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Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 7, 2011 by  



“Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary” is a wonderful release and if you are a fan of the film, I’ll tell you right now, this is the best looking and sounding version of the film to date.  And if you really enjoyed this film, this is a must-buy.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1971 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: A Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary

FILM RELEASE DATE: 1971

DURATION: 181 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Widescreen (2:35:1), English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono, French 5.1 DTS, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: MGM/Twentieth Century Fox

RATED: G

RELEASE DATE: April 5, 2011

 

Directed by Norman Jewison

Based on the Book “Tevye’s Daughters” by Sholom Aleichem

Stageplay and Screenplay by Joseph Stein

Produced by Norman Jewison

Associate Producer by Patrick J. Palmer

Cinematography by Oswald Morris

Edited by Antony Gibbs, Robert Lawrence

Casting by Lynn Stalmaster

Production Design by Robert F. Boyle

Art Direction by Michael Stringer, Veljko Despotovic

Set Decoration by Peter Lamont

Costume Design by Joan Bridge, Elizabeth Haffenden

 

 

Starring:

Topol as Tevye

Norma Crane as Golde

Leonard Frey as Motel

Molly Picon as Yente

Paul Mann as Lazar Wolf

Rosalind Harris as Tzeitel

Michele Marsh as Hodel

Neva Small as Chava

Paul Michael Glaser as Perchik

Ray Lovelock as Fyedka

Elaine Edwards as Shprintze

Candy Bonstein as Bielke

Shimen Ruskin as Mordcha

Zyee Scooler as Rabbi

Louis Zorich as Constable

Alfie Scopp as Avram

Howard Goorney as Nachum

Barry Dennen as Mendel

Ruth Madoc as Fruma Sarah

 

Tevye (Topol) is a poor milkman in Czarist Russia, where he provides for five unmarried daughters and a sharp-tongued wife. Faced with mounting financial strain and growing anti- Semitism, Tevye strives — like a fiddler on a roof — to maintain balance despite the precarious nature of his situation. Directed by Norman Jewison (Moonstruck), conducted by John Williams and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, this “triumphant and satisfying experience” (Los Angeles Times) weaves a “tapestry of beauty and excitement” (Rex Reed)!

Fiddler on the Roof – Bonus Clip: “Tevye’s Daughters”

Fiddler on the Roof – Film Clip: “Tradition”

Fiddler on the Roof – Film Clip: “Sunrise Sunset”

Fiddler on the Roof – Film Clip: “World is Changing”

In 1894, Sholem Aleichem would create stories about Tevye the dairyman.  Written in Yiddish, the character would be best known for the fictional memoir “Tevye and his Daughters” which was a story about a Jewish milkman in Tsarist Russia and the trouble he would have of raising his six daughters.

The memoir was extremely popular and it would receive a musical adaptation in 1964 courtesy of Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and a book would be written by Joseph Stein.  While slightly different from the memoir, the musical would feature Tevye trying to raise his five daughters while maintaining his Jewish religious traditions but outside influences are starting to change his daughters.

In 1970, a film adaptation by Norman Jewison (“The Thomas Crown Affair”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “Moonstruck”, “Agnes of God”) was created.  The film which was created for $9 million would go on to make $50 million which was fantastic for its time.

The film would be nominated for eight Academy Awards and would win three for “Best Cinematography” (Oswald Morris), “Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Song Score” (John Williams) and “Best Sound” (Gordon K. McCallum, David Hildyard).

“Fiddler on the Roof”, the movie is presented in two acts and incorporates music from the film from Tevye and his family’s perspective.

The film begins in the town of Anatevka in Tsaris Russia in 1905 and focuses on the family of Tevye (played by Topol).  In Anatevka, the town is broken up in a small Orthodox Jewish community and a larger Orthodox Christian community.  Suffice to say, these two do not mix and they are very much separated.

For Tevye, he and many men in his village are men of traditional values and believe in tradition (ie. arranged marriages, the father works to take care of the family, having many children).  For Tevye and his wife Golde (played by Norma Crane), they have five daughters but can not afford to give them dowries, so they rely on Yente (played by Molly Picon), the village matchmaker to find them a husband.

But what Tevye doesn’t understand is that this daughters are a new generation who are not so welcoming of the old tradition of arranged marriages.  So, as Tevye must deal with his daughters, he also deals with being poor and their community’s fear of those who are non-Jewish who are harassing them.

The first act features Tevye explaining to the audience how the Jews of Anatevka achieve balance through tradition and a lot of the Jews in Russia are like the fiddler on the roof, as in trying to scratch out a pleasant tune while not breaking their necks.  The fiddler on the roof is a reminder of the Jews fears and danger.

When Tevye meets a college student named Perchik (played by Michael Glaser), a man who has more modern political ideas and not so traditional, the both work out a deal that he can stay with him and his family if Perchick tutors his daughters.

Meanwhile, the old man butcher, Lazar Wolf (played by Paul Mann) comes to to Tevye and asks him to give his oldest daughter Tzeitel (played by Rosalind Harris) up for marriage to him.  At first, Tevye has a tough time considering an older man (and good friend) being the husband of his daughter but because of his money, perhaps this would be good for the family and stay true to tradition.  But Tzeitel is already in love with the her childhood sweetheart Motel Kamzoil (played by Leonard Frey), the tailor who doesn’t make much money.  Many times, Tzeitel has tried to get Motel to tell her father that he wants to marry her but he is a shy guy who is unable to speak around her vocal father.

When Tevye tells his daughter of her upcoming marriage to Lazar, she freaks out and doesn’t want to marry him.  She pleads to her father that she’ll work and do whatever but not to marry him.    But Motel comes and asks Tevye that he wants to marry Tzeitel because they have made a promise to each other for marriage.

Now Tevye must find a way go get Tzeitel out of the marriage through the agreement he made with Wolf.  Meanwhile, as the student Perchik is tutoring Tevye’s younger daughters Bielke and Shprintze, his second eldest daughter Hodel (played by Michel Marsh), tends to get into arguments with Perchik and in return Perchik criticizes her for hanging on to old traditions and the next thing you know, the two have an attraction towards each other and they may be in love.

And meanwhile, the third eldest daughter Chava (played by Neva Small) is being bothered by a group of young men while walking her cow.  Coming to her aid is a Russian, an orthodox Christian named Fyedka (played by Raymond Lovelock) and he notices that Chava has an interest in reading books.  Needless to say, because of their similar interest, the two begin to have an attraction towards each other.  But the difference between Chava and her other sisters is that the man she is attracted to is not of the same faith.

But also in the first act, we see the increased military presence in the town and a pogrom (a riot approved by government and military authorities against an ethnic group, in this case, against the Jews in Russia) has taken place and unfortunately, it happens during the time of celebration.

While the first act shows us how Tevye’s three oldest daughters are going against tradition and how he must deal with it. The second act continues Tevye’s other two eldest daughters also defying tradition.

Changes are happening in Russia, especially as many young are going to work for the revolution (known as the 1905 Russian Revolution) to demonstrate and fight against the corrupt Tsarist government.

And as Tevye’s first daughter Tzeitel is happily married, he now has to deal with his two eldest daughters who also are planning to defy tradition and are getting married.  Meanwhile, the Jews of Anatevka are gong to be put in a position that they have never been in before.

What will happen to Tevye and his family through this ordeal?  Will they continue to be strong and will he still be there for his daughters, even if they defy tradition?

VIDEO:

“Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widesecreen 2:35:1).  The film looks absolutely magnificent and holds up extremely well 40-years later.  As what Twentieth Century Fox has done for “The Sound of Music” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, the goal was to present the film as it looked originally and that includes Oswald Morris’ Oscar winning cinematography which has a unique look to it.

I did notice there were some speckles and blemishes on the film at times but considering the age of this film, during the time it was created (when studios barely wanted to give money to films as the studio system was hurting), watching “Fiddler on the Roof” again but this time on Blu-ray, this film looks great!  A very good amount of grain, skin tones are natural, you can see the blues clearly in Tzeitel’s eyes, you can see the detail in the villages, the grime on the faces of the characters and more.

I don’t think Twentieth Century Fox gave the full-on restoration and remastering like “The Sound of Music” and not sure how well the original negatives have held up (a lot of ’70s films are not in the greatest shape when it comes to the original film and negatives and are unable to undergo any major restoration) as there are small issues of flickering, speckles and dust and a few blemishes but while not a pristine PQ, it’s still much better than anything that has been released on video thus far.  The film looks great despite my minor quibbles towards the picture quality.

Fans of the film should be happy of how awesome this film looks in HD.  I was definitely pleased by the cinematography and all that research that Norman Jewison and crew did in order to capture the look and feel of the village during 1905, was quite an accomplishment and it shows in the film!

 

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono and French 5.1 DTS.  And it’s one thing to have crisp and clear dialogue but for a film such as “Fiddler on the Roof”, the one thing that you will want to hear in lossless is the soundtrack.    Jerry Bock did such a magnificent job in creating the music and working with conductor John Williams to really capture traditional Russian and Jewish themes but through lyrics by Sheldon Harnick that just want to make you smile and even laugh at times.  It’s the music that I remembered back then and it’s the music that continues to resonate strongly today.

In fact, I still have the musical soundtrack for this film that I purchased back in the ’80s on cassette and then a CD version and it was one thing to love and enjoy the music but to hear it via lossless and to see how it was incorporated via 7.1 and hearing various instruments through the surround channel, I was just amazed.  Sound effects placed in the surround channels, especially during the more ensemble performances sound spectacular.  Once again, I was in awe of this lossless soundtrack and this is the best I have heard of “Fiddler on the Roof” ever!

Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio CommentaryFeaturing audio commentary by director/producer Norman Jewison and actor Topol.  A wonderful audio commentary Norman Jewison looks back and you can hear a bit of emotion having seen this film for the first time in many years and knowing that many of the talent of the film are no longer living.  A wonderful commentary!
  • Norman Jewison Filmmaker(49:33) A fantastic documentary about Norman Jewison and footage of him working on the “Fiddler on the Roof” and seeing the challenges that the filmmaker had during the filming of the movie and also his candid thoughts on Hollywood at the time.  Presented in standard definition.
  • Norman  Jewison Looks BackPresented in standard definition, the following features Norman Jewison looking back on “Fiddler on the Roof” and touching upon the following topics: On Directing (3:28), Strongest Memory (:57), Biggest Challenge (1:11), On Casting (1:20) and A Classic? (2:34).
  • Tevye’s Dream in Full Color –Featuring the original shot of Tevye’s dream in color (5:56) and also a side-by-side comparison with the final cut.
  • John Williams Creating A Musical Tradition – (11:32) Conductor John Williams talks about what inspired him in the creation of the music for “Fiddler on the Roof” and the research he and Jewison did in Europe.
  • Songs of Fiddler on the Roof – (14:43) Screenwriter Joseph Stein and lyricist Sheldon Harnick discuss the making of the songs for “Fiddler on the Roof”.
  • Deleted Song – Any Day Now – (3:07) A song that composer Jerry Bock had but was not used for the final cut of the film.  The song is accompanied with still photos.
  • Tevye’s Daughters – (16:28) Rosalind Harris (who plays Tzeitel), Michele Marsh (Hodel) and Neva Small (Chava) discuss their characters, their audition for the part, working with Topol and Norman Jewison.
  • Set in Reality Production Design – (9:50) Production designer Robert Boyle discusses the challenges they had in making “Fiddler on the Roof” realistic and the various locations they had to visit to reach the realistic authenticity that Norman Jewison wanted for the film.
  • Storyboard to Film Comparison(21:04) A split screen featuring the storyboard and the film for Tradition, Matchmaker, Introduction to Miracle of Miracles, Tevye’s Dream andLazar Wolf and Tevye.
  • Trailers, Teasers & TV Spots – Featuring the original theatrical trailer, the re-release trailer, the “reserve your seat” trailer, Will Rogers trailer, 1971 TV spot and the 1979 TV spot.

EXTRAS:

“Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary” comes with  a slipcover case and also comes with a DVD version of “Fiddler on the Roof” (1970’s Decade Collection version).  The DVD is presented in widescreen (2:35:1), English 5.1 Dolby Surround, English, Spanish and French mono.  Subtitles are presented in English SDH and Spanish.


“Fiddler on the Roof” was a film that captured my attention at an early age and I guess you can say that I  have a connection to it as I grew up in a family who believed in tradition and in fact, even I grew up expecting family (ie. my grandmother) to arrange for me to marry someone from her country.

As the oldest of the grandkids, I was raised by my mother’s side ala a Western upbringing while my father’s side tried their best to instill a traditional upbringing.  And there was no doubt a conflict between which upbringing was right and which was wrong.

When I moved with my father’s side of the family during my teenage years and I was pretty much stripped of certain “American” conveniences and had to learn how things were done traditionally and I’m not going to lie, at first I disliked it but as I looked back, I understood what my family wanted me to learn and that was tradition, learning how they were raised and to not forget those traditions because so much has changed with how they were brought up and of course, how things were going to change even further as they moved to America.  Do they worry about it or do they accept it?

“Fiddler on the Roof” resonated so strongly with many people because not only was it a wonderful film with beautiful, catchy and enjoyable music but there is an important story behind the music about a family having to go through changes.  A father who believed in tradition, knowing how much of it is being lost and seeing it upfront, close up as his daughters, that he raised believing in tradition, now going against it.  But also seeing a land that he loved, a livelihood that he was so used to, now being destroyed by the government and literally being kicked out of the country.  We know from history that many of these Russian Jews moved to another country and many settled in the United States, while many perished and their young generation were killed during Nazi control during World War II.

So, the film had a strong story, wonderful music but to make it happen, it needed wonderful direction, location and to achieve realism and that is where Norman Jewison comes in.  Back in the 1970, the Hollywood studios were in disarray and suffice to say, “Fiddler on the Roof” was the only film at that time who was able to get a high enough budget to create the film and give Norman Jewison the leeway to research and develop this film.  To make it happen and he achieved it with great efficacy.  And also, Joseph Stein did a remarkable job with the screenplay.

And the interesting thing about Norman Jewison is that I can easily call “Fiddler on the Roof” as a masterpiece, a classic for the filmmaker but his list of accomplishments from his oeuvre as a filmmaker, as this film does standout, so does many of his other films.  But where “Fiddler on the Roof” is achieves success is that he had high ambitions and his crew wanted the same, to create a realistic atmosphere of and bringing that memoir created by Sholem Aleichem to life.

And even today, similar to how these FOX classics such as  “The Sound of Music” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” are easily remembered and people can still remember the music for those two films, the same can be said for “Fiddler on the Roof”.  From Tevye’s “If I Were a Rich Man”, my favorite “Tradition” by the company and then my wife’s favorite “Matchmaker” by Tevye’s children and of course, along with the music comes memorable scenes and who can not forget the Tevye’s dream sequence which was one of the most surprising and freaky-ish “pre-Michael Jackson Thriller” scenes that I have seen from a film and of course, the choreography of the “Wedding Celebration/The Bottle Dance”.  This is one memorable movie that received a fantastic Blu-ray release to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Is it the ultimate Blu-ray classic release?  Well, 20th Century Fox raised the bar with “The Sound of Music” from restoration, remastering and to presentation with its many special features.  In the case of “Fiddler on the Roof”, although the film looks great and it’s the best looking version of the film that I have seen-to-date, it does have its moments of speckles, flickering and blemishes but these are very minor and unless you are watching closely, then you will see it.  But you do get a Blu-ray and the DVD of the film.  You get the awesome special features from the 2006 DVD release and you get the newly remastered 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.  And as mentioned, this is the best I have heard of “Fiddler on the Roof”!

If there was one thing that I would have hoped for, it would be a major reunion of the surviving cast and crew members for the film. In 2006, we do get the three eldest daughters together but it would have been nice to have a major reunion as part of the special features and a genuine 2010-2011 special feature for this Blu-ray release.

Overall, “Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary” is a wonderful release and if you are a fan of the film, I’ll tell you right now, this is the best looking and sounding version of the film to date.  And if you really enjoyed this film, this is a must-buy.  Highly recommended!

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