Film version of the stage musical, based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem. Tevye the Milkman is a Jewish peasant in pre-Revolutionary Russia, coping with the day-to-day problems of 'shtetl' life, his Jewish traditions, his family (wife and daughters), and state-sanctioned pogroms
Topol ... Tevye
Norma Crane ... Golde
Leonard Frey ... Motel Kamzoil
Molly Picon ... Yente
Paul Mann ... Lazar Wolf
Rosalind Harris ... Tzeitel
Michele Marsh ... Hodel
Neva Small ... Chava
Paul Michael Glaser ... Perchik (as Michael Glaser)
Ray Lovelock ... Fyedka (as Raymond Lovelock)
Elaine Edwards ... Shprintze
Candy Bonstein ... Bielke
Shimen Ruskin ... Mordcha
DivX 3 / MP3
Epic in plot, setting and length, Fiddler on the Roof tells a surprisingly tight and focused story that has "universal" poignancy--in a nutshell, it's about trying to maintain strong cultural traditions and identity in the face of a continually changing world, partially fueled by the youth, that doesn't necessarily share the culture's values or self-assessment of worth.
The plot is based on short stories written around the turn of the 20th Century by Sholom Aleichem, who was often called the "Russian Mark Twain". Aleichem wrote a number of works based on his character Tevye the Milkman, who has seven daughters (in the film, this was pared down to five). They live in the fictional Jewish shtetl ("village", or "little town or city") of Anatevka in Tsarist Russia in the early 1900s. The stories are "slice of life" stuff. A lot of attention is paid to Tevye's daughters and their potential suitors. One of the prominent conflicts with tradition is a struggle with arranged marriages versus marriages for love, but of course, being set in pre-revolutionary Russia, there are also political changes brewing, some of which have a profound affect on Tevye's family and village.
Aleichem's Tevye stories were first turned into a Broadway musical, which began its initial run in 1964 with Zero Mostel as Tevye. Producer and director Norman Jewison, who had had success with films like In the Heat of the Night (1967) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and who was experienced as a producer and director for musical-oriented televisions shows, including "Your Hit Parade" (1950) and "The Judy Garland Show" (1960), was asked around early 1970 by United Artists to helm the Fiddler on the Roof film. To their surprise, Jewison wasn't Jewish. He got the gig anyway, and in August 1970, began an arduous shoot--much of it done in a small village in Yugoslavia that refused to cooperate when it came to weather (Jewison couldn't get the snow he wanted). He ended up getting a lot of pressure because the shoot went over time and over budget--this was one of the most expensive films of its time, which was an era of economic woes for Hollywood--but of course we know it paid off in the end.
Zero Mostel was out as Tevye, and Israeli actor Chaim Topol, or just "Topol", was in, based largely on Jewison seeing him in the role of Tevye in the London stage production of Fiddler. Jewison had said that he was shooting for more realism in the film, as opposed to what he saw as a kind of campy humor in the Broadway production.
In my eyes, Jewison ended up with a bit of both approaches in his finished film, but that's all for the better. Sequences like the opening "Tradition" montage are hilarious in their juxtaposition of a grand operatic attitude and the rhythmic coordination of cleaning fish, hanging slabs of meat, and so on. Yes, a lot of Fiddler is very realistic, but it's equally humorous and surrealistic most of the time.
The realism is largely thanks to the authentic settings, the fabulous production and costume design, and of course, the superb performances. The humor is a factor of the above with that Mark Twain-ish aspect of Aleichem's stories and the fine script by Joseph Stine.
The surrealism comes largely by way of the cinematography. Some of the visual sense is reminiscent of Marc Chagall's early work and his later, nostalgic depictions of his native Russia, and in fact, the image of the fiddler on the roof comes directly from a Chagall painting. Jewison saw the fiddler as a cross between a metaphor for the Jewish spirit (and this is explained in more detail via a few lines of dialogue in the film) and an actual physical manifestation of a spirit. However we interpret the fiddler, the shots of him and his presence in the film are certainly poetic. Jewison also gives us some fabulous, surreal, wide landscape shots, such as those of agricultural fields and the beautiful "wasteland" in which the train tracks are set. There are a few scenes set on the banks of a river, overlooked by a bridge, that are reminiscent of particular Van Gogh paintings. And as a more subtle bit of surrealism, Jewison had cinematographer Oswald Morris shoot much of the film though a woman's stocking--the mesh is very clearly visible in some exterior shots. Of course, there are also a couple more surrealistic touches in the plot, my favorite being the Tevye's Dream sequence, which features traditionalist Jewish zombies in an operatic attitude.
A musical couldn't be a 10 without great music, and Fiddler on the Roof has it. The songs are a marvelous melding of traditional Russian folk melodies, with appropriate twinges of Orientalism and the expected Broadway sound, but maybe leaning a bit closer to a modern opera. From that description, you might think that the music would be a mess, but all of the songs are inventive and catchy. They are seamlessly melded with the drama, furthering the narrative as they should. The choreography is excellent and it is well shot by Jewison. And Isaac Stern's violin solos are outstanding, of course.
Fiddler on the Roof takes an investment of time--it's three hours long, but it's well worth it. It offers great drama, great music, great humor and great tragedy in a beautiful package--you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll sing, and you just might break a leg trying to dance.
* Topol was only in his mid-thirties when he performed the role of an older Tevye.
* To get the kind of look he wanted for the film, director Norman Jewison got Director of Photography Oswald Morris, who was famous for shooting color films in unusual styles, to shoot the entire film with a woman's stocking placed over the lens. Morris also shot the musical number "Tevye's Dream" in sepia rather than in full color. He had previously filmed Moulin Rouge (1952) with a color style made to resemble Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings and Moby Dick (1956) in a color style made to resemble 19th century engravings of life at sea.
* "Tevye's Dream" is presented in a desaturated image rather than full color to make it look like a black-and-white dream sequence. There is a full color version of the song, however, which can be viewed on the Special Edition DVD.
* The film takes its name from a painting by the Russian painter Marc Chagall called "The Dead Man" which depicts a funeral scene and shows a man playing a fiddle on a roof top.
* Cameo: [Sammy Bayes] [the Assistant Choreographer is one of the Russian Dancers.]
* Director Norman Jewison was brought into the project by executives thinking he was Jewish. His first words to the executives upon meeting were, "You know I'm not Jewish... right?"
* Director Norman Jewison made blue-eyed actor Paul Michael Glaser wear brown-eyed contacts.
* The cart-horse, nicknamed "Shmuel" by the cast, was purchased from a lot destined for a Zagreb glue factory. After production Norman Jewison paid a local farmer to keep him for the rest of his natural life, which was another three years.
* Michael Glaser recorded a song called "Any Day Now" which did not appear in the stage version and was written especially for this film. However, it was cut in the interest of time and content.
* Many devotees of the Broadway show were annoyed that Zero Mostel (who originated the role so famously on the Broadway stage) was not cast as Tevye in this film. The filmmakers decided that the film needed to be more authentic so a more "believeable" actor was hired.
* Topol had already played the role of Tevye in the original London production of the stage musical.
* Norman Jewison considered Hanna Meron for the part of Golda but, when she lost a leg in a terrorist attack in Munich, had to give the part to Norma Crane.
* Assi Dayan was cast in the part of Perchik but couldn't handle the English dialogue and was replaced by Paul Michael Glaser.
* Before production Norma Crane was diagnosed with the breast cancer which would eventually kill her. She told only director Norman Jewison, co-star Topol and associate producer Patrick J. Palmer, all of whom kept her secret.
* Zero Mostel, who created the role of Tevye on Broadway, was reportedly bitter that he did not play the role in the movie. Years later, when his son Josh Mostel received a phone call offering him the role of Blotto in the TV series "Delta House" (1979), he reportedly yelled, "Tell them to ask Topol's son if he wants the job!"
* Director Cameo: [Norman Jewison] the voice of the Rabbi who sings "Mazel tov, mazel tov" in Tevye's dream sequence.
* Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra, 'Anthony Quinn' , and Marlon Brando were among the many actors who turned down the role of Tevye.
* According to the Casting Notes on the special edition DVD, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn and John Ritter all had appointments (possibly for auditions) for various roles including Motel, Perchik and Fyedka.
* To make Topol look older, the makeup team clipped 15 white hairs from director Norman Jewison's beard and applied them to Topol's eye brows (seven on the left, eight on the right).