Saturday, July 30, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Fiddler's Journey to the Big Screen (2022) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

FIDDLER'S JOURNEY TO THE BIG SCREEN (2022), an 88-minute documentary on the making of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971), was released on Blu-ray last week by Kino Lorber.

Although I didn't see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF on its initial release, I saw it theatrically a few years later, and I've seen it on several other occasions; indeed, it was one of the first films I purchased when we got a DVD player. The LP double album has been a favorite for most of my life, since before I even saw the movie. All of which is to say that I thus found this documentary extremely interesting.

Director Daniel Raim is fortunate that so many people who worked on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF continue to be with us, including lead actor Topol, all three of the older daughters, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, arranger John Williams, and director Norman Jewison.

That said, some of the interviews used were shot quite a while ago; for instance, Topol's was filmed back in 2009. Williams and the three actresses, on the other hand, were all interviewed as recently as 2021. Raim's website describes both the genesis for the documentary and background on when he interviewed each of the participants.

Everyone involved shares interesting memories as the documentary outlines the show's Broadway-to-Hollywood history. I was particularly fascinated by Williams describing how filming a musical comes down to "math problems," working out the number of beats needed to match up to the onscreen action.

It was also amusing to learn that, despite his last name, director Norman Jewison is not Jewish! Of all the participants, Jewison is front and center most often as he recounts being hired to direct the film and the saga of its making.

As a child I was very taken with Michele Marsh as Hodel, so it was a particular treat for me to hear Marsh's memories. I'd add that watching this I was particularly struck that Rosalind Harris (Tzeitel, seen here) is a lovely person, in both looks and personality.

The documentary was written by Raim and Michael Sragow; it was filmed by Aasulv Austad and Sinisa Kukic. It's narrated by Jeff Goldbum.

Raim directed other documentaries I've previously reviewed, such as HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015), about movie researcher Lillian Michelson and her husband Harold, a storyboard artist; IN SEARCH OF OZU (2018), about the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu; and IMAGE MAKERS: THE ADVENTURES OF AMERICA'S PIONEER CINEMATOGRAPHERS (2019). As is the case with FIDDLER'S JOURNEY, each one of these films was interesting and, I would add, important; I love the way Raim has focused his considerable talent on preserving unique and varied slices of film history.

I also appreciate that Raim's documentaries are simultaneously very detailed yet "just the facts." Some documentaries can feel as though the participants' comments are shoehorned into the filmmaker's preplanned theme or vision, but Raim simply lets people tell their stories, trying to record the most accurate history possible, and then he presents it in an interesting format. Patrick Mate's amusing cartoon sketches, which appear in Raim's other films, turn up again as illustrations here.

The extensive extras include Raim's short on production designer Robert Boyle, THE MAN ON LINCOLN'S NOSE (2000); additional interview footage, including reminisces about late cast members Leonard Frey and Norma Crane; an excerpt on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF research from HAROLD AND LILLIAN; and the trailer.

I enjoyed FIDDLER'S JOURNEY TO THE BIG SCREEN very much, and I also look forward to seeing "what's next" from documentary maker Daniel Raim.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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