Sunday, May 30, 2010

If I Were a Rich Man

Andrew is hosting a musical blog-a-thon at his awesome blog, Encore's World of Film & TV. He sent me an e-mail several weeks ago informing me about it and due to some healthy procrastination, it took me a while, but here it is...

Bruce Springsteen once described hearing Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" for the first time as "somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind," and while I can't agree more, that's also precisely the way I feel about Fiddler on the Roof.

Underneath all that moronic suburban glitz I grew up with, I always had great respect for traditional values of my own and others. They may be wrong or right, but they exist. It's all very inevitable and very much in need of toleration.

That said, Fiddler is often tragically forgotten by movie musical enthusiasts.

While its professions of faith, family, and Jewish traditions may not be the rule of thumb of twenty-first century cynicism, there is a overwhelming warmth to Teyve's (Chaim Topol), the protagonist, eagerness to keep on living the way life has always been and when he realizes that life cannot always simply be, it's a moment of the cold, hard truth that is worthy of sympathy.

There are few films that combine humor and drama as brilliantly as Fiddler does. Teyve's conversations with God are funny, simply because they are so honest and so human. When Teyve rejects her daughter for marrying a Russian Orthodox, it's particularly heartbreaking because Teyve loves her so much, yet he feels a duty to preserve a tradition he cares so deeply about. He's not always right, but I feel for him.

The film is ultimately about love. The love between a father and his daughter. The love between a husband and his wife. The love between two young lovers. The love between a man and God--and that's touching, whether you believe in God or not. There is just something so pure and simple about the musical's message about love, and it's a shame that modern films seem to over stuff the love message with a glow of shallow boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses.

However, it's also a film about tradition crackling under the pressure of a escalating revolution. A revolution that is plagued by the sorrows of destruction and injustice. There's definite cynicism in the film, especially when homes are being destroyed.

Yet, in the end, there is hope. It's not overdone. It's not ridiculous. It's an authentic feeling of hope. People are forgiven. The future is full of endless possibilities. The film doesn't shove sentimentalism, but makes its point in a rather quiet, touching way.

Director Norman Jewison's musical numbers are not splashy, technicolor extravaganzas, but they are nevertheless electrifying. Topol demands attention. The camera is drawn to his powerful persona. This is most apparent when Topol must break the fourth wall--he's traditional and extremely personable.

And I'll leave with Topol's legendary "If I Were a Rich Man" scene:


  1. Nobody beats his "If I were a Rich Man". I've seen it performed on Broadway, in high schools and repertory theater and they always seem like they're struggling to figure out what to do with themselves during the song, but his is so organic.

  2. Nice review, honestly I don't love this so much but I tell you that Tradition (and Matchmaker) are perfectly created numbers.

  3. I think this is one of those musicals where the story far outweighs the musical elements of film. It's an incredibly tough and marginal existence for Teyve and his daughters but family and faith are the pillars that sustain him.

    I must confess I'd be curious to see a non-musical version of the story.

  4. haha, I played Yente in a school production - absolutely hilarious xD this really isn't one of my favourite musicals, but I do like it - it has quite a strong, funny, yet sad story :) x