1971

Fiddler on the Roof

I was a little late to the game when it came to Fiddler on the Roof. It seemed to be a movie every single person has seen, but now I have joined the party. Based off the very famous stage play, this film takes place in a pre-revolutionary village in Russia where there is a mixture of the Jewish and Christian people whom each have their own traditions. This film has a major theme in tradition, told from the view of the Jewish peasantry. The message regarding tradition is that times change and sometimes tradition has to be changed to keep up with the changing times. This film particularly talks about traditional marriage within a Jewish family, and how some events changed the very old traditions. Not only is the film about tradition or culture, but you can learn some history. This movie has a setting in pre-revolutionary Russia just before the Russian Revolution of 1918. The Jewish people are being exiled from their home over the course of the film to places like Israel or even Chicago. One of the iconic figures in the movie was the fiddle player-hence the title name. The fiddle player is shown in two very iconic shots-one at the opening and one at the end. This is a symbol for the tolerance or the forbearance of the Jewish people in the movie.

This film, which is well-directed by Norman Jewison, is a musical that takes place in pre-revolutionary Russia (just barely). This is a country that struggles to modernize. Maybe a reason is because of the Jewish peasantry, whom hold dear to their traditions. One of the traditions is having a matchmaker pair up matches for people who are of age to marry. There is Trevye (Topol), who is a poor milkman who has five daughters of his own-three ready to marry. The matchmaker, of course, pairs his daughters up. But instead of arraigned marriages, the daughters find love. The eldest daughter falls in love with a poor furniture-maker and his second-eldest falls in love with a Marxist, causing anguish in Trevye as he sees tradition falling apart. Meanwhile, revolution is spreading across the country forcing all Jewish people to leave their homes and their country.

This film, just like the stage play, is a musical. There are a lot of songs and dancing. I liked most of the songs, but two that stood out to me were “Tradition” which was the opening number as Trevye discusses the tradition of his people and “If I Were A Rich Man” which as Trevye lamenting his life and wondering how different it would be if he had money. From what I heard, the music is very faithful to the play. But there were a couple new songs added specifically for the film. It shouldn’t be a surprise how good the music is because the legendary John Williams is at the helm as composer-one of his very first gigs in the film industry. As for the dancing, there is a good amount of choreography. I liked that Jewison made the dancing appropriate for the movie audience, not the play audience. Older musicals had problems where I felt I was watching a play, not a musical. Anyhow, there is a rather strange dislike about the dancing of Trevye. He moves his hands in such a weird fashion. I was like, “Dude, don’t make me tie your hands up when you are dancing!”

The film is reasonably well-acted. When I saw the cast, I haven’t heard of a single name. Topol apparently is a well-respected Israeli actor and other than those distracting hand movements, he did a wonderful job. His singing was emotionally-charged as everything around him changes. He is a man nof tradition, but even he can be persuaded. When asked by his daughters about marriage, he goes on a rant each time with God pleading why this has to happen to him. They are powerful scenes that rightfully nominated him for an Oscar. Leonard Frey as Motel, the lover of the eldest daughter does a solid job. I love his scene where he builds a sowing machine with giddy delight and holds it as if its his own baby. As for the daughters, I can’t recall any names. They are just there to fall in love and play daughter to their father. They didn’t have much characterization.

Nominated for eight Oscars and winning three of them, Fiddler on the Roof is a very faithful adaptation of the Broadway musical. I didn’t go nuts over the film, but it’s perfectly enjoyable. It’s nice to learn about the history and culture of a group of people (from Russia) I did not know too much about. I studied the Russian Revolution, but not so much what happens before. The music is mostly enjoyable and keep an eye out for the fiddle player. The film is very lengthy, but this is an adaptation that pleased fans of the play and general musical fans over the years.

My Grade: B+

How did you like it?

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