At the beginning of the twentieth century, Jews and Orthodox Christians live in the little village of Anatevka in the pre-revolutionary Russia of the Czars. Among the traditions of the Jewish community, the matchmaker arranges the match and the father approves it. The milkman Reb Tevye is a poor man that has been married for twenty-five years with Golde and they have five daughters. When the local matchmaker Yente arranges the match between his older daughter Tzeitel and the old widow butcher Lazar Wolf, Tevye agrees with the wedding. However Tzeitel is in love with the poor tailor Motel Kamzoil and they ask permission to Tevye to get married that he accepts to please his daughter. Then his second daughter Hodel (Michele Marsh) and the revolutionary student Perchik decide to marry each other and Tevye is forced to accept. When Perchik is arrested by the Czar troops and sent to Siberia, Hodel decides to leave her family and homeland and travel to Siberia to be with her beloved Perchik.... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Topol was only in his mid-thirties when he performed the role of an older Tevye. See more »
When the fiddler is playing the first song, the movements of the fiddler's bow don't quite match up with the song. See more »
A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask 'Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?' Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!
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Topol and the cast sing "Tradition" without any opening credits rolling. At the end of the number, the fiddler, standing on the left of the screen, launches into an extensive solo while the opening credits roll on the right of the screen. See more »
On the other hand, the good book says that this is an excellent film
Epic in plot, setting and length, Fiddler on the Roof tells a surprisingly tight and focused story that has "universal" poignancy--in a nutshell, it's about trying to maintain strong cultural traditions and identity in the face of a continually changing world, partially fueled by the youth, that doesn't necessarily share the culture's values or self-assessment of worth.
The plot is based on short stories written around the turn of the 20th Century by Sholom Aleichem, who was often called the "Russian Mark Twain". Aleichem wrote a number of works based on his character Tevye the Milkman, who has seven daughters (in the film, this was pared down to five). They live in the fictional Jewish shtetl ("village", or "little town or city") of Anatevka in Tsarist Russia in the early 1900s. The stories are "slice of life" stuff. A lot of attention is paid to Tevye's daughters and their potential suitors. One of the prominent conflicts with tradition is a struggle with arranged marriages versus marriages for love, but of course, being set in pre-revolutionary Russia, there are also political changes brewing, some of which have a profound affect on Tevye's family and village.
Aleichem's Tevye stories were first turned into a Broadway musical, which began its initial run in 1964 with Zero Mostel as Tevye. Producer and director Norman Jewison, who had had success with films like In the Heat of the Night (1967) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and who was experienced as a producer and director for musical-oriented televisions shows, including "Your Hit Parade" (1950) and "The Judy Garland Show" (1960), was asked around early 1970 by United Artists to helm the Fiddler on the Roof film. To their surprise, Jewison wasn't Jewish. He got the gig anyway, and in August 1970, began an arduous shoot--much of it done in a small village in Yugoslavia that refused to cooperate when it came to weather (Jewison couldn't get the snow he wanted). He ended up getting a lot of pressure because the shoot went over time and over budget--this was one of the most expensive films of its time, which was an era of economic woes for Hollywood--but of course we know it paid off in the end.
Zero Mostel was out as Tevye, and Israeli actor Chaim Topol, or just "Topol", was in, based largely on Jewison seeing him in the role of Tevye in the London stage production of Fiddler. Jewison had said that he was shooting for more realism in the film, as opposed to what he saw as a kind of campy humor in the Broadway production.
In my eyes, Jewison ended up with a bit of both approaches in his finished film, but that's all for the better. Sequences like the opening "Tradition" montage are hilarious in their juxtaposition of a grand operatic attitude and the rhythmic coordination of cleaning fish, hanging slabs of meat, and so on. Yes, a lot of Fiddler is very realistic, but it's equally humorous and surrealistic most of the time.
The realism is largely thanks to the authentic settings, the fabulous production and costume design, and of course, the superb performances. The humor is a factor of the above with that Mark Twain-ish aspect of Aleichem's stories and the fine script by Joseph Stine.
The surrealism comes largely by way of the cinematography. Some of the visual sense is reminiscent of Marc Chagall's early work and his later, nostalgic depictions of his native Russia, and in fact, the image of the fiddler on the roof comes directly from a Chagall painting. Jewison saw the fiddler as a cross between a metaphor for the Jewish spirit (and this is explained in more detail via a few lines of dialogue in the film) and an actual physical manifestation of a spirit. However we interpret the fiddler, the shots of him and his presence in the film are certainly poetic. Jewison also gives us some fabulous, surreal, wide landscape shots, such as those of agricultural fields and the beautiful "wasteland" in which the train tracks are set. There are a few scenes set on the banks of a river, overlooked by a bridge, that are reminiscent of particular Van Gogh paintings. And as a more subtle bit of surrealism, Jewison had cinematographer Oswald Morris shoot much of the film though a woman's stocking--the mesh is very clearly visible in some exterior shots. Of course, there are also a couple more surrealistic touches in the plot, my favorite being the Tevye's Dream sequence, which features traditionalist Jewish zombies in an operatic attitude.
A musical couldn't be a 10 without great music, and Fiddler on the Roof has it. The songs are a marvelous melding of traditional Russian folk melodies, with appropriate twinges of Orientalism and the expected Broadway sound, but maybe leaning a bit closer to a modern opera. From that description, you might think that the music would be a mess, but all of the songs are inventive and catchy. They are seamlessly melded with the drama, furthering the narrative as they should. The choreography is excellent and it is well shot by Jewison. And Isaac Stern's violin solos are outstanding, of course.
Fiddler on the Roof takes an investment of time--it's three hours long, but it's well worth it. It offers great drama, great music, great humor and great tragedy in a beautiful package--you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll sing, and you just might break a leg trying to dance.
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