Monday, April 11, 2011

Deceased--Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet
June 25th, 1924 to April 9th, 2011

"Sidney Lumet dies at 86; prolific 'actor's director' steered clear of Hollywood"

Sidney Lumet, a four-time Oscar nominee, was known for guiding strong performances in films such as '12 Angry Men,' 'Network' and 'Dog Day Afternoon.' He directed more than 40 films in his long career, many of them in his hometown of New York.


Dennis McLellan

April 10th, 2011

Los Angeles Times

Sidney Lumet, the prolific four-time Oscar-nominated director known for guiding strong performances in classic films such as "12 Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Network," died Saturday. He was 86.

Lumet, whose film career spanned more than 50 years, died of lymphoma at his home in New York, his family said.

Once described in Variety as "the quintessential New York filmmaker," Lumet shot a large number of his films in his hometown, including "The Pawnbroker," "Serpico" and many others.

As former Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin once wrote, Lumet avoided Hollywood "with a fervor that would do credit to Woody Allen."

"Hollywood is a company town," Lumet told The Times in 1968. "There is no real world there outside of filming. I don't feel organic life there, and I need that around me when I work."

A onetime child actor on Broadway and radio in the 1930s, Lumet was a director for CBS in New York during the golden age of live television dramas in the '50s when he made his auspicious feature-film directorial debut with "12 Angry Men."

The Reginald Rose-scripted 1957 legal drama set in a Manhattan jury room with Henry Fonda leading an ensemble cast received three Academy Award nominations, including best picture and director.

Lumet went on to garner three other Oscar nominations for directing: for the 1975 Brooklyn bank-heist film "Dog Day Afternoon," the 1976 Paddy Chayefsky-written television satire "Network" and the 1982 legal drama "The Verdict."

He also received an Oscar nomination for his and Jay Presson Allen's adapted screenplay for "Prince of the City," a 1981 police corruption drama directed by Lumet.

Known as an actor's director, Lumet guided numerous Academy Award-nominated performances, including those of Oscar winners Ingrid Bergman (for "Murder on the Orient Express") and Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight (all for "Network").

When Lumet received an honorary Oscar in 2005, presenter Al Pacino, who had received best actor Academy Award nominations for his work in "Serpico" and "Dog Day Afternoon," said the director was not being honored for his longevity but for the quality of his work.

"A Sidney Lumet movie," Pacino said, "has a signature, a stamp of individuality, a point of view, a feeling.… It's real, kinetic energy. You were there as the story was being told.... I'm forever grateful, along with all the other actors and writers who have benefited from Sidney's genius."

During his long movie career, Lumet directed more than 40 films, including "The Fugitive Kind," "A View From the Bridge," "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Fail-Safe," "The Hill," "The Group," "The Anderson Tapes," "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."

He had his share of flops, including "The Wiz," his 1978 adaptation of the hit Broadway musical.

"His career is a little bit inconsistent, but that's because he's been at it for so long, and when you're a working director like Sidney Lumet, you're going to have your outstanding successes and you're going to have films that are not so hot," Rick Jewell, a professor of film history at USC, told The Times in 2008.

"He was not like a Stanley Kubrick, who, once established, would do a film every five or seven years," said Jewell. "Lumet has been turning them out one after another since the '50s. To me, he's kind of a throwback to the old days when some directors were making two or three films a year. He hasn't had that kind of productivity, but still his output is extraordinary."

As a director, Lumet was drawn to intense, dramatic kinds of narratives.

Calling Lumet "one of the last of the great movie moralists," New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis wrote in 2005 that he was a "leading purveyor of the social-issue movie (police corruption, the injustice of the justice system)." He was, she wrote, a filmmaker whose defining screen image "is that of a man — and, almost inevitably, it is a man — struggling with his conscience and against the world."

"He just had an incredible eye for the truth," Paul Newman, who received a best actor Oscar nomination for his role as an alcoholic lawyer who finds redemption in "The Verdict," once said.

Lumet also had a reputation for being a quick and efficient filmmaker, one who brought his movies in ahead of schedule and under budget.

With his background in theater and live television, he rehearsed his actors for two or three weeks before he began filming. He then typically shot only a few takes and "cut in the camera": He knew how each scene would be edited beforehand and shot only what needed to be shot.

As a filmmaker, Lumet believed that the best technique does not call attention to itself.

"I hate any style if you can spot it," he told the New York Times in 2007, noting that in most of his movies, "I don't think there's a visual style, because I try very hard to find the visual style that [particular] story needs."

Because of his own acting background, Lumet said in his 2007 interview with the New York Times, most of the actors he had worked with felt like they were "in sympathetic hands but without being indulged."

Elaborating in a 1997 interview with the London Guardian, he said: "I was an actor, therefore I know where it hurts. I know when it's painful for them, when they have to go digging. All good work is self-revelation — they know that; I know that."

Those who worked with Lumet have praised his affinity with actors.

"The magic of the man is that he sculpts very carefully what he wants, and he conspires with you to help him with whatever he has in mind," Ossie Davis, who appeared in Lumet's 1965 World War II military prison drama "The Hill," said in an interview for a 1997 edition of the documentary series "The Directors."

In the same documentary, Rod Steiger, the Oscar-nominated star of "The Pawnbroker," Lumet's drama about a memory-haunted Holocaust survivor that was released in the U.S. in 1965, observed that the "important thing as far as Sidney is concerned is his compassion for creative people and understanding because he himself is so creative."

The Directors Guild of America, which recognized Lumet's creativity behind the camera with seven nominations for directing, gave him the D.W. Griffith Award, its top honor for lifetime contribution to film, in 1993.

And in 2005, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Lumet with the honorary Oscar in recognition of his "brilliant services to screenwriters, performers and the art of the motion picture."

At 80, however, Lumet had no intention of retiring. In an industry that places a premium on youth, he defied convention.

"For whatever reason, I have just kept working and working, and things turn up that I want to do," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2005. "I don't know if I have a compulsion. It's certainly a lovely way of life.

"If you're in movies, there is no job better than mine. So why stop until nature makes you or the studios make you?"

The son of Yiddish theater actor Baruch Lumet and dancer Eugenia Wermus, Lumet was born June 25, 1924, in Philadelphia but moved to New York City when he was 4.

Following in his father's footsteps, Lumet became an actor in the Yiddish theater as a child and made his Broadway debut in a small role in Sidney Kingsley's drama "Dead End" when he was 11.

Lumet, who attended the Professional Children's School, appeared in many other Broadway plays as a child, as well as acting on various radio series. He also had a role in the 1939 movie drama "One Third of a Nation," starring Sylvia Sidney.

After serving in the Army Signal Corps as a radar repairman in Burma and India during World War II, Lumet studied acting with Sanford Meisner and formed an off-Broadway theater group.

His move into television in 1950, he later said, was a matter of luck.

He was earning a good living as an actor and teacher — he also had set up the drama course at the High School for the Performing Arts — when an actor friend, Yul Brynner, who had been working as a staff director for CBS-TV, invited him to become his assistant director.

When Brynner left CBS to appear in "The King and I" on Broadway, Lumet took over the project Brynner had been directing: the dramatic anthology series "Danger."

Lumet went on to direct the "You Are There" historical reenactment series anchored by Walter Cronkite and other dramatic anthology series such as "The Best of Broadway," "The Goodyear Playhouse" and "Studio One in Hollywood."

Even after launching his film career in 1957, he continued to direct dramas for television, including "The Sacco-Vanzetti Story" on "Sunday Showcase" and "The Iceman Cometh" on "Play of the Week."

In 2001, he returned to television as the creator, executive producer and principal director of the short-lived Manhattan-set legal drama "100 Centre Street" on the A&E Network.

Lumet's 1995 book, "Making Movies," a professional memoir and guide to filmmaking, has been called essential reading for would-be filmmakers.

Lumet was married four times: to actress Rita Gam, heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, journalist and author Gail Jones (the daughter of singer Lena Horne and with whom he had two daughters, Amy and Jenny), and Mary Gimbel.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Lumet is survived by stepdaughter Leslie Gimbel; stepson Bailey Gimbel; nine grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

"Sidney Lumet, Director of American Film Classics, Dies at 86"


Robert Berkvist

April 9th, 2011

The New York Times

Sidney Lumet, a director who preferred the streets of New York to the back lots of Hollywood and whose stories of conscience — “12 Angry Men,” “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Verdict,” “Network” — became modern American film classics, died Saturday morning at his home in Manhattan. He was 86.

His stepdaughter, Leslie Gimbel, said the cause was lymphoma.

“While the goal of all movies is to entertain,” Mr. Lumet once wrote, “the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.”

Social issues set his own mental juices flowing, and his best films not only probed the consequences of prejudice, corruption and betrayal but also celebrated individual acts of courage.

In his first film, “12 Angry Men” (1957), he took his cameras into a jury room where the pressure mounted as one tenacious and courageous juror, played by Henry Fonda, slowly convinced the others that the defendant on trial for murder was in fact innocent. (Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor of the United States Supreme Court said the film had an important influence on her law career.)

Almost two decades later, Mr. Lumet’s moral sense remained acute when he ventured into satire with “Network” (1976), perhaps his most acclaimed film. Based on Paddy Chayefsky’s biting script, the film portrays a television anchorman who briefly resuscitates his fading career by launching on-air tirades against what he perceives as the hypocrisies of American society.

The film starred William Holden, Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch as the commentator-turned-attack-dog whose proclamation to the world at large — “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” — became part of the American vernacular.

“Network” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best film and best director, and won four, including best actor (Mr. Finch), best actress (Ms. Dunaway), best original screenplay (Mr. Chayefsky) and best supporting actress (Beatrice Straight.)

Honorary Oscar

Yet for all the critical success of his films and despite the more than 40 Academy Award nominations they drew, Mr. Lumet himself never won an Oscar, though he was nominated four times as best director. (The other nominations were for “12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “The Verdict.”)

Only in 2005 did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences present him with an honorary Academy Award. Manohla Dargis, writing in The New York Times, called it a “consolation prize for a lifetime of neglect.”

In 2007, in an interview that was videotaped to accompany this obituary online, Mr. Lumet was asked how it felt to win an Academy Award at long last. He replied, “I wanted one, damn it, and I felt I deserved one.”

That he was more a creature of New York than of Hollywood may have had something to do with his Oscar night disappointments. For Mr. Lumet, location mattered deeply, and New York mattered most of all. He was the quintessential New York director.

“Locations are characters in my movies,” he wrote. “The city is capable of portraying the mood a scene requires.”

He explored New York early on in “The Pawnbroker” (1964), the story of a Holocaust survivor, played by Rod Steiger, numbed and hardened against humanity by the horrors he has endured, who deals with racketeers in his Harlem pawnshop until his conscience is reawakened by a vicious crime on his doorstep.


The city loomed large in Mr. Lumet’s several examinations of the criminal justice system. Police corruption particularly fascinated him, beginning with “Serpico” (1973). The film, based on a book by Peter Maas, was drawn from a real-life drama involving two New York City police officers, David Durk and Frank Serpico, who told David Burnham, a reporter for The New York Times, that they had ample evidence of police graft and corruption.

Publication of their story led to the mayoral appointment of a commission to investigate the charges and ultimately to major reforms. Both the book and the film concentrated on Detective Serpico, played by Al Pacino, and his efforts to change the system. Mr. Pacino’s performance brought him an Oscar nomination.

Mr. Lumet returned to the theme in 1981 with “Prince of the City,” for which he shared screenwriting credit with Jay Presson Allen. Based on the book by Robert Daley, the film dealt with an ambitious detective (Treat Williams) who goes undercover to gather evidence for an investigative commission and who winds up alienated and alone after being manipulated into destroying the lives and careers of many of those around him.

Mr. Lumet focused on criminals, rather than the police, in “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975), telling the story (again, based on fact) of a botched attempt to rob a Brooklyn bank. Mr. Pacino again starred, this time as Sonny, the leader of an amateurish gang of bank robbers whose plans go awry and who winds up taking hostages and demanding jet transport to a foreign country. It turns out that Sonny, although he has a wife at home, had planned the robbery to pay for his boyfriend’s sex-change operation. In 2009 the film was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

New York, or at least a fantasy version of it, was even the backdrop for Mr. Lumet’s most uncharacteristic film, “The Wiz,” his 1978 musical version of the “The Wizard of Oz” starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Roundly panned, it was also a box-office failure.

By the time he finished shooting “Night Falls on Manhattan” in 1996, Mr. Lumet had made 38 films, 29 of them on location in New York City. That film, written by Mr. Lumet and based on another Daley novel, “Tainted Evidence,” once again looked at the justice system as it moved from a shootout with drug dealers into a revealing courtroom trial.

The courthouse was one of Mr. Lumet’s favorite arenas for drama, beginning with “12 Angry Men.” He returned to it again in “The Verdict” (1982), with a screenplay by David Mamet and a cast led by Paul Newman as a down-at-the-heels lawyer who redeems himself and his career when he represents a malpractice victim in a legal battle with a hospital.

But his concerns could also range more broadly, to issues of national survival itself. One of the most sobering films of the cold war era was his 1964 adaptation of Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s novel, “Fail-Safe,” a taut examination of the threat of accidental nuclear war with Henry Fonda as the president of the United States and a young Larry Hagman as his Russian-speaking interpreter. The film concluded with a harrowing suggestion of an atomic blast on American soil, rendered as a series of glimpses of ordinary life — children playing, pigeons taking wing — simply stopping. The scenes were from the streets of New York.

Sidney Lumet was born on June 25, 1924, in Philadelphia. His father, Baruch, an actor, was born in Poland and moved his family to New York when Sidney was a baby and joined the Yiddish Art Theater. By the time he was 4, Sidney was appearing onstage with his father, and he went on to make his Broadway debut in 1935 as a street kid in Sidney Kingsley’s “Dead End.” He appeared in several more Broadway shows, including Maxwell Anderson’s “Journey to Jerusalem” in 1940, in which he played the young Jesus.

After wartime service as a radar technician in the Far East, Mr. Lumet returned to New York and started directing Off Broadway and in summer stock. His big break came in 1950 when he was hired by CBS and became a director on the television suspense series “Danger.” Other shows followed, including the history series “You Are There.”

His career soared in 1953 when he began directing original plays for dramatic series on CBS and NBC, including “Studio One,” “Playhouse 90” and “Kraft Television Theater,” eventually adding some 200 productions to his credits. He also returned to the theater to direct Albert Camus’s “Caligula,” with Kenneth Haigh as the Roman emperor, and George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman,” among other plays.

Among the highlights of Mr. Lumet’s television years were a full-length production of Eugene O’Neill’s play “The Iceman Cometh,” with Jason Robards as the salesman Hickey and “12 Angry Men,” which he directed for television before turning it into his first film.

Some of Mr. Lumet’s early films had their origin in the theater. He directed Anna Magnani and Marlon Brando in “The Fugitive Kind” (1960), an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play “Orpheus Descending”; he traveled abroad to film part of Arthur Miller’s “View from the Bridge” (1962) in Paris, with Raf Vallone, Maureen Stapleton and Carol Lawrence, completing the film on the Brooklyn waterfront; and he returned to the world of O’Neill to film “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (1962), with Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson as the tormented Tyrones. His 1968 adaptation of Chekhov’s “Sea Gull,” however, was generally deemed uneven despite a stellar cast that included James Mason, Simone Signoret and Vanessa Redgrave.

A trainload of stars turned out for Mr. Lumet’s 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” a project that took him abroad again, this time to Britain, France and Turkey, to film the famous whodunit in which the detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) must single out a murderer from a crowd of suspects that included Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery and John Gielgud.

There was a run of less than successful films, including “Running on Empty” (1988), with Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti as ’60s radicals still in hiding from the F.B.I. 20 years after participating in a bombing; the police drama “Q & A” (1990), with a screenplay by Mr. Lumet, about a racist New York detective (Nick Nolte); and “Critical Care” (1997), a satiric jab at the American health care system.

In 1995 Mr. Lumet published a well-received memoir, “Making Movies,” in which he summed up his view of directorial style: “Good style, to me, is unseen style. It is style that is felt.”

In 2001 he returned to television as executive producer, principal director and one of the writers of a new courtroom drama for cable television, “100 Centre Street” (the title was the address of the criminal court building in Lower Manhattan). The series, which ran for two seasons on A&E, had an ensemble cast with Alan Arkin as an all-too-forgiving judge known as Let-’em-Go Joe.

The director seemed immune to advancing age. Before long, he was behind the camera again. “Find Me Guilty” (2006), which starred Vin Diesel, was a freewheeling account of the events surrounding the federal prosecution of a New Jersey crime family.

And he marked his 83rd year with the 2007 release of his last feature film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” the bleakly riveting story of two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) propelled by greed into a relentless cycle of mayhem. The film drew raves.

Mr. Lumet’s first three marriages, to the actress Rita Gam, Gloria Vanderbilt and Gail Jones, the daughter of Lena Horne, ended in divorce. He married Mary Gimbel in 1980. She survives him. Besides his stepdaughter, Ms. Gimbel, he is also survived by two daughters he had with Ms. Jones, Amy Lumet and Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter; a stepson, Bailey Gimbel; nine grandchildren and a great-grandson. Ms. Dargis called Mr. Lumet “one of the last of the great movie moralists.” Yet Mr. Lumet said he was never a crusader for social change. “I don’t think art changes anything,” he said in The Times interview. So why make movies? he was asked.

“It’s a wonderful way to spend your life,” he said.

Sidney Lumet [Wikipedia]

Must see film...Sol Nazerman's Existential angst in "The Pawnbroker"

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