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Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen movie review (2022)

The worldwide Broadway musical became an Oscar-nominated film in 1971, and the story now has its own documentary, The Violinist’s Journey to the Big Screen. Director Norman Jewison and some directors and performers share their memories, and we can see behind-the-scenes footage from filming in what was then Yugoslavia and at Pinewood Studios in England.

While this documentary never breaks out of the «interesting DVD extras» category and becomes a standalone feature, it does have some entertaining inside stories and some ideas about the art of cinematic storytelling. The film also shows the continued relevance of Fiddler’s themes more than half a century after its debut and more than a century after Aleichem first wrote about Tevye and his daughters. As Fiddler director Norman Jewison says, remembering the place they found to replicate the tiny Jewish community in Russia in 1905, like the fictional town of Anatevka from the musical, the Yugoslavia they knew is no more.

This documentary is as much a love letter to the filmmakers as it is to the film. Like any documentary ever made about filmmaking, it first of all shows how unlikely any film, especially a good one, will ever be made. There are always unforeseen crises and setbacks, there are always so many personalities, so many moving parts, and so many solutions that it’s like trying to solve a puzzle in the dark while riding a unicycle backwards.

So many parts must fit; sometimes literally. One of the most famous songs of «Fiddler» is «If I were a rich man» by Tevye. Jewison was keen to turn the theatrical production into a realistic, gritty, natural-looking film, and so he decided to have Tevye, played by the Israeli actor Topol, who starred in the London West End production, sing the song in his film. barn and at some point climb the stairs to the attic as he sang. This required very close coordination with John Williams, who wrote the music, Robert F. Boyle, production designer, and Tom Abbott, choreographer. One rung of the ladder or one measure of a song is too much or too little and Tevye won’t get to the top with the right beat. Not to mention the marble dust used for the artificial snow, which worked great for cameraman Oswald Morris but was terribly slippery for the dancers.

The story of Isaac Stern’s reaction to an invitation to play the violin for the protagonist is charming, as are the stories of a real fiddler on a real rooftop and Jewison’s thoughts on the violinist as a metaphor. Rosalind Harris, Michelle Marsh and Neva Small, who played Tevye’s three eldest daughters, are a delight to watch as they recall how excited they were to learn they were to appear in the film and how much it still means to them to be a part of it. The documentary’s commentator says that the making of «Fiddler» was a kind of «Brigadoon,» a magical one-time experience with no stars, as if it were so real and so organic that no one could have imagined the performers doing anything else. .

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