A Dreamer Walking

Fiddler on the Roof

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on May 11, 2010

Fiddler on the Roof was a gamble especially during the time that it was made. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s was not a good time for big production films, Fiddler on the Roof was actually one of the only big production films being made at the time. The task of making a movie out of a stage play musical is easier said then done. There are many elements the director and writers need to work through in order to make the transition feel natural. When shooting the movie, Norman Jewison, the director of Fiddler on the Roof, ran into several problems with  the weather while shooting on location. There was a point in the process of making the film where Norman stopped shooting entirely because the weather was not doing what he wanted. This in turn made the MGM studio very frustrated with Norman because they were losing a lot of money.

Through the frustrations and hurdles of the making of Fiddler on the Roof came one of the greatest musicals ever made. Fiddler on the Roof will be one of those movies that I look to for inspiration before embarking on my own films. I think that the combination of powerful music, heartfelt characters, and touching story created a masterpiece that will be enjoyed for generations. Fiddler on the Roof is a movie that has reached through the test of time and cultures to become a classic in every sense of the word.

I think the heart of Fiddler on the Roof was driven by a great director. Norman Jewison was no veteran at making films. He had made less then a dozen in his career when asked to do Fiddler on the Roof. Norman freely admitted that he was no expert in the technique of filmmaking. However, Norman Jewison was an expert in the emotion of filmmaking. The characters and story is what Norman knew was going to connect the audience to the film. Even though Fiddler on the Roof was vast in scale and music it was driven by the characters and story. Norman wanted the music to push the story forward, he used the detailed sets and exclusive locations he had at his expense to bring a better emotion and reality to the story.

Norman might not have been an expert at the technique of filmmaking, but he assembled a team around him who were the best of the best at what they did. Norman had Oswald Morris as the cinematographer, who had just been nominated for an Oscar for his work on Oliver Twist (he won the Oscar for Fiddler). Two of the best illustrators in Hollywood, Harold Michelson and Mentor Hubnor, were brought on by Norman to story board the movie. Norman saw the talent of John Williams and brought him in to take the classic Fiddler on the Roof stage play music and adapt it to the big screen.

John Williams did a fantastic job adapting and conducting the Fiddler on the Roof music. Norman and John did most of the recording of music before filming the movie so the actors and rest of the team could use the music as inspiration and a blueprint of how to act while doing singing and dancing in their scenes. Every night before shooting Norman would listen to the music and get inspired. He said that he used that time to figure out what he wanted for the next day, so when the next day came around he already knew what he was going to shoot and what he wanted from his actors.

Norman tried to bring a reality to the music by not having many professional dancers and not having the dance routines completely rehearsed. Norman wanted each dance to look like it was made on the spot, he wanted the musical numbers to flow to and from reality smoothly so it looked like the songs were just another part of the culture.  Norman tried to get away from the theatricality of the stage play by having his camera men get in the middle of the dances so the dancers were limited in space and needed to improvise with what they were given.

Behind all the dance numbers and acting there was passion. The songs are memorable because the actors performing them were passionate about what they were doing and believed in the songs they were singing and dancing to. The music helped us relate to the characters and culture we saw on screen. Norman was not Jewish but he did do a lot of research on the culture he was trying to represent in his film. The movie takes place around 1910 in Eastern Europe  in a small town. The movie concentrates on the Jewish people in the town most of whom are consumed by traditions. The movie is about the breaking down of traditions where the main character Tevya is mae to test some of his strongest principals and beliefs out of love for his daughters and their happiness.

Both young and old could relate to the breaking down of traditions. The audience was able to relate to both the young and old characters in the movie.  In this movie we are allowed into the core of the main character Tevya. Tevya literally talks to us, the audience, immediately getting us involved with him as a character and the story he is in. We see the genuine relationship that Tevya has with his God, where constantly he shows faith by talking to Him through the good times and bad.

The Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof, represented a symbol of the Spirit of Tevya and the rest of the Jewish people. Through out the film we see the Fiddler playing his violin, seeing if Tevya will still allow the music to bring him life. The Fiddler is a great representation that you can still allow your spirit to live through even the worst of times.

Norman Jewison said that when you are in charge of a movie you need to attack it like a lion, with conviction and courage that everything you are doing is RIGHT! Norman needed to tell his story, and trust in his emotions to what was right for the film. Topol, the actor who played Tevya, said that Norman would literally show you if he liked what you were doing on screen or not. If the performance was truly funny, Norman would laugh. If the performance to Norman was truly touching, he would show it through tears or excitement.

In the making of Fiddler on the Roof, Norman Jewison followed his convictions and his voice was heard. We were told a very personal story where we got emotionally involved with the characters around us. The movie made me take a look at the other side. I needed to see the older generations thought process and convictions just as much as my younger generations. Fiddler on the Roof allows us to see the world in a different light and it gives us hope that through even the hardest of times our spirit can still dance to the music of life.

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