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Fiddler On The Roof (40th Anniversary Edition) (1971) Print E-mail
Monday, 11 April 2011
ImageArgue with me if you would like, but as far as I am concerned there is not refuting that this is a classic film title.  It symbolizes all that musical adaptations could be and everything that was great about Hollywood before its dive into pop-genre junk.  The film also inspired a short-lived revival of musical adaptations.

Musical adaptations reigned supreme in the 60s until numerous flops for all the major studios resulted in their demise.  MGM gave it another go when “Fiddler On The Roof” garnered success as the longest-running Broadway play at the time.  The success of “Fiddler On The Roof” brought forth a new musical era with other productions such as “Cabaret.”

By today’s standards, “Fiddler On The Roof” would be seen as much too long and boring and drawn out.  Well, news for those young audiences members, this film reminds of us why cinema was truly created.  It wasn’t for these silly 90-minute, brainless scripts.  It was to bring large scale and meaningful productions to viewers across the country.  Hence, the roadshow era.

This film may be based on the Jewish faith, but the story speaks to those of many heritages.  This is a story of traditions, raising a family, politics and change.  Oppression at the turn of the century in czarist Russia forces Teyve (Topol) from his traditions.  While poor, keeping his family together and happy is his number one priority.  The story speaks for itself.  It is strong and emotional, resulting from a terrific screen adaptation.  The film was first adapted from a book into the stage musical.  And this film musical remains fairly close to the original stage musical, perhaps one of the most faithful adaptations.

The film garnered a few big Academy wins and even more nominations.  The film is noted for its terrific cinematography.  This may be the one thing that doesn’t hold up well over time.  The filmmakers’ fascination with the technology of the time presents itself more as a novelty now.  Still, the scenery is presented in a realistic way, lending even more strength to the emotional power of the story. The true star of this adaptation is the musical adaptation.  This is the film that truly gave John Williams notable status.  We all now he has gone on to present us with some of the finest music film scores of all-time: “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Jaws,” “Indiana Jones,” “Harry Potter” just to name a few.  But it was “Fiddler On The Roof” that took him from television scores to the big screen.  At the same time friend Alexander Courage also made contributions, bringing him to the forefront of film music scoring.  Williams’ first Academy win came from his work on “Fiddler On The Roof.”  This is well deserved as this musical presents us with some of the most remembered and cherished musical numbers.  The opening of the film gets right on the edge of your seat.  The music from “Traditions” to the “Overture” to Matchmaker, Matchmaker” to “If I Were A Rich Man” is seamless.  The music continues in this wonderful fashion throughout.

The video quality of this Blu-ray is a bit difficult to judge.  You must take into the account the way the print originally looked.  When this is done, the Blu-ray gives us some terrific quality.  It is not going to blow anyone’s socks off, but for those that can remember that era of filmmaking will surely enjoy this release.  Director Norman Jewison always joked that the film was shot through a silk stocking.  When you watch this Blu-ray the image is entirely soft.  However, it is akin to the original theatrical print.  Decide for yourselves, but I for one am glad that the studio did not do a lot of artificial sharpening to the image.  Where the image fails on Blu-ray is with the fine details of the restoration.  Blemishes are aplenty.  In fact, I have never found a more distracting blemish-filled film.  There is something to be said from steering away from image tampering, but I would have liked a bit more restoration.  White spots are perhaps the most annoying.  On numerous occasions rubbed out blemishes flicker right over a close-up of an actor’s face.  While we are used to this in a theater, it is not something that usually comes with the home theater territory.  In addition to the amount of blemishes, there are several sequences that contain fluctuates in the color timing.  Most of you probably won’t notice them as they are slight and few and far between, but they are there.  Some edge enhancement is noticeable on this transfer as well.  I know this all makes it sound like the Blu-ray image is terrible when in fact it is not, given the original source.  A quick look back at my standard definition copy of the film shows obvious and much-welcomed improvements in the level of detail, the strength of the black levels as well as colors and fleshtones.  Those that are only into modern looking films are advised to stay away.  However, those that would like to upgrade their collection or indulge themselves in a true cinema classic will love this Blu-ray.

Again, the audio track is a bit tricky to sort out.  A nice labeled on the front of the Blu-ray tells us that the film has been remastered in 7.1 DTS-HD MA.  The problem here is that this was not really part of the 70mm print era, which contained 6-track stereo audio.  “Fiddler On The Roof” was a blow-up to 70mm.  The original audio was presented in mono and stereo on 35mm prints (all that was capable back in 1971 on 35mm).  The studio has done a great job on remastering, but the 7.1 remaster falls flat.  As is true of every one of the 7.1 remasters or upmixes, the rear four surround channels contain far too similar information.  If you solo any of the rear channels and compared them against each the sound is near identical.  This provides for some slight depth to your theater, but not much in terms of actual envelopment.  The overall audio track still presents itself as basic stereo, with mono sounding dialogue.  So, this isn’t the best remaster by far, however, given the original source again and the intentions of the film, the soundtrack is true to the source.  Do not expect to be dazzled by 7.1 audio.  If you want that then go pick up “Tron: Legacy.”  “Fiddler On The Roof” contains a pleasant lossless audio track that has not be compressed to the limits.  Many in fact will find themselves turning up the volume.  There are some great dynamics to the audio track but the overall mix level remains the same, hence the lower than expected volume level.

“Fiddler On The Roof” contains all the bonus materials from the previous standard definition releases of the film.  There is an audio commentary by director Norman Jewison and actor Topol.  Great information is present in this commentary.  “Norman Jewison Looks Back” is a collection of short vignettes on various topics.  “Norman Jewison, Filmmaker” contains footage from the original production of the film, basically on old version of a making-of featurette.

“John Williams: Creating A Musical Tradition” gives us a brief look at this legendary composer.  “Tevye’s Dream In Color” is the fully saturated version of the infamous sequence.  “Side By Side Comparison” provides a split screen with both the desaturated and saturated versions of the dream.  “Songs of ‘Fiddler On The Roof’” interviews the original musical creators of the play.  This is followed by the deleted song, “Any Day Now.”  “Tevye’s Daughters” is a retrospective piece with the three leading actresses.  “Set In Reality: Production Design” is a set and production piece.  Finally the package contains a storyboard to film comparison, some trailers and TV Spots, and lastly a DVD Copy of the film.

“Fiddler On The Roof” is one of the most important pieces of cinema in history.  This is due to the production value, story, acting and music.  While the Blu-ray doesn’t deliver all that “Fiddler On The Roof” could be remastered, it certainly is a worthwhile package.  Highly recommended.

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