Lumet Receiving Honorary Oscar

I was very excited to hear the news that this year Sidney Lumet will receive an honorary Oscar “brilliant services to screenwriters, performers and the art of the motion picture.”

The first film he directed was 12 Angry Men. He had worked for years in the heyday of live television in the 1950s, creating relationships with people he works with (some of them) to this day. Everyone came from the theatre. The biggest TV series was Playhouse 90. Arthur Penn came from Playhouse 90. Paddy Chayefsky came and worked for Playhouse 90. Exciting times. Sidney Lumet, a wunderkind-kid in his 20s, got his start there.

Through that, he got an opportunity to direct 12 Angry Men. With Henry Fonda. Lee J. Cobb. Lumet was 33 years old.

Since then, he has never stopped, bringing us The Fugitive Kind, starring Brando and the astonishing Anna Magnani, Long Day’s Journey Into Night., The Pawnbroker. (an incredible acting job from Rod Steiger), Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon (the movie that made me want to be an actor when I was 12), Network, The Verdict. (some of Newman’s best and subtlest work), The Morning After,Running on Empty (which is probably in my Top 5 Favorite Movies).

Lumet is notorious for bringing in films UNDER budget and AHEAD of schedule. He shoots like a bat out of hell, sometimes doing 3 or 4 locations a day. He believes in filming movies FAST. Often he cuts in the camera. He has had “final cut” from very early in his career – something almost unheard of for a young man. Many of the films he makes are outside the studio system. He pleases himself. Many studios didn’t want to touch movies like Dog Day Afternoon, or Network. Lumet would find the financing on his own and go ahead and make the movies anyway.

Actors who work with Lumet rack up the Oscars, you will notice.

He brings out the best in everybody.

He is 80 years old, and is currently filming something new. Of course.

Lumet hates the whole “auteur” thing, too. He is a true collaborator. He is most definitely the “boss” of his pictures, and he gets the final say, but he consistently surrounds himself with people who will bring out the best in him. He loves the collaborative thing, coming from the theatre.

People who work with Lumet typically take big pay cuts. They don’t care. They work for scale. It doesn’t matter. Nick Nolte, when he got the role in Q & A agreed to do it for practically nothing.

Sidney Lumet has written one of the best books on film-making that I am aware of: Excerpt from Making Movies:. It’s invaluable. It’s invaluable for anyone involved in the film-making process – actors, editors, directors, cameramen … He covers it all.

It’s interesting to hear someone talk about how they got to a final result. And also how nothing is accidental in movie-making. You may not even notice half of the things the director does (lighting choices, camera moves) – but it’s all there to add (hopefully) to the story.

This entry was posted in Directors and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Lumet Receiving Honorary Oscar

  1. peteb says:

    You know, that news might even be enough to make me reconsider the whole Oscars shenanigans.. a very well deserved award.

    12 Angry Men.. mmkay? Yup.

    In fact no question of any of the films on your list – many would be overjoyed if they had one of them on their CV.

    Just to add though.. Serpico.. and The Hill with Sean. I know, I know.. time and space and ‘The Hill’ would be a lesser known example..

    And, it seems, he’s currently filming his latest too.. a movie starring Vin Diesel…? well.. there are bills to pay.

  2. red says:

    I love The Hill. I’ve got some good Sean Connery anecdotes from Lumet’s book to share a bit later.

    Lumet is, as well as being an artist, a very practical man. (I think the first excerpt I quoted displays that). He takes jobs for the money (er – Vin Diesel) to finance the projects he wants to do. I think that’s pretty cool.

  3. peteb says:

    Absolutely, Sheila.. my tongue was more-than-slightly-in-my-cheek when I was typing that comment..

    He’s clearly no fool and neither is he precious about the job.. it’s a job that he does exceptionally well because he is also an artist.

    And any director that has made Dog Day’, Serpico, 12 Angry Men, The Hill, et al.. (or indeed any one of them).. can take any damn job he wants to take for any damn reason he wants to. :)

  4. Barry says:

    I’ve never actually seen 12 Angry Men, though I’ve performed in it once. I have to find a copy of that one…

  5. carlton the doorman says:

    Lumet could get great closeups of actors portraying men on the edge.He got fantastic work out of James Mason,Trevor Howard and Sean Connery,by letting their eyes convey their rage and inner torments.Alas, he wasn’t as successful with a different type of actor, like Paul Newman in the Verdict.

    His work also has a theatrical element, which maybe a function of the biases of the screenwriter,but tends to date his films, and make them…preachy, in an annoying manner.His camera work on 12 Angry Men is of the highest quality, though, and maybe that will be his most enduring legacy to film and television viewing.

  6. carlton the doorman says:

    One more observation on his work, and it’s a criticism: his movies sound rotten.The dialogue mix and sound editing is muddy, and soft.He’s not the only big name director to cuts back on this side of the production, but he’s one that comes immediately to my mind.I really dislike having to strain to catch the dialogue,if at all.Grrrrrrrrr….

  7. mitch says:

    I was in “12 Angry Men and a Baby” in college…

    Two points:

    1) The Hill is one of my faves. Ever.

    2) Anna Magnani. Mmmm.

    That is all.

  8. red says:

    Mmmm indeed.

    I can’t remember who said this but someone said she was “the female Brando” – in terms of her abilities as an actress.

    She’s a hot mama as well. This cannot (and should not) be denied.

  9. tonecluster says:

    Another thing about Lumet: his relationship with Quincy Jones. Artistically, it can be sampled by watching and listening to The Pawnbroker. Incredible movie, and incredible score by Jones.

    Now – Lumet and Jones hit it off brilliantly, in spite of their different backgrounds. Genius to genius; it isn’t a shock that they meshed so well. But personally, Lumet made a commitment to Jones in a decade when a black professional, genius or not, could not realistically expect to get a job on a film like The Pawnbroker. Lumet didn’t give a damn about race, common professional convention, etc. – he liked Jones, his work, and his creativity and that was that.

    A real stand-up guy, that Sidney, way ahead of his time socially as well as artistically.

    (And to have a hip, urban score by Jones for a story about an aging, Jewish holocaust survivor was brilliant. It took the story focus away from the protagonist just a little and put some focus on the scene – the whole neighborhood, that part of the city, the congested microcosm in which Steiger’s character finds himself. That damn score was the Greek Chorus…. goddam genius!)

  10. triticale says:

    As for not noticing the work that goes into a film – my father, a professional photographer who did his own darkroom work, found watching Blowup absolutely exhausting.

  11. Alex says:

    Didnt Lena Horne marry Sydney Lumet?? or am i crazy?-MJF

  12. Dave E. says:

    Thanks Sheila, as always, for the posts. Once again, interesting things I didn’t know before.