Current audiences have seemed to lost interest in the musical. The only recent theatrical release was the film adaptation of "The Fantasticks", which only played on ten screens before being sent to video. Before that, the film had sat on the shelf for five years. The big-budget television version of "South Pacific" hit the small screen with only mediocre reviews and decent ratings. I can't say that I've ever been a fan of the genre, either - in fact, it ranks high up on my least favorite. Yet, there's a couple that I've found watchable thanks to the talent both in front of and behind the camera. "Fiddler On The Roof" is one of those instances.
The story was one of the most beloved stage musicals of the time, based on a story by Sholom Aleichem. When the movie was eventually released, the built-in audience helped grosses for the picture and also likely helped send in new converts to the play. The film centers around Tevye (Topol) a milkman in a small Russian farming village who desires to keep the family's traditions in place in regards to marrying off his remaining daughters - yet, they would rather seek out their own loves than find themselves set up by a matchmaker. This situation is especially true for Tzeitel(Rosalind Harris), who would rather be with the town's poor tailor than the rich butcher. Things become worse though, as not only do his other two daughters follow in suit and seek loves of their own, but it also seems that he and his wife, Golde(Norma Crane) might also have to leave their small village due to Government unrest.
Really, the only problem that I've had with "Fiddler On The Roof" is that it feels a bit too long at three hours. The 1979 re-release was taken down by director Norman Jewison to a tighter 149 minutes. I've never seen that version, so I don't know exactly what is omitted - from what I've heard, the songs stay intact, but some minor character details get the boot, as does the intermission (which is here). Anyways, I still find the film highly enjoyable. The performances from a diverse and talented cast are uniformly terrific, especially Topol, who has the unenviable task of carrying a three-hour picture mainly on his own shoulders and pulls it off quite well. I guess I've never really liked musicals all that much because the sudden breaking into songs often seems jarring and apart from the story itself. In "Fiddler", the majority of the songs are directly related to the story itself - they seem born naturally from the situations that the characters are in. That, and the songs are generally entertaining and well-written.
All of the technical credits are nothing short of superb for the nine million dollar production. Oswald Morris won Best Cinematography for the film, John Williams won Best Score and the picture also gained a Best Sound win. Production and Art Design were also rightfully recognized with nominations, as well. The film racked up several other nomations, as well, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director and Best Picture. Although Topol and the picture itself didn't score a win at the Oscars, they fared better at the Golden Globes, where both the actor and the picture walked away winners.
VIDEO: I've you've read many of my recent reviews, you will likely be familiar with my distaste for MGM's treatment of some of their catalog titles. Yet, this is a new special edition, so they have seen fit to bestow upon "Fiddler" a new 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The results of their efforts are not problem-free, but pleasing. I haven't seen the original release of the title, so I'm not familiar with the differences, but I would hope that this new presentation rises to the occasion where the previous one was lacking.
Sharpness and detail were generally strong throughout the movie, whether interior or exterior, whether bright or dimly lit. Yet, there's some problems to contend with throughout the movie. Edge enhancement is visible more often than I would care to see, but certainly not in heavy amounts. Pixelation is also apparent now and then, but this didn't provide any distraction, with the exception of one or two scenes where it was mildly distracting. Print flaws are in attendance, but considering the film's age, I didn't find the occasional speckles and marks as well as a scratch or two too terribly troubling.
Colors came across looking fine after all these years. They appeared strong, natural and well-saturated, not appearing faded. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural, as well. Overall, this is a nice effort from the studio.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although the audio benefits quite nicely from the additional depth and dimension afforded by the surround use, the audio quality itself is somewhat lacking. First, surrounds do nicely chime in during the musical numbers and really envelop the listener very nicely in the songs. Otherwise, they pretty much remain silent. Audio quality is noticably a bit on the thin side, but it's certainly not terrible and definitely not uncomfortably thin or edgy. The music remains crisp and dialogue sounds clear, as well. The original theatrical release was presented in 70mm and 6-track stereo.
MENUS:: The main menu on the movie side is quite nicely animated, with music in the background. Sub-menus, as well as the special features menus, are quite basic.
EXTRAS:: You're probably wondering, "how did MGM fit a ton of extras with a three hour movie?" They have provided a two-sided DVD - the dual-layer side holds the movie, while there is a single-layer side on the flip-side that offers many of the extra features. Also, there's a little easter egg that's hidden on the first menu of the special features side.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Norman Jewison and actor Topol. Apparently, this commentary has appeared on previous home video incarnations of the movie. It's a very good one though, as I was suprised at how well both of the participants are able to keep the commentary going for about three hours. Jewison does most of the talking, discussing some of the stories behind the actors and actresses, as well as what happened on set. He also talks about the obstacles that he had to face during production of the nine million dollar movie. Topol also is fairly knowledgable about the production and often chimes in with his opinion about the scene or some valuable background information. There's some pauses here and there throughout the commentary, but considering the length of the picture, I was pleased with how much talking there was.
Norman Jewison, Filmmaker: Although the blandly titled featurette probably doesn't seem that inviting at first glance, it's well worth a look. This production was made a while back while Fiddler was in production, financed by the Canadian film board. As we're told in the early moments of the documentary, the film industry was not exactly in the best of times during this period, and "Fiddler" was one fo the few big-budget productions going at the time. Jewison is stressed and the first moments of the documentary shows him throwing a serious fit when a shot goes wrong. This documentary only provides sparse narration, opting instead to show us many of the more entertaining and fascinating moments that happened during filming. We're allowed in on many of the meetings and discussions that happened in the middle of the production.
Jewison also talks in-depth about his feelings on learning more about the Jewish religion, working with the studios and stories about what was encountered on the set. Some older documentaries on a film's production that I've seen have been informative, but rather cheesy at times. "Norman Jewison, Filmmaker" is certainly neither cheesy nor promotional. It's simply one of the best looks at the making of a picture that I've seen in quite some time. And again, the fit in the opening moments is classic.
Norman Jewison Looks Back: This new documentary offers a few interview segments with the director, who discusses his memories of first seeking the play on Broadway and getting offered the project. The five segements are "On Directing", "Strongest Memory", "Biggest Challenge", "On Casting" and "A Classic?".
Deleted Material: A deleted song ("Any Day Now") and "Tevye's Dream" in full color are both presented.
Sholom Aleichem Stories/Historical Background: A very nice touch by MGM, in this section, director Norman Jewison reads both "The Bubble Bursts" and "Modern Children", while storyboards and other images play on-screen. The next section down has the director discussing the reality behind the story of "Fiddler", while photographs and art play on-screen.
Storyboard-To-Film Comparison: This section includes two large galleries that house production designs and storyboards for the picture, many of which are quite beautifully drawn and still in fine condition. Also included here is a "storyboard-to-film comparison" for "Tradition", "Matchmaker", "Introduction To Miracle Of Miracles", "Tevye's Dream" and "Lazar Wolf and Tevye".
Original Production Notes: In an impressive supplemental feature, MGM and the DVD's producers have actually produced the original Casting Notes, Make-Up Notes, Call Sheets and Shooting Schedule. When selected, the sheet slides out of the background and comes closer to the screen for an easier read.
Photographic Production Diary: An additional set of still galleries, including "Norman Jewison", "Yugoslavia", "On Location", "The Songs" and "New York Premiere".
Promotional Materials: The Original Release Poster, Re-Release Poster, Original Pressbook, Re-Release Pressbook, International Release Program and Animated Souvenir program are all included here.
Trailers: The theatrical trailer is included on the first side, with the movie. Included here are the Re-release trailer, "Reserve Your Seat" teaser, "Will Rogers" teaser, 1971 TV spot and 1979 TV spot.
Also: DVD production credits.
Final Thoughts: Slight problems aside, "Fiddler On The Roof" is a terrific picture and is still considered one of the best musicals of all time. MGM's DVD presents respectable audio/video quality, but there are some concerns on both aspects. Supplements are excellent (especially the documentary) and the overall package is wonderfully priced at $19.99 (less at most stores). Recommended, and fans of the film should be extremely pleased.