Sidney Lumet (1924- 2011)
The film work of director Sidney Lumet struck me like Mother Goose’s “Little Girl with Curls”. When he was good (12 Angry Men (1957), Long Day’s Journey into Night (1963), The Hill (1965), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Prince of the City (1981), The Verdict (1982)), he was very, very good. And when he was bad (That Kind of Woman (1959), Last of the Mobile Hotshots (1970), Child’s Play (1972), Family Business (1984), Power (1986), Gloria (1999), he was horrid. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Because there was other works that weren’t great and could stand out among the general work that was coming out that year. I’m talking about films like The Deadly Affair (1966), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Just Tell Me what you Want (1980), and Running on Empty (1988).They were films that attested to his skill and expert abilities as a professional industry filmmaker.
But what I appreciate him for most (besides films like The Hill and The Verdict, which I absolutely love) is the book he wrote simply called Making Movies (Vintage Books -1996). It is not an autobiography as has been erroneously stated in so many articles and obits. It is a book about filmmaking drawn from his experiences as a major filmmaker.
I love this book. To me it is the best book written about professional, industry style movie making I’ve ever read. In it he breaks down every aspect of the filmmaking process in simple straight forward, non technical language accompanied by anecdotes drawn from his own times on the set or in the editing rooms etc. I’ve used this book as a text many times and recommend it highly for anyone who’s interested in how the high end movies that play at their local multiplex are made. Try it; I think that you’ll agree that it was worth the effort.
Question: Whatever happened to his film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (1962)? No one ever talks about it or shows it anywhere. As I remember it was a pretty good film.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on Lumet upon reading the notice of his death. He was a very good filmmaker who made films that often forced us to think about the moral and ethical standards by which we live. In a business that’s often as crass and childish as the movie business can be that is high praise indeed.