Mini-review Mondays: Fiddler on the Roof

It’s the new year and with it comes new ideas I want to try out. I’ll be implementing the ideas slowing so I know can do them all weekly basis. The first is an off-shoot on a series I already do: short, bite-sized reviews of films. I’m transforming Quickie Reviews into Mini-reviews Mondays. Let’s get started with the first Mini-Review Mondays film.

Fiddler On The RoofReleased: November 3, 1971

Story: Tevye (played by Topol) practices the old tradition of Jewish life in the Russian town of Anatevka. In 1905, change is in the wind and Tevye must adapt to a new way of life and new traditions as he tries to marry off his three daughters. The small town also faces adversity in the form of the increasing antisemitism coming from the Russian Empire. The story is about the traditions and the life of the Jews that was, in some ways, lost forever at the beginning of the 20th century. Will Tevye find a way to hold on to the old ways while also integrating the new? Will he be able to keep his family and friends safe from those in the Russian government who would wish to see the backs of all who profess to be part of the Jewish faith?

Thoughts: On a historical level, I loved experiencing a time in Jewish history that I knew nothing about. It also made a nice change to learn about the antisemitism from place other than 1930s/40s Germany. Too often, I think, the Germans get the rap for all the Jewish hate from the the first half of the 20th Century, and while they are certainly the most notable for good reasons, it’s important to remember that other countries (even the United States) were guilty of unfair treatment of those of Jewish heritage. The film treats this subject matter seriously despite it being a musical that could’ve easily lightened up the material to the point of being inappropriate.

Speaking of the music, it is first rate. Topol has a remarkable voice and is so talented I’m rather jealous. The songs taper off near the end of the movie, where there are few numbers, but that fits with the darker tone of the film’s second half. The songs, while dramatic sometimes, were never as dark as some of the topics broached later in the film. So it makes sense for there not to be as many songs near the end.

Humor pervades the proceedings, even in the story’s darker moments.

1. Perchik: “Money is the world’s curse.”

Tevye: “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.”

2. Perchik: “Your daughter has a quick and witty tongue.”

Tevye: “Yes, the wit she gets from me, as the good book says…”

Golde: “The good book can wait, it’s time for Sabbath.”

Tevye: “The tongue she gets from her mother.”

3. [to God] Tevye: “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

4. Golde: “Oh, you’re finally here. Come, let’s go home now.”

Tevye: “I want to see Motel’s new machine.”

Golde: “You can see it some other time. Let’s go home now.”

Tevye: “Quiet, woman, before I get angry! Because when I get angry, even flies don’t dare to fly!”

Golde: [sarcastically] “I’m very frightened of you. After we finish supper I’ll faint.”

Tevye: [angrily] “Golde, I am the head of the house! I am the head of the family! And I want to see Motel’s new machine NOW!”

[He looks inside then closes the door]

Tevye: “Now, lets go home.”

These great lines show the screenwriter Joseph Stein (who also wrote the Broadway musical) and director Norman Jewison knew just as much about crafting intelligent drama as they did creating witty comedy. Jewison’s grand vistas of Russia should be praised, as well.

The Fiddler on the Roof is a classic for a reason (it was nominated for a eight Oscars, including Best Picture, and won three) and shouldn’t be missed.

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