Saturday, April 9, 2011
Award-winning director Sidney Lumet ("The Pawnbroker," "Network") died this morning of lymphoma in his New York City home.
The 86-year-old Sidney Lumet was the quintessential New York director. He knew the mean streets of the city and knew its rhythms as if they were the sound of his own heartbeat.
He started directing in live TV and his first feature film was the tense courtroom drama "12 Angry Men," which nabbed him his first of five Oscar nominations. That film established his gritty style and determination to depict real people on the screen.
Two of my favorite films of his are deeply rooted in NY and star Al Pacino: "Serpico" and "Dog Day AFternoon." In fact, "Dog Day Afternoon" (see clip above but be forewarned it has the "F" word) would be one of my desert island movies because it's a film I could not live without. It showed Lumet at his best, working on the streets of New York and then moving into a tight claustrophobic setting where he could build tension and focus intimately on his characters. He directed Pacino as well as John Cazale and Chris Sarandon to their best performances.
He may be best remembered for bringing Paddy Chayefsky's scathing satire of the television industry to the screen. The 1976 "Network" had a memorable performance by Peter Finch. Check out the still amazing scene with the now famous line "I'm Mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore". It also revealed that Lumet could exaggerate reality to make a cogent point. His collaboration with Chayefsky has proven more prophetic than anyone might have thought and it merits another viewing if you have not seen it recently. But what made that film so good was that there could be achingly realistic moments (think about Beatrice Straight's poignant and award-winning scene where William Holden's character admits his infidelity) as well as over-the-top satire (which has now turned out to be not so over the top as we might have thought).
Lumet was active until recently. In 2007 he directed "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" starring Albert Finney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2005. His talent will be missed and New York movies will never quite be the same.