Fiddler on the Roof
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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