A documentary focusing on Norman Jewison's film career up to 1971, whilst he's on set making Fiddler on the Roof.

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(as Doug Jackson)
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A documentary focusing on Norman Jewison's film career up to 1971, whilst he's on set making Fiddler on the Roof.

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A peek behind the scenes of Fiddler on the Roof
5 June 2005 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

This is a 50-minute long documentary on Canadian director Norman Jewison, produced for Canadian television back in 1971. Because of the period in which director Douglas Jackson shot this, the vast majority of the documentary features behind the scenes footage of Jewison working on Fiddler on the Roof. Thus, the documentary is of great interest to Fiddler fans, and can be found as an extra on the 2001 MGM Home Entertainment Special Edition Fiddler on the Roof DVD.

The behind the scenes stuff for Fiddler is fascinating if you're at all interested in the film-making process, largely because it gives an insight into how chaotic, bureaucratic and "political" film-making can be. In fact, it is just as disorganized and occasionally silly as any other business. As Jewison tells us in interviews here, he was hired to direct Fiddler partially because United Artists executives thought he was Jewish (probably because of his name), and they humorously covered for themselves when he announced that he was "a Goy".

We get to see Jewison throwing hissy fits on the set. We get to see him agonizing over the non-cooperation of the weather--he wanted snow, but Yugoslavia, where much of the exterior scenes of Fiddler were shot, decided not to have snow that November; he wanted overcast days, it would be sunny. We get to see him chastising his cast. We get to see him crying at a moving performance, and so on. In other words, Jewison is a very emotional filmmaker--or at least he was back then.

Jackson's cameras often capture scenes that made the final cut of Fiddler, but from very different angles. It offers a lot of insight into just how important things like angles, lighting and film processing are to the finished product. The sets often do not look like much from Jackson's angles. In Fiddler, though, they're shot to perfectly recreate a turn-of-the-century Russian Jewish shtetl ("village", or "little town or city").

Jewison also gives us behind-the-scenes insights and scoops on the state of Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the differences filming in someplace like Yugoslavia versus, say, New York City, "creative bookkeeping", and the "suits'" concern with budgets over artistry. A lot of this stuff is surprisingly candid (as are the emotional outbursts).

There is also a small foray into Jewison's history as a filmmaker, at least up until 1971, but that only takes up a few minutes. This is really for huge Fiddler fans and those wanting a more realistic, maybe slightly disillusioning behind-the-scenes look at film-making.


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