on June 10, 2004
Norman Jewison's "Fiddler On the Roof" is the story of a poor milkman living in tsarist Russia, which in the outskirts of Russia. This is one of the most original musicals, based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem. Played by Chaim Topol and Norma Crane as Tevye and Golde, the acting of this role of parents of five daughters in an orthodox Jewish family is done brilliantly. Tevye's misquotings of the bible is hilarious. The songs in the movie are outstanding and poignant. Starting from the beginning with "Tradition", with violinist Isaac Stern doing his magic, every song has its uniqueness.
Each of his three older daughters choose a different path. The first one refuses to marry the person chosen by the father as she in love with the tailer Motel. The way Tevye cons his wife into agreeing for this wedding is one of the funniest pieces of the movie. The characters chosen are unique and beautifully portrayed. The song before this, "Matchmaker, matchmaker" is beautiful. The way Yente, the matchmaker looks at the youngest daughters as though they were caravans wares is extremely funny. The second daughter Tseitel chooses the revolutionary who is against the Tsar and wishes communism. The song in the bar "To life, Le Chaim" is unusual and shows the way the Jews and the Christians can get along in a limited manner. The third daughter chooses a gentile.
Though this is a musical, the acting, story and the character portrayal is deep. Songs range from comic like "If I were a rich man", to haunting, "Sunrise, sunset", to sad and lonely, "Little bird". Though being Jewish will help one understand this movie better, it is not a necessity. The screenplay is wonderful. The particular one that I like is when Avraham comes and tells that there are bad things going on in the world. Another person says, "Why should I break my head about the outside world, let the outside world break its own head". Here Tevye says, "He is right, if you spit in the air, it lands in your face." Then the revolutionary says, "Nonsense, you cannot be blind to what happens outside." Then Tevye says, "You know, he is also right." At this time Avraham points to the revolutionary and the other person and says, "He is right and he is right, they can't both be right." Now Tevye looks at Avraham and says, "You know, you are also right."
When the Jews are evicted, it is extremely sad. They console themselves saying that their village Anatevka was not exactly the garden of Eden. This song, "Anatevka", is sad and heartbreaking. They have so little but still love it. It reminds one that happiness is something of the inside and has nothing to do with material possessions. This movie is a classic and a timeless masterpiece. It might be difficult for some people to understand due to the history of Tsarist Russia and its pogroms and the context, otherwise, to date it is my favorite musical.
on March 25, 2004
Like a great conductor conveys the essence of a composers emotions through interpretation and conducting, this film was created, much like a symphony coming to life, in the hands of a master film maker.
Tevye the milkman has three daughters who, one-by-one find the man of their dreams. The story is about Tevye's inner turmoil as he prepares himself to let each daughter go off into the world of marriage. Faith and tradition are everything in Tevye's life and thinking, and they surface in little chats he has with his God. His God is the sounding board for his thinking but his tradition offsets everything else. It is about the tradition of the Jewish culture and how everything must have a law and a faith to keep them together.
Norman Jewison has made some great films over his career, but for me, Fiddler is the pinnacle of his artistic achievement in musicals. It is stylishly with the flair of an artist who knows.
Music is so much of the story and Jewison has edited to the music. Unlike many previous musicals (i.e. Rogers & Hammerstein or most filmed Operas) which hold a shot for the singers and actors to move about the frame, Jewison has cut and intercut the film on the meaning of the story and the beat of the music so that the performers and the music bring the audience intimately into the lives of the characters. Fiddler shows how a creative director can construct a film to be a spectacle of congeniality of all the elements, because he knows how to tell a story visually.
This is a great film from a master filmmaker with a twinkle in his eye.
on December 6, 2003
"Fiddler on the Roof" is one of the greatest works for the theater of all time. The story is one of extroidinary importance, and one that has entertained ever since opening on Broadway on September 22, 1964.
The story, based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem, centers around Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman who lives with his wife and five daughters in czarist Russia in 1905, on the eve of the revolutionary period. They live in their home in the small village of Anatevka. The story is so engrossing, so I will tell no more of the plot, as to not spoil for you the joys of first viewing it yourself.
Tevye, the deeple religious milkman, is played magnificently by Chaim Topol (he is billed only as "Topol"). Before I saw this movie for the first time, I thought it was a mistake for the filmmakers to not have Tevye portrayed by Zero Mostel, who played him in the original Broadway production. I must say, however, that Topol is a marvel as the lovable Tevye. He is a perfect match to the character...his performance is both funny and touching. I laugh every time I see him dance while singing the famous "If I Were A Rich Man". His performance is one for the ages.
The supporting performances are all extroidinary! Norma Crane is very sincere and fabulous as Golde, Tevye's wife. Rosalind Harris (Tzeitel), Michele Marsh (Hodel) and Neva Small (Cheva) are all magnificent as Tevye's three main daughter's. Their performances are all sentimental and heartfelt. Their rendition of "Matchmaker" is priceless. Leonard Frey is also great as Motel, the tailor and one of the girl's love interests. Only, the way he walks and moves can be quite annoying at times. Nevertheless, he sings a great rendition of "Miracles of Miracles".
The songs are all composed by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Every one of the songs in "Fiddler on the Roof" is incredible. The hysterical "If I Were A Rich Man", one of the sweetest duets of all time "Do You Love Me?" and the haunting, beautifully written "Sunrise, Sunset".
"Fiddler on the Roof" is an incredible story with incredible music. Th estory is very happy at times, but also very sad. I usually never cry at movies, yet several scenes made me teary eyed. Believe me, you will love this American Masterpiece. It is not just one of the greatest musicals ever written, it is one of the best movies of all-time. If you were a rich man, you couldn't buy a better show. (The DVD extras are great, also).
To qoute the New York Post, "'Fiddler on the Roof' is like your grandmother's house: a place to renew old values and get your soul scrubbed out. If you're lucky enough to have it still, be wise enough to visit it often." You'll be glad you did.
on June 19, 2011
I am at a loss to understand the two negative reviews. My blu-ray disc is very much better than the DVD and a worthwhile upgrade all round. The subtitles are not however complete as the songs are excluded. If you like this film the Blu-ray is definately the way to go.
on November 29, 2003
Lots of other reviewers have already described the plot, music, and performers in this excellent classic, so I won't re-invent the wheel here. My 4-star rating is directed more at the technical aspects of this particular DVD edition.
To begin with, it comes on a single disk, with the movie on one side and the extra material on the other. The disk itself is plain (i.e., no graphics) and the titles are in teeny-tiny print around the hole in the middle -- print so tiny that I cannot read it without my bifocals. A minor complaint, perhaps, but highly relevant to the senior generation to which my wife and I belong -- the very same generation that is a big part of the market for this movie. Frankly, this format strikes me as a cheap-out -- and why do that with such an important classic? Especially since the list price for this DVD is $19.98, i.e. it's not exactly a "bargain" edition.
I would have preferred two separate disks -- even if they cost a bit more -- with different graphics on each. So, I'm docking this edition a star for it's inconvenient format, and I certainly hope this one-disk idea does not become common, heaven forbid.
On the plus side, the many interesting "extras" include a very nice background piece, narrated by director Norman Jewison, explaining the history of Jews under the Russian Tzar, the "Pale of Settlement," the pattern of village life, the various social strata, etc., such as portrayed in the film. This is especially useful for showing "Fiddler" to gentile groups who might not even be aware that the characters are Jewish. (REALLY! I have actually met people who thought of Tevye and friends as generic "Russians" and had no idea that the movie was about Jews, even though the opening number, "Tradition," features shots of Hebrew texts and synagogue art. Then again, maybe people don't know the difference between the Hebrew and Cyrillic alphabets?)
on October 27, 2003
...and, believe it or not, saw this film for the very first time last week! I know, part of the reason has been the fact that I don't consider myself to be much into venerable musicals (although at least two of them are on my all-time fav list: see THE KING AND I & THE WIZARD OF OZ); also, clocking in at exactly three hours as this film does, I needed to build up the patience to see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971). Now that I've finally seen it, I want to see it again.
Norman Jewison (himself not Jewish, by the way, despite his name) directed this, the film version of the long-running '60's Broadway musical that had starred the legendary Zero Mostel. I mention this fact because of the related controversy surrounding the casting of this film. Norman Jewison had bucked the popular trend by passing on Mostel to cast Palestine-born Israeli actor Topol, who had starred in the London stage production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, in the lead role of Tevye. This hurt the Broadway star's feelings badly, as Zero Mostel had basically figured that his starring in the film version was a done deal; however, his notorious tempestuousness with film directors, plus his unpredictability on the set of the Broadway original, caused Jewison to choose the better-tempered, and less-hammy, Topol instead. (The story goes that, the following year when Norman was casting his next film, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR--another film adaptation of a Broadway musical--he called on Zero's son Josh to fill the role of King Herod. Zero was home and could be heard shouting "Tell him to give it to Topol's son!" Josh got the part, anyway.)
This film, Topol and all, is a masterpiece. It manages to tell a rather somber story while being entertaining at the same time. It contains some rather lengthy musical numbers that only serve to enhance, not subtract from, the plot. Most of these musical numbers became so popular that they are now legendary (the opening number "Tradition"; "Matchmaker, Matchmaker"; "If I Were A Rich Man"; "Sunrise, Sunset" and the beautiful closing number "Anatevka"). This Special Edition DVD boasts excellent picture and sound quality; it certainly doesn't seem like the film was made over 30 years ago!
Then there is the casting: Topol, in an instantly-career-defining role, justifies the Mostel snub all the way (sorry, Zero) with a fully-realized performance that is alternatively amusing and engaging, introspective and thoughtful, agonizing and heart-rending. His character, a lowly milkman, is the center of the world in which he lives. At the beginning, he addresses us, the audience. In the remainder of the film, he interacts with each of the other characters and, most notably, with God, to whom he addresses his pleas. His relationship with the camera is nothing short of magical, and he was well-deserving of his Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Norma Crane plays Tevye's wife Golde, who both loves and tolerates him, all at once. Molly Picon plays Yente, the irrepressible matchmaker (who, in a point of irony, does not match up any of the marrying principals). Rosalind Harris plays Tevye's eldest daughter of five, Tzeitel, in a beautiful performance of quiet understatement. Leonard Frey plays Motel (pronounced "muttle"), Tzeitel's betrothed, in an earnest performance that garnered him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Paul Mann plays huge, pear-shaped Lazar Wolf, who strikes up an agreement with Tevye to win his eldest daughter's hand in marriage. His performance is so full of vitality that it's amazing to me that FIDDLER ON THE ROOF was the very last film he would ever do. Lastly, it is of note that future "Starsky and Hutch" star Paul Michael Glaser (here billed simply as Michael Glaser) makes a notable film debut as Communist revolutionary Perchik, who wins the hand of Tevye's second-eldest daughter Hodel (Michele Marsh), much to Tevye's chagrin.
Tevye's striving to hang on to his Orthodox Jewish traditions while everything changes all about him--indeed, his world as he knows it goes from secure to nonexistent during the course of this film--makes up the majority of the plot. Frustrating his good intentions are the three eldest daughters (out of a total of five) who cause his patience to be tested, his faith to be shaken. The eldest calls into question the tradition of arranged marriages and the second calls into question the tradition of marrying an observant Jew (who himself calls into question the ancient rules of intergender public activity, such as dancing). Finally, the third daughter Chava (Neva Small) calls the whole idea of marrying another Jew into question, which leads to some of the film's most heartbreaking scenes. Oh, and while all this is going on, Czar Nicholas II stages pogroms against Jews in many towns--with Anatevka being next on the list.
With all of its subplots and activity, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF leaves you with much about which to think. For all of its musical bombast, it contains much in the way of thoughtfulness. Perhaps most importantly, it captures a people and their era that is so distantly removed from our own--and makes us care. It also contains some beautiful music by Isaac Stern, who gives such an idelible musical voice to the titular character in this thoroughly remarkable, classic film. The extra features on this DVD are also excellent. This is a must-buy for all cinemaniacs.
on July 16, 2003
When I saw this DVD on sale at a local store I snapped it up - happy to add this classic film to my collection. While the story, music, characters and dialog are as enjoyable as ever, I was disapointed by the flaws in the video. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is a welcome plus, but it seems that no attempt was made to restore the film on DVD by removing the obvious and numerous flaws in the original film print. I'm not a video perfectionist by any stretch, but even across the living room on my small-screen (27") TV I could easily spot the flecks, spots and other flaws in the film - and this was during the FIRST viewing! Think half-way to dollar movie image quality (or lack therefore). MGM had already OK'd a high quality, anamorphic transfer, why didn't they spend the extra money to restore this classic and beloved film? Hopefully MGM will do a restoration in the future and bring out an "extra special edition" (or something). For now this is all we have on DVD and I'll keep my copy - I just wish MGM would have gone the extra mile (restoration) with this film on DVD.
on February 23, 2004
I have been a fan of this musical since being exposed to the Zero Mostel Cast Album version when I was a small kid. When I found out about the movie version (back in the late 70's after its creation), I sought to view it. Although theatre and film are completely different mediums, I felt the movie version held up to the libretto of the musical rather well. And that's where I think I might be losing something in this translation of Broadway to Hollywood.
After practically memorizing every single lick of the cast album (much like I did Jesus Christ Superstar...word for word!),
I noticed that the Special Edition DVD either deletes a verse from the original cast album text or that director Norman Jewison filmed it this way! It happens in the 'Tradition' opening sequence where the young Jewish boy runs late into Hebrew school and sings the part about what boys do in the Jewish 'tradition'.
The young boy looks out of the school at a young girl who waits outside as the last verse goes by, then it's (lyrically speaking) supposed to seque into the boys singing...."the sons". You can even hear a lasting vocal note to this effect as it jumps into a totally different scene with the daughters.
Does anyone have any background information on this minor fact?
It doesn't detract from the whole movie, but would settle a curiosity.
on July 20, 2003
One of the most emotional stage musicals, Fiddler on the Roof has a wonderful success story. The show focuses on one man's issues within his own family and faith. From that alone the show won universal appeal. Everyone can relate with Tevye's struggle. There on stage or screen we can see another adult who has choices to make everyday. That is a lot of stress and the musical expresses the sentiments wonderfully.
When it came time to put the show on film, the show went through some interesting changes. First, Norman Jewison was selected to direct the project. A self-proclaimed 'goy', Jewison doubted his own ability to capture all the details of Jewish life. But, instead of giving up, he researched and researched. One of the first changes came in casting. The popular comic Zero Mostel, who played Tevye on Broadway was the natural choice to take on the film role, but Jewison had a different opinion. He thought film makes the settings, textures and characters more realistic. So, this film would be less of a fantasy, less of a musical comedy than the stage production. He didn't want the film to resemble a Jewish vaudeville act so, he looked elsewhere for the leading man. He wanted someone who could realistically portray a Eastern European Jew. He found Chaim Topol who was only 35 when they finished the film. Topol had played the role in the London Production of Fiddler on the Roof and was honored for his film performance as well.
Much of the film was filmed on location in Yugoslavia. At the time of filming, there were still many villages that had no electricity, telephones and operated with horse drawn carts. It was a perfect stand-in for 1910 Anatevka. Incidentally, Anatevka as well as Tevye and his daughters were all the work of fiction, created by the Jewish humorist Sholom Aleichem. Some work was still done in a London studio when weather or environmental control was a necessity.
The movie musical stands as one of the strongest, most emotional in history. But it is not a Xerox copy of the stage production. The spectacular Production values, (gone were the stage production abstract paintings) are amazing. You can almost choke on the dust in the chicken coop; feel the mud sloshing as Tevye's mule takes his last journey back home; Appreciate the weight of the Milk Cart. Several times throughout Fiddler on the Roof a song is sung during a ritual. Whether it be folding the clothes, delivering milk, celebrating a wedding or the sabbath or feeding the livestock.
The song "the rumor" was removed. Additionally, Perchik's song "Now I have Everything" was taken out to be replaced with a new song "Any Day Now." That song was recorded but taken out of the show before it was filmed, but is available as a Bonus Feature on one of the two DVD releases, along with a running commentary. Be warned that the gorgeous cinematography is extremely widescreen and looks best on a 16 by 9 television... A small standard television will give you a very small picture.
As Tevye struggles with balancing his love of tradition against his love for his daughters, we also can feel his struggle... As if he were a fiddler on the roof... Working to play a simple tune without falling off either slope of the roof. Fiddler on the Roof is a tremendous achievement.
on June 16, 2003
I am not a fan of musicals. To suddenly burst into song to facilitate the telling of a story is just. . .well, it's corny. ("Bob, before you give your quarterly report, let's have a medley.")
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF differs drastically from most musicals for two reasons: it tells an engrossing story; it is an exceptionally well-made film. Director Norman Jewison is the true star of this epic, as he is able to seamlessly transport the viewer to the Russian village of Anatevka--a village about to be radically affected by a dying Czarist regime. It is here the viewer is vigorously and wonderfully indoctrinated into the Jewish faith through the narration of Tevye, the milkman (Topol). And the Jewish faith, as Tevye repeatedly says, is based on "tradition."
Naturally, tradition is under assault in Tevye's household, as his three oldest daughters--one by one--bypass their parents and pick their own husbands: a most egregious departure from old custom. But even more compelling is the allegorical depiction of Jewish tradition on the brink of mammoth assault in the tumultuous years to come under the Communists and Nazis. Again, Jewison tells a powerful story, superbly augmented by the music.
Topol and the rest of the cast are fantastic. This film covers the full gambit of emotion, from lighthearted fun to dark remorse. The opening violin solo by Isaac Stern is worth the price of purchase itself. I don't make a habit out of recommending musicals, but FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a golden exception.