Director Nancy Buirski crafts the film simply: Filmmaker Sidney Lumet talks, interspersed with scenes — often gloriously long ones — from many of the 44 films he directed. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
In 2008, filmmaker Sidney Lumet (“Dog Day Afternoon,” “12 Angry Men,” “Serpico,” “Network”) sat down for a long interview with documentarian Daniel Anker, in which he discussed his 50-year career in television and films, his background as a child actor in Yiddish theater and on Broadway, his lifelong connection to the city of New York and the strong moral core that informed his work. Lumet died, at the age of 86, in 2011; Anker in 2014 — but that five-day conversation lives on, in the engrossing documentary “By Sidney Lumet.”
Director Nancy Buirski (“Afternoon of a Faun,” “The Loving Story”) crafts the film simply: Lumet talks, interspersed with scenes — often gloriously long ones — from many of the 44 films he directed. (Though Lumet never won a competitive Oscar, he was given an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 2005.) It’s the kind of documentary that might serve as a perfect introduction to Lumet’s work; when it’s done, you want to watch all of these films immediately.
Among the remarkable performances of which we get a tantalizing glance: Katharine Hepburn’s bleary Mary Tyrone in “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night”; Paul Newman’s quietly electric speech to the jury in “The Verdict”; Al Pacino, in a performance Lumet describes as “an open wound up there” in “Dog Day Afternoon”; Henry Fonda’s stalwart conviction as the holdout juror in “12 Angry Men.”
Movie Review ★★★
‘By Sidney Lumet,’ a documentary directed by Nancy Buirski. 105 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.
Broadcast premiere Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 8 p.m. on KCTS 9.
And it’s also a gift to film buffs: a detailed look at what made this 20th-century filmmaker tick. A lifelong New Yorker and self-described “city rat” (“I wouldn’t know what to do with a Western. I wouldn’t know where to begin”), Lumet spent decades exploring themes of parents and children, of injustice, of lone figures questioning authority — and of the way movies can, sometimes, tell the story as it should be. The film is framed by Lumet’s remembrance of a deeply disturbing incident he witnessed long ago, and in which he didn’t intervene for fear of retaliation. Things might have turned out differently, he muses, in the “romantic, movie version of life.”
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