Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Norman Jewison, Filmmaker
By Alan Bacchus
Fiddler on the Roof is now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment. Of course, it looks fabulous. It was a high profile project back in the day. The production values were top notch and it was a slick Hollywood production made in the very un-Hollywood location of Yugoslavia for some Eastern European authenticity. Everyone should pick up the Blu-ray regardless of what else is included on the disc. But even if Fiddler doesn’t turn your crank, the inclusion of the National Film Board of Canada documentary Norman Jewison, Filmmaker is cause for celebration.
It’s certainly not highlighted to stand out in the requisite tiny font under the Special Feature section of the packaging. I’m not surprised. For most of these Special Edition Discs, the marketable element is the QUANTITY of extra goodies, as opposed to the quality. As such, it’s just one of a list of featurettes, commentaries, etc., but there’s something extra special about this feature.
As filmed by the NFB, Norman Jewison, Filmmaker feels like a template for what modern behind-the-scenes featurettes are today. It was extremely rare before the home video days for audiences to see how films were made. Hell, it was shot on real film (either 16mm or 35mm, it’s difficult to tell), thus it has a cinematic look of its own with all the grain and texture of the real film medium.
We get nearly unprecedented access to a great Hollywood artist at the top of his craft executing a very difficult film. Though Jewison has been known as one of the nice guys in Hollywood, he’s not immune to losing his temper, and we get a decent flavour of the pressures that face a producer/director such as Jewison while making an expensive Hollywood film.
Watching Jewison direct a scene is a treat. In the traditional fly-on-the-wall manner, doc director Douglas Jackson observes Jewison directing Topol and choreographing the large musical sequences with complete command and confidence in his craft.
Canadian filmmakers know Jewison as a staunchly patriotic ex-pat who started directing CBC television, made his fame and fortune in Hollywood and then gave back just as much to the domestic industry here in the form of the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) - the equivalent of the AFI in the United States and the BFI in Britain. Even in 1971, the documentary speaks to this maverick voice and passionate supporter of new talent. And his comment on the burgeoning independent film movement shows his hand at the pulse of new Hollywood.
Both Jewison and the National Film Board are Canadian treasures, and the combination of these two great ‘institutions’ of cinema in one place is one of the most joyous, accidental discoveries I’ve seen on any DVD/Blu-ray.
'Norman Jewison, Filmmaker' is available with 'Fiddler on the Roof' on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment.