Friday, April 22, 2011

Sidney Lumet 1924-2011

Sidney Lumet died a few weeks ago at the age of 86. If you look at Lumet's career on IMDB it's a pretty amazing list of films that he was involved in since directing an early masterpiece in 1957 with 12 Angry Men. Extremely prolific as a director, he churned out nearly one film a year from the late 1950s to 2000. Lumet's sheer amount of films he helmed might have damaged his legacy as it caused more "misses" and also stripped away from the special quality his peers attained by releasing fewer movies. Lumet had some not so great ones, but he directed a bunch of bonafide classics and can't miss films in his career.

Lumet was in show business in some form or other for nearly seventy years! He was on Broadway as a child actor in the mid-30s before serving in WW2 from 1942-46. After the war he initially gravitated back to the stage and then became a highly respected director in the emerging world of television. With his first movie, he hit a home run with 12 Angry Men, a testosterone filled, claustrophobic, tense look at a trial's jury as they deliberate a case. After that, Lumet kept on making movies and more movies and more movies.

The 1970s and 1980s were his zenith as a filmmaker. Just look at this list of must-sees that Lumet directed in those two decades: Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Prince of the City, The Verdict and Running on Empty. In 2007, an 82 year-old Lumet proved he could still hang with all these young whipper-snappers by delivering the pitch-black drama Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. It was the last film he would make and he went out on a high-note with that one.

Frequently using New York City as a backdrop to his films, Lumet's style wasn't flashy. He believed in a straight-ahead naturalism and realism that made stories set among the world of the police or lawyers a perfect backdrop for his attention to detail. I love directors who aren't trying to show-off to the audience at every turn and Lumet didn't want the camera, editing or photography to distract from what was taking place on screen. I love that no-nonsense, what you see is what you get style and attitude from Lumet. The man had guts and he loved to make movies about corruption, betrayal and throw in some sort of social statements in his films.

If you don't know a lot of the films I've mentioned, do yourself a favor and get them in your Netflix queue as soon as you can. I'm going to put a few of these in and re-watch them and go through his filmography and pick out the ones I didn't see. It's time to appreciate the rich cinematic world of one of America's greatest filmmakers of all-time: Sidney Lumet.

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