In Contention


So, Sidney

Posted by Kristopher Tapley · 12:43 pm · April 9th, 2011

I’ve had the whole of Sidney Lumet’s available DVD catalogue lined up, in chronological order, in my Netflix queue as of late. He was always a filmmaker I looked to in my own pursuits in the field as an idol, someone who seemed to stay way above the fray while consistently cranking out engaging, often seminal work. He had his share of turkeys, but he learned from them and he never stopped evolving as a craftsman.

I recently revisited the brilliant, unfortunately buried (due to “Dr. Strangelove”) “Fail Safe.” I had my first viewing of “The Hill” not long after, and “The Pawnbroker” should be on the way. “12 Angry Men” and “Network” see frequent rotation on my player, as they are two films that sit comfortably in my personal top 10 of all time.

The legendary titles need no introduction, but who wouldn’t see fit to mention “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico,” “The Verdict” (which screenwriter Travis Beacham shrewdly noted “was ‘Michael Clayton’ before ‘Michael Clayton’” this morning), “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Prince of the City,” “Equus,” “The Anderson Tapes,” and on and on and on?

He was a fixture of 70s cinema and a name that somehow lurked a step below the titans of that era when it came to singling out. But he showed a prolificacy that frankly should have placed him a step above those names, producing great films in five decades. And his swan song, 2007′s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” suggested plenty of fire in the veins and gas in the tank.

But now, he’s gone.

I would love to have met Lumet. It never came to pass. I put him on the same shelf as Billy Wilder in that regard, humble artists with more talent in a thumbnail than most who I’d have delighted in even the briefest of conversations, film-centric or otherwise.

He never won a competitive Oscar, though he was nominated five times, four for directing. The Academy did see fit to hand him an honorary award in 2005, however, but the point being, if anyone was too good for that song and dance, it was Sidney Lumet.

Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers may be given to lofty verbiage, but I do think he nailed it on the head in a Tweet this morning: “An incalculable loss to film.”

Long live the man and the work.




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→ 21 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

21 responses so far

  • 1 4-09-2011 at 1:02 pm

    Robby said...

    RIP Sidney. I will watch Network tonight in his honor. I watched some great interviews he did back in the 70′s-80′s on Youtube. What a guy!

  • 2 4-09-2011 at 1:07 pm

    kel said...

    Chris, you might take some pleasure in watching the 1939 film “One Third of a Nation,” with Sylvia Sidney and Leif Erickson. It’s on Netflix streaming. It is the one film Lumet made as an actor, at the age of 15. This does not include his supposed (and unrecognizable) cameo in the Manchurian Candidate remake

  • 3 4-09-2011 at 1:07 pm

    kel said...

    I meant to say “Kris,” but am not thinking clearly..

  • 4 4-09-2011 at 2:51 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’ll give it a look.

  • 5 4-09-2011 at 3:26 pm

    Rare Addict said...

    So far, I’ve only seen one of this man’s films, admittedly, but 12 Angry Men sits firmly in my all-time top 10 as well. I’ll be sure to give that another viewing before today’s over. So long, Sidney, and thank you.

  • 6 4-09-2011 at 3:48 pm

    Maxim said...

    Thank you for wrtiting a great tribute to a great man.

  • 7 4-09-2011 at 6:28 pm

    Marv said...

    From, “Attica! Attica!” To, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” On top of being great films; the social relevance that they hold are incredible. RIP Mr. Lumet.

  • 8 4-09-2011 at 6:50 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Dog Day Afternoon alone makes him a great filmmaker in my eyes.

  • 9 4-09-2011 at 7:03 pm

    Zac said...

    I just went to Netflix and added everything listed for him plus I ordered his book on Amazon.

    While I don’t think Lumet is as good as Spielberg, I think he’s just as good as Coppola and better than Lucas.

    R.I.P. Sid.

  • 10 4-09-2011 at 8:05 pm

    Fitz said...

    A prolific director who never went away and never burned out, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is just as superb as his earlier works.

  • 11 4-09-2011 at 8:24 pm

    Chris138 said...

    I saw Q & A for the first time recently, which I didn’t like at all, but 12 Angry Men and Network were my two favorites from him as well. He was an undeniably gifted filmmaker. A big loss indeed.

  • 12 4-09-2011 at 9:56 pm

    N8 said...

    12 Angry Men is hard to top in my books. He was a true master.

  • 13 4-10-2011 at 2:42 pm

    MJS said...

    How is The Verdict “‘Michael Clayton’ before ‘Michael Clayton’”? One’s a courtroom drama about an alcoholic lawyer putting forward a medical malpractice suit, the other is a thriller with almost no actual court scenes about a “fixer” trying to protect a witness to a class action suit against “big agra.” There’s almost nothing in common between them except that they both have lawyers in them.

  • 14 4-10-2011 at 8:16 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    Hey Kris, did you ever see Running on Empty? I think that’s Lumet’s most underrated film, it’s so moving (I saw it with my parents about a year ago, and my mom could not stop crying). I’m watching it right now. I’ll probably be watching more of his films in the coming week, but I opted to start with this one. What I loved about Lumet is that he was never someone to impose a style onto his films. He let the screenplay shine more than anything, and I think that may be the reason why he was never as well-known as Spielberg, or Coppola or Scrosese, since he never really imposed a style on those films. When people think of Network, they think of Paddy Chayefsky before they think of Lumet. Not that he wasn’t a brilliant director. 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Murder on the Orient Express, they all remain some of my favorite films (along with Running on Empty).

  • 15 4-10-2011 at 9:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    MJS: Finding conscience in that world, etc.

    Isaac: Yeah, big fan of Phoenix’s work in it.

  • 16 4-11-2011 at 6:51 am

    Chris said...

    He had a great way of looking at the mind and politics of police officers; The Offence, Serpico, and Prince of the City are all excellent.

    12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict, Daniel and Running on Empty are all masterpieces.

    It’s not a great movie…but Family Business is worth checking out. Even his lesser films are watchable.

  • 17 4-11-2011 at 12:18 pm

    daveylow said...

    One of my favorite Lumet films is the underrated Running on Empty which unfortunately is not available in a letterbox edition on DVD right now. River Phoenix, Martha Plimpton, divine!

  • 18 4-14-2011 at 4:15 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    I’m glad you admired the man and his work as much as they deserved but it continues to baffle me how so many of these pieces neglect to mention Running on Empty. While not as complex or revolutionary as some of his films, it’s undeniably one of his finest. People who dismiss it as little more than a coming-of-age flick with River Phoenix need to look again. Besides, I’ll take a simple story told beautifully over a grandiose, mediocre arthouse exercise any day.

    I suppose this will prepare me for the future Soderbergh obituaries that fail to mention King of the Hill.

  • 19 4-14-2011 at 7:40 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    Another great one that many younger fans haven’t seen is Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Great stuff.

  • 20 4-15-2011 at 5:33 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’ll admit to not seeing Running on Empty since film school over a decade ago (in an editing class, no less). I liked the film. There’s nothing wrong with being called a coming-of-age tale in my book, but I’ll also admit it’s way down the line on my list of Lumet’s achievements.

  • 21 4-15-2011 at 7:16 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    I finally watched Prince of the City in its entirety, and while there’s quite a bit in it worth appreciating and respecting, it’s certainly a flawed film. Treat Williams, who’s meant to carry the movie, simply is not up to the task…moreso in some scenes than others.

    I tried watching The Hill, but the sound didn’t seem too hot and it was hard to discern what all was being said, so I turned it off. I’ll give it another go sometime soon. And I really need to see Equus, but this Magnolia Blu-ray that arrived from Amazon today is staring me in the face.