FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The popular Broadway musical came to movie screens in 1971 with this award-winning film. Topol stars as Tevye, a simple Jewish farmer in the little town of Anatevka. He has five daughters, and through each of them, he sees the traditions of the past challenged. From his first daughter, who wants to marry whom she chooses to his middle daughter who wants to marry outside of the faith, Tevya and the town must deal with the changes and dangers brought on by the outside world.
WHAT I LIKED
I remember seeing “Fiddler on the Roof” with my parents in the theater when I was a kid. Of course, I was way too young to understand any of it, and I quickly got bored with the three hour running time. Now, after watching renditions in various aspects on stage throughout the years, it’s a treat to look back on the film 40 years from when it was made.
No one needs to be told how fantastic the music is with this film, though it is nice to be reminded of this fact. From the opening “Tradition!” number, which served in place of an Overture, to the mournful denouement “Anatevka,” the songs still live and transcend the time in which the production was first made.
The stars are great, led by Topol in his career-making performance. I’ll admit that I can’t watch his other films (including the James Bond classic “For Your Eyes Only”) without hearing him sing “If I Were a Rich Man” in the back of my head. There’s a vibrant nature to the acting in this film that warms the heart and makes it feel comfortable, even when things aren’t going so great for the characters.
The Blu-ray transfer is as good as can be expected with a film that is 40 years old. I’ve seen this movie projected as well as on VHS back in the 80s, and I can say that this is the best I’ve seen it. The colors pop, which surprised me considering how drab the film can be (and how drab it was on VHS). In particular, Tevye’s dream sequence looks fantastic and reminds me how beautiful the film looks. Sure, there’s a certain amount of grain that’s still in the image, but that’s an artifact of the stock and must be accepted for a film shot in the early 70s.
All of this makes the look of the film quite brilliant. Having a more mature eye, I noticed the beauty of the sets and costumes, which had the perfect lived-in look, rather than the pristine, off-the-shelf look of some films in the 60s. Director/producer Norman Jewison’s choice to shoot in Eastern Europe paid off with the film, which looks authentic even today.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Not a whole lot, really. Unlike many three hour movies, there’s nothing that leaps out that could have been edited out. The musical numbers don’t overstay their welcome, and the story takes its time but doesn’t plod along.
It’s nice to see an anniversary Blu-ray that has plenty of special features, even if many of them come from earlier releases.
The Blu-ray includes commentary by Jewison and Topol, the deleted song “Any Day Now,” storyboard-to-film comparisons, teasers, trailers and TV spots.
Featurettes include “Norman Jewison Looks Back,” “John Williams: Creating a Musical Tradition,” “Songs of Fiddler on the Roof,” “Tevye’s Daughters,” “Set in Reality: Production Design” and the full-color version of “Tevye’s Dream Sequence.”
But the most interesting featurette is a 48-minute vintage documentary called “Norman Jewison, Filmmaker.” This documentary spotlights the director, not just in the moments when he makes things come together but also when he’s frustrated, angry and critical of the production. It gives a sense of what it was like on the set in the 70s and how tough it can be for even an experienced director to make a film.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Anyone who likes a great musical.