The Oscars Project: Movie #20

(Explanation of The Oscars Project here. The following post may contain spoilers!)

From 1971: Fiddler on the Roof

Summary: This movie was based on the Broadway musical of the same name, which was based on stories by Sholom Aleichem. While the U.S. was dealing with the fallout from social revolution in the 1960s, Tevye, village milkman and father of five lovely daughters, struggles with the balance (not unlike a fiddler trying to play atop a roof!) of tradition and progress--in his little world as his eldest three daughters marry unlikely husbands, and in the outside world as Russia nears revolution. Oh, and there's lots of singing and dancing as this is a three hour musical.

This film had eight nominations, including Best Picture/Actor/Supporting Actor/Director, but won only three--none for acting. John Williams won for Best Score.

My thoughts: I really had a hard time assembling my thoughts on this movie. What crystallized it for me, finally, was the appearance of My Big Fat Greek Wedding on basic cable this weekend. (In fact, it just came on again in the background about five minutes ago.) I know, I know--not a perfect movie. But it's an interesting parallel to Fiddler.

Couldn't you see Costa the big Greek bear commiserating with the leonine Tevye (portrayed by Topol, who also starred in the Broadway musical) about how their daughters are driving them crazy? They'd probably strike up a duet of "Traditiooooooonnnnn!"

Both fathers have very strong ties to tradition and great love for their culture. Not, mind you, that their daughters seem to love their culture any less. . . but their daughters have experienced the down side of adhering to tradition, especially as women--and they also foresee what will happen, as the larger world around them bears down on them, if they don't adapt to survive. I think that ultimately these women do express by their actions that they do feel traditions have their place and most of the time are good. I think Peske and West hit the nail on the head when they say that by the time the third daughter, who pretty much broke his heart and cut herself off from the family by running off with a Russian man (when all Russians were seen as the enemy), "Tevye is forced to open himself up to the reality of the changes going on around him and the limits of his control, and ultimately his love triumphs over his fear of change." (p. 104) He realizes that his daughters didn't do what they did because they didn't love him. They did it because they knew his love for them and that he wanted them to be happy and fruitful. (Besides, they'll all fight over who gets to take care of him when he's old, right? You just get the feeling they will.)

The musical numbers are well sung, scored, and choreographed. Incidentally, according to the commentary by director Norman Jewison (who also directed Moonstruck, another movie about tradition and matchmaking of sorts!), most of the cast was imported from the stage. That's probably something that doesn't really happen nowadays. (That also might explain why there were only two acting nominations and neither won--but at least Topol got an acknowledgement for his outstanding work in the leading role.) The only number I didn't care for was the one in which Tevye is trying to convince his wife Golde (Norma Crane) he had a dream that their eldest daughter shouldn't marry the wealthy butcher who is many years her senior. It just seemed kind of clunky and given too much screen time in proportion to the story. That said, it lacks the power to detract from the movie, anyway.

Bottom line: Again, this is one of those movies that I'm probably the last person in the world to have seen, but if you haven't seen it, I recommend it. Don't forget the tissue box because you'll cry, if not during Sunrise, Sunset, then somewhere between there and the end.

Next up: TBD. I'm checking availability of what's on my list and will let you know as soon as it's decided, so stay tuned.


Anonymous said…
I just adore this movie. Even thinking about Sunrise, Sunset is enough to get me all choked up! Topol was touring with either last year or the one before when it came to Seattle, and I wanted to see it so badly, but the timing just didn't work out.
Kate P said…
I know, Angela--isn't it really moving in places? And Topol wasn't that old when he had the role--they just made him up to look older--but to think, he was touring with the show recently? Wow! He must still be young at heart.

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