Hollywood has lost one of its true filmmaking legends with the passing of director Sidney Lumet at age 86. Although he may not be a household name, Lumet was a giant of American cinema, directing – in his fifty-year film career – some of the most recognised and acclaimed movies the industry has produced.
Born in Philadelphia in 1924, Lumet acted in a number of plays as a child before serving in World War II as a radar repairman. Upon his return from service, he became involved with the Actors Studio before forming his own theater workshop. He was soon working non-stop in television and finally burst onto the celluloid scene in 1957 with his stunning debut 12 Angry Men.
Lumet was commonly held as an “actor’s director”, favouring the creative input of his actors and rehearsing their scenes intimately. He was also extremely efficient in his filmmaking process, preferring only to shoot one or two takes. Paul Newman said it best when he quipped of Lumet, “I call him ‘Speedy Gonzales’, the only man I know who’ll double-park in front of a whorehouse.”
In an interview in 2006, Lumet stated repeatedly of being “fascinated by the human cost involved in following passions and commitments, and the cost those passions and commitments inflict on others.” As noted by his biographer Joanna Rapf, this theme is at the core of many of Lumet’s gritty dramas. His fascination with seemingly unexceptional characters fighting for some internal or external belief was what made him one of the finest ever directors of film drama.
On directing a film, Lumet once said it was “like making a mosaic. Each setup is like a tiny tile. You color it, shape it, polish it as best you can. You’ll do six or seven hundred of these, maybe a thousand. Then you literally paste them together and hope it’s what you set out to do.” Whilst not all his films were total cinematic and critical triumphs, he was still the man behind such classics as Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Fail-Safe, Running On Empty, Serpico, The Verdict and the aforementioned 12 Angry Men, as well as others such as A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Deadly Affair, The Appointment, King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery To Memphis, Daniel, Prince Of The City, Equus and Q & A.
by Wadrick Jones