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The Directors: Sidney Lumet (2002) – DVD Review

Directors AFI: Sidney Lumet


Written & Directed by Robert J. Emery
Narrated by Michael McGlone


  • Filmography and award list

Released by: Wellspring Video.
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Borrow it.

Sometime back, I reviewed an episode of The Directors, a documentary series that the American Film Institute produced. The episode in question focused on director James Cameron. So when I found myself reviewing another episode in this series, this time featuring Sidney Lumet, I found it interesting that the two episodes I’ve seen would have directors who are nearly the opposite of each other.

[ad#longpost]Cameron’s career and number of films is relatively small, but Lumet has produced over forty films starting with 12 Angry Men back in 1957. Whereas Cameron’s movies concentrate on action and special effects, Lumet’s are more about drama and actors’ performances. And while Cameron won the Oscar for Best Director for Titanic, Lumet has been nominated on several occasions but has never won the golden statuette. And after watching this, it’s amazing Lumet hasn’t screamed at the Academy “I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Anyway, the show presents the standard biographical format: actors tell of their experiences of Lumet as a director and being on the movie he was in charge of, clips from said movies, Lumet offers his own comments on his movies and his career, and a narrator to fill in the gaps and give the show a linear structure. What differs is that the episode focuses not on just the successes, but a couple of the failures (Family Business, A Stranger Among Us). This makes this program less of a love letter and something approaching a balanced assessment of Lumet’s work.

There is still plenty of deserved praise to be heaped on Lumet, from Ossie Davis and Rod Steiger to Andy Garcia and Melanie Griffith. The documentary is good enough, but for a long career like Lumet, sixty minutes just isn’t enough. Movies like Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Deathtrap, and Running on Empty get only a production still and a brief mention. And I would love to have heard how Lumet ended up directing The Wiz. This should have been extended to two hours at least to do the subject justice, but of course you’re dealing with the limitations of this show’s format.

The only extra is a filmography and award list. Unlike the Cameron filmography, this one is accurate. However, the format for the awards list is somewhat confusing. Sidney Lumet has had a long and interesting career; it’s a shame that this Directors episode couldn’t do it justice.