New Movies -
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Old Movies -
Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012
Fiddler on the Roof (Norman Jewison, 1971)
Norman Jewison’s mind-numbingly literal adaptation of the stage musical Fiddler on the Roof is no disaster, but it certainly has its limitations. At three hours long, the movie feels grotesquely bloated whenever one has a moment of calm to consider its dearth of ideas. What remains after the songs are stripped away is an odd sort of commercial for an idealized life that supposedly once was. Because Tevye talks directly to God instead of poring over books like his misguided Rabbi does, the film doesn’t sell Judaism as a faith, but rather as a sort of Zen-philosophy that enables its believers to write off any of life’s confrontations with a shrug and a smile. Even as sheer entertainment, Fiddler fails to excite. It’s a musical with no truly memorable musical numbers. The closest it gets is the mildly surreal sequence in which Tevye recounts a made up dream filled with the ghosts of dead relatives to his wife, and that suggests Jewison’s approach is entirely wrong for this wistful material. There’s an ill fit between the squalid realism that is present in the sets and the behavior of the characters, which is coy and clichéd in the way of most musical comedies. It’s precisely the movie’s desire to remain somewhat close to the traditions of the Jewish people in the song and dance routines keeps the film from ever achieving any sort of delightful spectacle.
As anti-spectacle, Fiddler is more successful, except when the script asks for detachment from reality, which is practically every time it presents a melodramatic entanglement for one of Tevye’s five daughters. The cast is satisfyingly dowdy looking, and the sets, as mentioned above, attempt to ground the film. Jewison’s editing choices demonstrate a distinct lack of imagination, slipping into a rapid montage whenever the lyrics allow for their contents to be presented verbatim. With the small exceptions of a brief pogrom or two, the epic length of the film only presents more and more numbing sameness as it trudges along like Tevye carrying his wagon on his back. The greatest deficit in this version of Fiddler is the movie’s inability to make the audience feel that the tradition its characters sing the praises of is tragically fought for and lost. It almost seems to be surrendered willingly, and as such there is little dramatic tension here. Combine that complacency with the general lack of showiness and the film becomes a bit too humble for its own good. Though Fiddler on the Roof rarely fully botches the delivery of its maladroit tone, that alone can hardly be considered a great achievement.
* * 1/2