Today! Because I know, we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Directed by Norman Jewison
Starring Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, Paul Michael Glazer, Ray Lovelock, Louis Zorich (x2), Paul Mann, Neva Small, Barry Dennen (x3), Roger Lloyd Pack
There are plenty of movies with music still to come, and a bunch of films that could be classified in some way as movie musicals, but as far as stage adaptations to the big screen, Fiddler on the Roof is my second favorite, apparently! How about that build up with little payoff? I would also contend that it is the best musical adaptation ever made, fully realizing the vast number of ’60s Best Picture winners this shoves behind it – your Sound of Music, Oliver!, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, etc.
Most stage adaptations – no matter how hard they try to update and rearrange them for film – still have a nearly unbreakable staginess to them. While this doesn’t bother me much with plays-to-screen, musicals are such a grander experience in general that they need to really open up and do dramatically different production and sound designs, to try and utilize the medium to support the unnaturalness of spontaneous songs. I’m not saying a bunch of other movies haven’t done this well – the staging of 2012’s Les Miserables is incredible, even if the movie just missed this list – but I genuinely can’t remember a movie that worked better in this regard than Fiddler.
And that’s with all the fourth wall breaking going on. On stage, it works fine – breaking the fourth wall is such a standard convention in theater that it’s not disconcerting. And, okay, strictly speaking that’s not what’s going on here either (he’s talking to God, but in the direction of the audience/camera, so…) but it could’ve been a disaster. However, Topol’s brilliant work as Tevye – commanding, charming, sympathetic, and yet massively flawed – gives the on-screen narration a peculiar authenticity, and helps immerse us into the early 1900s Russian village of Anatevka.