Topol strides like a magnetic giant through the film, in the role with which he has become synonymous, bouncing off a strong supporting international cast. Watch out for Michael Glaser in a non-singing role, his ‘Starsky and Hutch’ days still to come. The village of Anatevka was beautifully recreated in minuscule detail by set designers in Yugoslavia, and succeeds in transferring this stage play to the screen believably.
The DVD commentary by Topol and director Norman Jewison provide a fascinating insight into the research that went into making the film look and feel authentic. Anecdotes also reveal, amongst other things, how make-up artists laboured to age the 35-year-old Topol, the real reason for his passionate expression during the ‘Rich Man’ song, how they managed to keep ‘God’ in place between shots and what happened to Tevye’s horse after the production was finished.
There are other memorable characters, such as Yente the matchmaker, Lazer Wolf the butcher, and Mottel the tailor. The three eldest daughters are beautiful and dream of a great match. Their song, "Matchmaker," is one of the best songs ever written for a musical. Going contrary to tradition, each of them foregoes the services of the matchmaker and marries out of love, even if the price is poverty, suffering, or banishment from the family.
The first part of the film focuses on ordinary everyday life in the village of Anatevka. The second part dramatizes a dark page of history, as the village Jews first suffer a pogrom, and are eventually driven out of their village at the orders of the czar. Some of them head for America, others for the Holy Land, but some move to a different part of Russia or to Poland, and we cannot supress the knowledge that this is a very sad ending indeed, as we know that they and their children will end up in Nazi concentration camps.
The film is replete with humour, wit, love, and great songs, among which "Tradition" (accompanied by wonderfully clever film shots, "Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," "To life," "Sunrise, Sunset," "Anatevka," some merry, some hearbreaking, all utterly enjoyable and touching.
Pay attention to the opening shot of the film, it is absolutely brilliant. The cinematography is splendid, the colours are strong and fresh. The locations are beautiful and faithfully recreate village life.
The second disc is replete with information, such as a documentary on the shooting of "Fiddler," on location in Yougoslavia, in 1971, which is excellent and in parts brought me to tears, as the director talked about the historical context of the film; a shorter interview with the director, Norman Jewison, reminiscing about the making of this film (by the way, he recounts that the producers at MGM thought he was Jewish, because of his name, and were surprised to learn that he is actually Christian); authentic period photographs; the director reading from two stories by Shalom Aleichem; a deleted song, "Any Day Now," which I regretted they deleted; posters, trailers and TV spots.
I really urge you to buy this DVD, it is a film you will constantly love to rewatch, and to which you cannot remain indifferent. You will laugh, cry, be entertained, as well as deeply touched. It is one of my most treasured DVD acquisitions, and one that will never lose its grip. I had seen it on TV several times before, and I still wanted to purchase it so as to be able to return to it time and again.
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