Lost a giant this weekend; Sidney Lumet passed away at 86.
One of my favorite directors ever. Lumet’s films were almost always as much about morality and social conscience as they were good storytelling. No wonder that some of the finest actors of all time – Henry Fonda, Al Pacino, Paul Newman among them – gave perhaps their finest performance under his leadership. You always got the sense that everyone involved in the production shared his passion for authenticity and depth.
Lumet worked heavily in theatre and in television, directing over two hundred productions for Playhouse 90, Studio One and Kraft Television Theatre before moving on to film. His first movie, 12 Angry Men, remains an all time classic over fifty years later. His last, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, proved he hadn’t lost a step. Hopefully his overlooked series 100 Centre Street will be released on DVD someday soon.
Amazingly, despite such a stellar career, he never won an Oscar for directing, although he was presented with the Academy Honorary Award in 2005 for his career achievements. He was nominated four times, for 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon and Network.
He did, however, directed seventeen different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Katharine Hepburn, Rod Steiger, Al Pacino, Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney, Chris Sarandon, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Beatrice Straight, William Holden, Ned Beatty, Peter Firth, Richard Burton, Paul Newman, James Mason, Jane Fonda and River Phoenix.
When someone from the arts passes, I like to celebrate their life through that art by listening to some of their music, or watching one of their films. With Lumet, there is a wealth to choose from but I will probably pull this one off the shelf.
Roger Ebert wrote a nice remembrance.
A very informative New York Times obituary.
Great actor, bad idea
FICTION: Every time they remake Sherlock Holmes it gets better!
The virtual ink was barely dry on the my recap of historical Sherlock Holmes movies when the new bombastic film hit theatres over the holidays. I don’t know about you, but when I think of the world’s greatest detective I don’t think of meticulous analysis of clues, a flawless observation of the human mind and an ability to anticipate the moves of even the most industrious adversaries. No…I think shirtless guys beating each other in cage matches, Rube Goldberg contraptions that even an over-the-top show like The Wild Wild West tossed aside as too absurd and shit blowing up real good.
(Yes, that was satire.)
I love Robert Downey Jr.’s acting skill; I’m still haunted by his stunning inhabitation of Charlie Chaplin and am happy that he’s seemingly pulled his ass out of the gutter at the final moment to resume what hopefully will be a long and storied career. But I hope he did this one for a pile of cash, because he just shat on a legacy, Golden Globe or not. (The fact that the movie was entered as a comedy should tell you all you need to know about its adherence to the Holmes legend). So on to the essay…
Anytime a major fictional character is played by more than one person, endless discussions will ensue regarding which actor was the standard by which all others should be measured. Sean Connery’s charm and poise seems to have cemented his status as the ultimate James Bond, but when discussions turn to Scrooge, Alastair Sim’s dynamic performance is often undervalued because of the antiquity of A Christmas Carol both in age and condition.
Later generations, more drawn to color film and special effects, tend to favor George C. Scott or Albert Finney. Likewise, when discussions turn to Sherlock Holmes, the quality and production of the more recent films featuring Jeremy Brett tend to tip the scales his way for many viewers. For as good as the films featuring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes might have been, the WWII era prints degenerated so much over the years that they became almost unwatchable.
FACT: Basil Rathbone is the definitive Sherlock Holmes.
Rathbone, who resembles the illustrations of Holmes from the original stories, plays up the character’s eccentricities and intelligence without flamboyance, although he will engage in physical activity in pursuit of justice. In fact, he’s occasionally reckless and often is within a whisker of a tragic move. Yet when at his best – face to face with an adversary, one mind battling another – it’s fascinating to watch him convey his superior intellect and chess-like manipulation without using physical gestures.
Read the rest of my full review in PopMatters.