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Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision

Frank R. Cunningham
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 2
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Sidney Lumet
    Book Description:

    Since 1957, Sidney Lumet, the most prolific American director of his generation, has deepened audiences' awareness of social, ethical, and feminist issues through such distinguished films as12 Angry Men, The Verdict, Running on Empty, andCritical Care. Especially praised for his literary adaptations -- includingLong Day's Journey into NightandMurder on the Orient Express-- Lumet has also directed such trenchant urban films asDog Day Afternoon, Serpico,andNetwork.

    In this new edition Frank Cunningham expands his analysis of Lumet's earlier films and examines his most recent work, fromA Stranger Among Us(1992) toGloria(1999). Also new to this edition are discussions of five other films, includingThe Appointment, Murder on the Orient Express, andRunning on Empty. Cunningham studies in depth over thirty of Lumet's most significant films and surveys other films and the television productions to reveal their enduring artistic and humanistic importance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5826-6
    Subjects: Performing Arts, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. The Films of Sidney Lumet
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    For more than a generation, Sidney Lumet has pushed the edges of American film in multiple ways, extending society’s awareness of social and moral issues in a rather dark time for our culture when, particularly in the last fifteen years or so, it has seemed more interested in space age or consumer fantasies than in probing examinations from its artists into its most serious personal and institutional problems. At the same time, Lumet has also extended his personal boundaries into filmic areas well beyond the intense urban tragedies and literary adaptations for which he is most noted. Musing upon his...

  7. Chapter One A Cinema of Conscience
    (pp. 5-23)

    Commenting in a 1982 interview on the nature of his artistic approach, American director Sidney Lumet spoke out in a voice that at once reflected a social commitment to “the flag of protest—which is what a lot of us start with,” his legendary energy, and his affection for a more authentic New York rather than a superficial Hollywood as a place to make films:

    Your “vision” comes in your selection of material; your frame is only there to serve the material. So, for me, the frames are always going to be different. In the so-called “New York School,” there’s...

  8. Chapter Two The Loner and the Struggle for Moral Capability
    (pp. 24-68)

    Throughout his career as a film director, Lumet has evidenced a major thematic concern with humankind’s ceaseless struggle for self-definition and self-understanding. Even in such minor works asThe Wiz, The Verdict,andFamily Business,the director has investigated the reasons behind self-delusion and emotional self-estrangement, the contribution of evasion and denial to the eventual betrayal of others and to self-betrayal, and the necessity of the reasoned imagination for the avoidance of emotional fragmentation. In five films—the most recent of which,Daniel(1983), approaches the aesthetic and thematic standard of Lumet’s four most distinguished works, discussed in chapter 4...

  9. Chapter Three Woman and the Progress of Self-Understanding
    (pp. 69-107)

    One of Lumet’s most attractive characteristics as a director is his openness to social and psychological experience, his receptivity to ideas before they become mainstream, even fashionable, in the culture. While feminist themes had surfaced in our mass culture by the mid-1960s, Lumet’sThat Kind of Woman(1959),The Group(1966) andLoviri Molly(1974) were among the first contemporary American films to treat in some depth the complex problems of women’s psychological and social identities. Indeed, Long Day’s journey into Night and minor, if at times interesting, films such asStage Struck, The Appointment, Just Tell Me What You...

  10. Chapter Four Lumet at Zenith: In the American Film Pantheon
    (pp. 108-185)

    Few film directors manage to create twenty major works during a career, much less during a career that is still in progress, the director yet in late middle age. In any assessment of the most artistically important of Lumet’s major films, films that may rightfully be placed among the culture’s landmark creative achievements, persuasive arguments can be advanced for the inclusion of such relatively recent films asDanielandPrince of the City,and perhaps for such earlier works asThe Group, The Sea Gull,andDog Day Afternoon.Four films, however, clearly stand beyond doubt among America’s great films,...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. Chapter Five Comic Misconnections and the Universality of Loss
    (pp. 186-207)

    One of Lumet’s most appealing attributes as a director has been his career-long penchant for seeking to develop and to grow as an artist by working with various genres and types of cinematic literature. He has frequently commented upon his own felt weakness in directing effective comedy. Not content, as other important directors might have been, with such hallmark films as those discussed in chapter 4, nor with his acknowledged mastery of the films of sociological import, addressing crime and the gritty urban tragedy, Lumet has also attempted to develop his skill in films lighter both in subject matter and...

  13. Chapter Six Major Films from Nonliterary Sources
    (pp. 208-229)

    In addition to the fourteen films from literary sources that compose the major part of this study, Lumet has directed at least half a dozen important films from nonliterary sources that reveal much of the visual and formal artistry of the major literary films and reflect many of their important thematic concerns. Along with the recentPower, Q & A, Family Business,andRunning on Empty,the earlierThe Hill, The Offence, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City,and to a somewhat lesser degreeSerpicoandNetwork,demonstrate the director’s frequent interest in crime and the significance of moral...

  14. Chapter Seven A Major American Director
    (pp. 230-246)

    In twenty significant films Sidney Lumet has consistently addressed such culturally important themes as the possibility and the nature of meaningful action in the contemporary world through a variety of visual techniques and styles appropriate to his subject matter in each film. In a career that has included “more films . . . than any of his contemporaries . . . over the same period of time,” he has frequently created excellent cinematic equivalents of notable literary works, directing at least four films that can stand with the important achievements of any American film director.¹ Nevertheless, Lumet has not yet...

  15. Afterword
    (pp. 247-282)

    Lumet has written in Making Movies, “I’m not a believer in waiting for ‘great’ material that will produce a ‘masterpiece.’ What’s important is that the material involve me personally on some level. And the levels will vary.”¹ For example, Lumet did not makeThe Appointmentfor the same reasons he madeThe Pawnbroker.Until the late 1960s, the director felt that he had not been able to use color with sufficient effectiveness.² When an opportunity arose in 1968 to film a mundane-sounding love storyline given to screenwriter James Salter by an Italian producer, Lumet took it so that he could...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 283-302)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 303-306)
  18. Index
    (pp. 307-318)