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Old 09-01-2008, 04:17   #1
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Sidney Lumet (aka "I'm mad as hell" that several films aren't on DVD)

I could not find a dedicated thread for Mr. Lumet and I think he certainly deserves one. I had the privilege of seeing him in conversation a few nights ago and he's truly a remarkable man. You'd never believe he was 83 years old unless the idea that 12 Angry Men was now over 50 years ago came to mind. He easily seems 20 years younger in person, physically and mentally. He's even trying to get financing on his next project, which he's also written.

Anyway, Film Forum here in NYC is having a retrospective of Lumet's work soon and I wanted to hear recommendations on some things as yet unreleased on DVD. Specifically, I'm looking at Daniel, The Offence and a double bill of The Anderson Tapes and The Deadly Affair. I've seen most of the stuff already on DVD, but was wondering how essential these four are.
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Old 09-01-2008, 06:59   #2
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I could not find a dedicated thread for Mr. Lumet and I think he certainly deserves one. I had the privilege of seeing him in conversation a few nights ago and he's truly a remarkable man. You'd never believe he was 83 years old unless the idea that 12 Angry Men was now over 50 years ago came to mind. He easily seems 20 years younger in person, physically and mentally. He's even trying to get financing on his next project, which he's also written.

Anyway, Film Forum here in NYC is having a retrospective of Lumet's work soon and I wanted to hear recommendations on some things as yet unreleased on DVD. Specifically, I'm looking at Daniel, The Offence and a double bill of The Anderson Tapes and The Deadly Affair. I've seen most of the stuff already on DVD, but was wondering how essential these four are.
You are quite right. Mr. Lumet is a remarkable man and deserves far more recognition. He has suffered the fate of many skilled film directors who are versatile: he has not been "adopted" by those film fans who enthuse about directors who work with the same type of material again and again. (Lumet is of course in very good company here. He stands alongside master directors like Michael Curtiz, Edmund Goulding, John Huston and Robert Wise.)

I have never seen Daniel but the other three films you mention are all worth watching, although some will not like their subject matters.

The Offence is in effect a grim television play done on the big screen. Sean Connery plays a police officer who has been affected by years of dealing with crime and depravity, and is on the verge of losing his self-control. Ian Bannen play a paedophile brought in for questioning, and to some extent the movie is a "two-hander" with Connery and Bannen dominating the movie. Some will find the subject matter unpleasant, but anyone interested in Lumet's work should see this film at least once.

The Anderson Tapes is a heist movie about a robbery of an entire apartment complex. When the movie was first released, most critical attention was paid to the "high-tech" aspects of the story. At that Dyan Cannon was red-hot, and she received more publicity that Sean Connery and Sidney Lumet combined! (It didn't last for her and she soon faded from the scene.)

The Deadly Affair is drab, down-beat thriller and is notable mainly for Freddie Young's deliberately unglamorous cinematography and for the, if I recall correctly, completely irrelevant and unnecesary inclusion of a particularly sadistic scene from Christopher Marlowe. (I might be wrong: I haven't seen this film for ages.) The film is definitely worth watching if only to gain a broader understanding of Freddie Young's range. And just look at that cast!

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Old 09-01-2008, 07:29   #3
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All the films you mention, save for Daniel, are available on region 2 DVDs - I own them all and they're all worth seeing, The Deadly Affair being the slightest of them. The Offence has very good scenes in it, and I've always enjoyed Anderson Tapes.
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Old 09-01-2008, 08:02   #4
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Someone - I forget who - once described Lumet as the "Dickens of New York," presumably meaning that he evoked and analysed and criticised and celebrated all the sunny and seamier sides of the city. Problem was, and is, that the films became rather monotonous and indistinguishable from each other - the number of drug dealers and cops on the verge of cracking up that Lumet had in his movies must number in their thousands. Prince of the City has its admirers but that was the last one of those things that I saw - three hours of been there, done that already. For me, Lumet was always less interesting than his contemporaries - Penn, Pakula and Frankenheimer.
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Old 09-01-2008, 08:07   #5
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That is very true - Lumet seems very much a one-note symphony sometimes, and as much as I like his laconic, dour aesthetic, goshdarnit a camera move now and again might be nice. Or not framing everything in incessant TV-ish close-up.

That said, I like Prince of the City very much, even if it steers uncomfortably close to histrionics a bit too often.
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Old 09-01-2008, 09:45   #6
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Someone - I forget who - once described Lumet as the "Dickens of New York," presumably meaning that he evoked and analysed and criticised and celebrated all the sunny and seamier sides of the city. Problem was, and is, that the films became rather monotonous and indistinguishable from each other - the number of drug dealers and cops on the verge of cracking up that Lumet had in his movies must number in their thousands. Prince of the City has its admirers but that was the last one of those things that I saw - three hours of been there, done that already. For me, Lumet was always less interesting than his contemporaries - Penn, Pakula and Frankenheimer.
I think I agree with this POV (and also prefer Pakula). I find the highlights of his movies to be the performances, as opposed to the films overall which do often have that TV influence - still, they're great actor showcases. It's near-impossible to imagine Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon being as compelling without Al Pacino (or going back even further, the cast of Long Day's Journey...). Another of his big ones, Network, I don't think has politics that hold up to much scrutiny and I don't much like its pomposity, but I suppose blame for that is more with Chayefsky. And again, its success I think was because of perfect casting (especially Faye Dunaway).

I haven't enjoyed many of his movies since the 80s. The Morning After, a rare foray outside of NY, is not as bad as its reputation suggests.

I quite like The Anderson Tapes even though it's so tawdry.
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Old 09-01-2008, 11:46   #7
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Well, I've said many times on these Forums how much I admire Mr Lumet and find him still to be massively underrated in spite of the apparent contradiction of the number of his films that have been nominated for awards.

The Offence is a stunning piece of work and of the three is the one I would definately go for first. The Region 2 dvd has a reasonable transfer, from memory. Bannen and Connery are superb throughout, although the subject matter is extremely dark, as already mentioned.

I disagree with Anephric that the man has no style. Lumet thought Prince of the City his most stylised film and some old codger called Kurosawa thought that marriage of style and content in the film was 'beautiful'. I don't believe for a moment that in order to be stylish you have to do a de Palma every bleedin' 5 minutes. It more about how the style fits the material and in that case I think it works well.

I do agree that he is an actor's director, though. But this makes him one of the best casters of roles in the business - an area many other great directors often fall down on. I can also recommend his book Making Movies which I suspect is very much like its author - punchy, provocative and self-effacing.

Oh and belated Happy New Year fellow forumites, may all your wishlists come true.
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Old 09-01-2008, 17:02   #8
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My fault for not specifying a lack of Region 1 availability on three of the four I mentioned. I'm a selective importer when it comes to barebones discs. There are several others of interest not in the retro and absent on DVD in either region like Child's Play and The Appointment, plus Bye Bye Braverman which is playing but isn't on DVD.

No one has seen Daniel though? Lumet commented that it was the film of his he felt had been the most slighted. It's interesting that some apparently find him to be repetitive or one-note, yet one of his more well-regarded films that went in another direction has remained largely unnoticed. It's almost like he's been faulted for being prolific.

My impression is that he loves making movies more than the idea of having a legacy and that this has resulted in several pictures he shouldn't have done at all. If you look at the high points, though, I can't see how Penn, Pakula or Frankenheimer really measure up in comparison (and those are three directors with a dozen or more great films among them). I'm also a little taken aback that someone would think the man who made Dog Day Afternoon had a style that could be classified as laconic.

There are too many of his "lesser" efforts that I haven't seen, but I'm always amazed when I go over in my mind the films Lumet has made. Seeing Before the Devil Knows You're Dead not too long ago has really renewed my appreciation and interest, and reminded me that he's been putting the desperate dark side of New York City on screen for half a century now.

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Old 09-01-2008, 18:03   #9
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My fault for not specifying a lack of Region 1 availability on three of the four I mentioned. I'm a selective importer when it comes to barebones discs. There are several others of interest not in the retro and absent on DVD in either region like Child's Play and The Appointment, plus Bye Bye Braverman which is playing but isn't on DVD.

No one has seen Daniel though? Lumet commented that it was the film of his he felt had been the most slighted. It's interesting that some apparently find him to be repetitive or one-note, yet one of his more well-regarded films that went in another direction has remained largely unnoticed. It's almost like he's been faulted for being prolific.

My impression is that he loves making movies more than the idea of having a legacy and that this has resulted in several pictures he shouldn't have done at all. If you look at the high points, though, I can't see how Penn, Pakula or Frankenheimer really measure up in comparison (and those are three directors with a dozen or more great films among them). I'm also a little taken aback that someone would think the man who made Dog Day Afternoon had a style that could be classified as laconic.

There are too many of his "lesser" efforts that I haven't seen, but I'm always amazed when I go over in my mind the films Lumet has made. Seeing Before the Devil Knows You're Dead not too long ago has really renewed my appreciation and interest, and reminded me that he's been putting the desperate dark side of New York City on screen for half a century now.
Braverman, as weird as it is, has always been one of my favorites - I had a wonderful 16mm IB Tech print of it for years and used to show it regularly to friends. I would say wouldn't it be great if Warners put it out, but then it would just look like the washed out brown mess that is The Heart Is The Lonely Hunter.

The other Lumet that I'd like to see out on DVD is Stage Struck - originally RKO and it's always looked like crap on home vid. Anyone who's ever seen a Tech print of it knows it's stunningly gorgeous, and the film has a wonderful Alex North score. And those shots of New York in the opening credits.
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Old 09-01-2008, 18:57   #10
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I've seen Daniel, though bear in mind it was twenty-three years ago. (It was shown at my University's film society in my first term.) From what I remember it was good, if a little overlong - but as I said, it was a long time ago.

Another apparently lesser Lumet that's within this forum's remit is The Wiz, which gets a 30th anniversary DVD in Region 1 next month. I haven't seen it though. Anyone?

Has anyone seen Last of the Mobile Hot Shots, from 1970? It's a Tennessee Williams adaptation that landed a MPAA X rating at the time and has vanished into obscurity ever since. I've not seen it - and I'm not sure I've ever had the opportunity to see it in the UK, though I think the NFT may have shown it once - and it's apparently not very good, but I've always been intrigued by the sound of it. A Warners production, but they left it out of their Tennessee Williams DVD box set.
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Old 09-01-2008, 19:20   #11
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There are too many of his "lesser" efforts that I haven't seen . . . .
A Lumet film I've never seen but would like to is That Kind Of Woman, made early in his movie career. Surprisingly, since Paramount has issued on DVD most of the films Sophia Loren made with them, That Kind Of Woman is still unavailable on DVD. I believe it got bad reviews when first released at the end of the 1950s but in that same period so did Vertigo, and Rio Bravo had its detractors.
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Old 09-01-2008, 22:20   #12
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My preference for Pakula (and maybe Penn) over Lumet is because while I admire Dog Day and Serpico and a few others, when I watch Pakula's thrillers, I can get caught up in the paranoiac, kicky atmosphere in a way that I can't with a Lumet movie. I admire them differently but I think as a NY thriller, Klute works in ambiguous ways that compell me more than Lumet's thrillers -- and the feeling stays with me afterwards. Same for Penn and Night Moves (and I know it's a contentious point but for me, Bonnie and Clyde tops Lumet's work). I'm not saying that they are better filmmakers overall; that's churlish and difficult to compare anyway because Pakula nosedived drastically into the 80s (as did so many 70s directors -- credit to Lumet for going on with dignity). Just a personal preference.

The Wiz ended Diana Ross' film career (she hasn't been in a real movie since); it is pretty bad.
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Old 11-01-2008, 00:32   #13
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I'm also a little taken aback that someone would think the man who made Dog Day Afternoon had a style that could be classified as laconic.
Okay, how about: Sidney Lumet films fall apart when they go outside. Nobody photographs the interiors of rooms quite like Sidney Lumet.
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Old 11-01-2008, 01:29   #14
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Okay, how about: Sidney Lumet films fall apart when they go outside. Nobody photographs the interiors of rooms quite like Sidney Lumet.
I see your point, but I'll counter it with The Hill.

Without adding it up, I'd say the majority of Lumet's films are set in New York City, so maybe it's the milieu more than his inability to work outdoors.
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Old 11-01-2008, 09:01   #15
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The Anderson tapes - Great heist movie with a brilliant cast: Walken, Balsam, Connery, Cannon. This is a very stylish thriller which evokes the claustrophobic paranoia of such films as The Conversation and Parallax View but in a much more playful way. The use of sound effects is particularly effective. 8/10

The deadly affair - Very atmospheric spy movie. Similar cinematography to Ipcress IMO: Lots of steely greys and the constant sense that you can trust no-one. Great performance by the never disappointing Mason.
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Old 11-01-2008, 14:08   #16
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Without adding it up, I'd say the majority of Lumet's films are set in New York City, so maybe it's the milieu more than his inability to work outdoors.
And being based in New York partly explains Lumet's apparent lack of awards acclaim, not unlike Mr Scorsese.

If you discount his honorary Oscar, Lumet has never won a 'proper' statue - a pretty lame result given the output mentioned on this thread.
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Old 12-01-2008, 14:48   #17
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One of his best films, "The Verdict", is set in a very wintry and beautifully evoked Boston.

"The Offence" is set in an unnamed English town, full of brutal concrete architecture and grim housing estates, also brilliantly observed (although the film as a whole, to my taste, is almost unbearably portentous).

I don't think it's true to say that Lumet's only good in New York, or indoors.
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Old 12-01-2008, 17:56   #18
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I'm surprised actually at how many of his films are not just NY affairs -- Murder on the Orient Express, of course, and Lovin' Molly; Equus; The Morning After and chunks of Network.

I'd like to see Just Tell Me What You Want released, also. Even if Ali MacGraw is in it.

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Old 13-01-2008, 18:05   #19
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Why are filmmakers judged on their visual motifs? This is the same short-sighted nonsense that gets levelled at Clint Eastwood's films; yes there are people who've made their mark with great camerawork; Kubrick, Hitchcock, Welles etc but they all had skills elsewhere too, style alone isn't worth a thing - who's the better filmmaker; Tony Scott or John Huston? Isn't it enough to create an engaging narrartive and be responsible for nurturing great performances from your cast?
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Old 13-01-2008, 18:59   #20
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Because: something like Equus falls apart because Lumet can't juggle his naturalistic approach with the surreal imagery that the material demands. Films like The Hill and the Pawnbroker (and, to a certain extent, The Offence) have a severe expressionism to them that works supremely well - as Lumet moves into colour that expressionism is lost so that something that screams for it - say, Prince of the City, gets lost in a lot of flatly composed shots that for all the world could use some dynamism, because the narrative isn't providing it and the film hangs on a single performance.
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