Monday, April 11, 2011

Prince of the City

I will always be grateful to Sidney Lumet for one of my favorite films, The Sea Gull. It's probably not anyone else's favorite, and it isn't even available on video, but I cherish it. I taped it when it was shown on Bravo years ago, back when Bravo was the cream of cable TV; now it's the New York Post at the bottom of the NBC parrot cage, so don't bother to check your listings. So it goes.

The many Lumet obituaries have listed the many Lumet classics, and a few made sure to mention his misfires, including The Wiz. How do you get from Twelve Angry Men and Serpico to a musical? Here's what happened: In 1968 Carol Reed, director of such noirish masterpieces as Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man, had a huge success with Oliver! For years afterward, every heavyweight director had to make his Musical, no matter how far from his comfort zone the genre fell. The only unqualified success was Bergman's The Magic Flute, which is also the finest example of opera on film (actually Singspiele, the musical comedy of eighteenth century Vienna). The rest range from John Huston's Annie, a watchable mediocrity; to Martin Scorsese's New York, New York, which feels longer than Parsifal; to such ten-car-pileups as Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost and Francis Coppola's One From the Heart. By that standard -- and certainly not that of, say, the Freed Unit -- The Wiz is highly watchable. It has some terrific dancing, and I always feel dancing is more important to a movie musical than singing. You can't dub dancing.*

When a Sidney Lumet movie comes on, you know you won't be bored. Maybe exasperated -- all that Chayefsky hollering out the window can wear you out in Network, and Albert Finney's big wrapup in Murder on the Orient Express goes on for ten minutes too long --
but you don't feel you've wasted two hours of your life. The man could tell a story, without CGI or fart jokes, and I'm glad he left so many movies. Like Woody Allen, he loved New York City; unlike Woody, he didn't need to spell it out. Just look.

*Now, apparently, you can, to judge by the controversy surrounding The Black Swan. Back when they made Oklahoma!, there was nothing to do about a non-dancer like Rod Steiger but get him out of the way; now a computer can put Steiger's face on the body of Savion Glover -- or better still, Eleanor Powell. Don't you love technology?



Blogger Quacko said...

I love the idea of putting someone's face on Savion Glover. I count on Rose to tell me what is going on in the world of film most of the time- she told me to miss "Black Swan'. Glad I did. Will miss Mr. Lumet.

1:21 PM  

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