Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen is a documentary that comes one year after Fiddler on the Roof marked its 50th anniversary.
Jeff Goldblum narrates the movie but his contribution is minimal compared to how many cast and crew provide commentary. Filmmaker Daniel Raim conducts original interviews while other clips–such as Oswald Morris–come from archival sources. This is a documentary that is very different from Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles because this one is completely about the film. As such, there isn’t much of a need for cultural critics to discuss the time period. Kenneth Turan is the single critic appearing in the film and offering his insights. Suffice it to say, the documentary has been over a decade in the making and it shows.
The film runs just shy of an hour and a half so there’s only so much material that one can fit in. This documentary is less about the film’s legacy than what went into making the movie. In another universe, Zero Mostel could have starred in the movie. Instead, they cast Topol, who was starring as Tevye in the London production. Topol’s performance works so beautifully in the film but when it comes to footage of Mostel on Broadway, he performs in a sense that’s larger-than-life. Topol shares his own memories and anecdotes from working on the film as does the three women who starred as his daughters, Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, and Neva Small.
Despite his last name, Norman Jewison is not Jewish. He makes note of this when it comes to the story of how he ended up directing the musical. Jewison reflected on a screening in Israel when he sat next to Golda Meir. The late prime minister was crying even though she tried to hide it from the filmmaker. That’s how powerful the film is. It’s a film that’s representative for so many Jews–the pogroms and having to leave Jewish shtetls. The experience had such an impact on Jewison that he ended up having a Jewish wedding although I’m not sure he ever converted.
The film ends with a clip from when Jewison received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He comes out to the “If I Were A Rich Man” music and a standing ovation. “Not bad for a goy!” The clip also a reminder of what the Academy Awards lose by taking the Governor’s Awards out of the broadcast but that’s another piece for another day. The full clip is here:
The film is dedicated to the memory of Raim’s former AFI professor, production designer Robert F. Boyle. Where Boyle had to recreate Mount Rushmore for North by Northwest, the challenge of Fiddler is recreating an entire Jewish shtetl. This is not as easy as it might look but the combined efforts from Boyle, Michael Stringer, and Peter Lamont earned an Oscar nomination. Their work is a lasting legacy to a world that no longer exists because of the massive antisemitism that led Jews to leave. On top of this, one must also look at the cinematography because these two often go hand in hand. Oswald Morris won an Academy Award for his cinematography for Fiddler. Morris shared his thoughts in his memoir and there are archival audio clips discussing the cinematography.
While Fiddler’s Journey might not be groundbreaking in terms of movie documentaries, it’s a must-watch for fans of Fiddler on the Roof. I would even add that the documentary is a beautiful companion piece to the bonus materials found on the Fiddler on the Roof Blu-ray.
DIRECTOR: Daniel Raim
SCREENWRITERS: Michael Sragow and Daniel Raim
NARRATOR: Jeff Goldblum
FEATURING: Norman Jewison, Topol, John Williams, Robert F. Boyle, Kenneth Turan, Sheldon Harnick, Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, Neva Small
Zeitgeist Films released Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen in theaters on April 29, 2022. Grade: 5/5
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.