Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Sidney Lumet

Film and television director Sidney Lumet died 9 April 2011. If I had to choose my favourite Lumet film it would probably be "Running on Empty". "Running on Empty" will always be, for me, one of the few films that looks back at the radicals of the sixtes with a healthy degree of honesty.

Lumet, I suppose, to many will always remain a theatrical director, a dirty phrase for many critics. Many have criticised his camera placement and his supposedly limited interest in what has become an obsession for critics in the wake of the young turks at Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s, mise-en-scene. I have never thought, however, that mise-en-scene and camera movement were he be all and end all of cinema. I guess I still appreciate a good story and it seems to me that there is a place in cinema for good stories along with the mise-en-scene of a Hitchcock and the camera movements of an Orson Welles. And for me Lumet told many good stories from his wonderful realistic adaptation of the "static" teleplay "12 Angry Men" (1957) to the gritty social realism of Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Prince of the City (1981), and Running on Empty (1988).

Sadly, good storytelling and social realism seems out of place in a Hollywood dominated by juvenalia, little in the way of intelligent narrative, the omnipresence of unmemorable pop music, and special effects. And so did Sidney Lumet in his final years. That says something tragic and something very sad about contemporary Hollywood in my mind.

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