculine films. Fiddler on the Roof was thus a formidable challenge as it was his first foray into the musical genre. Early on in the project, Jewison determined that the film's success depended on a strong element of realism throughout the production, hence his extensive travels from Canada to much of Eastern Europe. He finally settled on parts of rural Yugoslavia to serve as the film's fictional town of Anatevka. It was a good choice for location authenticity; the crew was able to use many of the area's existing houses and structures as is, without needing to age or distress them to look like early twentieth century Ukraine. Famed English cinematographer Oswald ("Ossie") Morris wanted the look of the film to retain an earthy feel to be able to best communicate the color and sentiment of the land. So he stuck a nylon stocking over the camera lens. Morris voraciously defended this technique, which raised a few eyebrows when the cinematography was nominated for an Oscar, as being the ideal shade to convey his message of genuine simplicity.

The pantyhose worked for Morris; he took home the Oscar® for Cinematography in 1971. As the winner for Best Scoring, John Williams of Boston Pops fame would pick up the first of many Academy Awards in his ongoing career, which includes such composing highlights as Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Jaws (1975), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Ultimately Fiddler on the Roof would gross over thirty-eight million; perhaps not surprisingly Jewison attempted another musical in 1973's Jesus Christ Superstar, but it did not do nearly as well. He then hit a ten-year career slump before successfully reemerging with Agnes of God in 1984 and Moonstruck a year later - certainly a comeback that would cause anyone to shout "MazelTov!"

Director/'Producer: Norman Jewison
Screenwriter: Joseph Stein
Cinematographer: Oswald Morris
Music: Jerry Bock
Editor: Antony Gibbs, Robert Lawrence
Production Designer: Robert F. Boyle
Production Designer/Set Design: Michael Stringer
Costume Designer: Joan Bridge, Elizabeth Haffenden
Cast: Topol (Tevye), Norma Crane (Golde), Leonard Frey (Motel), Molly Picon (Yente), Paul Mann (Lazar Wolf), Rosalind Harris (Tzeitel), Stella Courtney (Shandel), Stanley Fleet (Farcel), Jacob Kalich (Yankel)
C-182m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.

by Eleanor Quin

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teaser Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Most films aim for efficient entertainment, they get you in, get you out and it's done. You won't get anything like that with Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia (1983) which critic J. Hoberman once described as "not so much a movie as a place to inhabit for two hours." Lushly beautiful and haunting, Nostalghia is also a challenging, thought-provoking work. Movie critic Leonard Maltin called it a "provocative, insightful epic, lovingly rendered by one of the cinema's true poets."

Tarkovsky's film follows the musicologist Gortchakov (played by Oleg Yankovsky from The Mirror, 1975) during a research trip to Italy where the composer he's studying lived for several years. Gortchakov is apparently oblivious to his beautiful translator and the wonders of Italy, instead dwelling on memories of Russia. Things start to change when he encounters Domenico (Bergman veteran Erland Josephson), a somewhat unstable man who has kept his family locked up for seven years while waiting the end of the world. Domenico has now decided that rather than wait he should do something about the end and he's decided Gortchakov should help.

Nostalghia can trace its beginnings back to early 1976 when Tarkovsky started working with Italian screenwriter and long-time friend Tonino Guerra (a frequent Antonioni collaborator) on a project called Journey Through Italy for Italian television. Though a script was written, Tarkovsky was sidetracked for a few years by work on Stalker (1979) and a stage adaptation of Hamlet. In the summer of 1979, he briefly considered an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot before picking up the Italian project again. It was now called Nostalghia (the word refers to a particular Russian feeling when "far from their native land") and Tarkovsky spent weeks in the Italian country with Guerra working on notes and ideas. This resulted in Tarkovsky's only documentary, an hour-long compilation of the journey called Time of Travel. Shortly after Tarkovsky returned to Russia, his mother died (Nostalghia is dedicated to her). You can also see quotations from his father's poems in one scene. That's apparently when the director started thinking seriously about leaving his home country.

In the middle of 1980, Tarkovsky was back in Italy, again working with Guerra. By now the script included elements from their earlier trip along with references to Russian literature and music. The composer in the film is modeled after 18th century composer Maximilian Berezovsky, the first Russian to compose Italian-style opera and whose suicide already inspired several plays and novels. Nostalghia was to be a co-production between Italy and Russia which created problems Tarkovsky hadn't encountered before, namely, the friction between the commercial-minded Italian company (who kept trimming the budget and demanding final cut privileges) and the bureaucratic Russian film studio (who claimed to "lose" messages from the Italians).

The main character of Gortchakov was originally intended for Anatoli Solonitsyn (who'd played the lead role in Andrei Rublev, 1969) but he was seriously ill and eventually died in June 1982. The role was offered to another Tarkovsky veteran, Aleksandr Kajdanovsky (Stalker), but when he wasn't given permission to leave the country it finally went to Oleg Yankovsky. In the spring of 1982, Tarkovsky finalized the other actors and scouted locations in Italy. Filming finally started in the fall when Tarkovsky discovered that the leisurely way he worked in Russia wasn't possible in Italy. He couldn't, for instance, take his time watching daily rushes, re-filming parts or suspending shooting while he pondered the direction of the film. He also had to work through an interpreter since he knew very little Italian and there was only one other Russian actor. Still, Tarkovsky later claimed that Nostalghia represented his interior thoughts better than any of his other films, partly due to the sheer concentration required by the challenging work environment. A few scenes were scheduled to be shot in Russia but Tarkovsky decided to do those scenes in Italy since he didn't think he would be allowed to leave Russia if he went back; in fact he never returned to Russia. (His wife joined him during the filming of Nostalghia but his son stayed in Russia.)

Nostalghia showed at Cannes where Tarkovsky later claimed that the Russian authorities had pulled strings to prevent him from getting the Grand Prix. Still, he was awarded Best Director (tied with Robert Bresson for L'Argent), the International Critics Award and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury so he did have some success. Also at Cannes, Tarkovsky signed a contract with the Swedish Film Institute to make a film called The Witch (later titled The Sacrifice, 1986) that would turn out to be his last feature.

Producer: Franco Casati
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay: Tonino Guerra, Andrei Tarkovsky
Cinematography: Giuseppe Lanci
Costume Design: Lina Nerli Taviani
Film Editing: Amedeo Salfa, Erminia Marani
Original Music: Ludwig van Beethoven
Principal Cast: Oleg Yankovsky (Andrei Gortchakov), Domiziana Giordano (Eugenia), Erland Josephson (Domenico), Patrizia Terreno (Gortchakov's wife), Laura De Marchi (Chambermaid).

by Lang Thompson

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