We raised a toast to Sidney Lumet at dinner Saturday night at the Ashland Independent Film Festival–filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, Ashland Independent Film Festival director Joanne Feinberg, film critic Shawn Levy and fellow Oregonian Terri Mintz, and DC Shorts Festival director Jon Gann. We talked about how many great films Lumet made, crammed with strong performances, how he was a New York independent, his and Paddy Chayefsky’s amazingly prophetic TV critique Network (see clip) and Lumet’s must-read book, Making Movies, a primer for any aspiring filmmaker:
“While the goal of all movies is to entertain, the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought.”
Lumet died of lymphoma at 86 at his Manhattan home, having reveled in the rejuvenating experience of shooting his last film, The Devil Knows You’re Dead, with digital cameras. He wanted to do it again.
It makes sense that he felt comfortable with video, as he came up in the early days of New York television, where he shot live dramas (though not
such as Twelve Angry Men, which became his first feature film, in 1957).
Yet his films were celebrated by Hollywood, nabbing some 50 Oscar nominations, and winning Academy Awards for Ingrid Bergman (Murder On The Orient Express), and three stars from 1974’s Network: Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch and Beatrice Straight. Al Pacino was nominated for both Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, and Paul Newman was nominated for The Verdict.
While Lumet was nominated four times for the best director Oscar, he never won, eventually accepting a lifetime achievement award in 2005. He lost Twelve Angry Men, reasonably enough, to Bridge on the River Kwai‘s David Lean, while Dog Day Afternoon went up against the mighty One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, directed by Milos Forman. Best picture nominee The Verdict lost to Ghandi, while Lumet lost best director to that film’s Richard Attenborough. It’s astonishing, however, that Lumet lost adapted screenplay for Prince of the City to Ernest Thompson for On Golden Pond. Network, nominated for ten Oscars, won four but lost best picture to Rocky, directed by John Avildsen. “HIGHWAY ROBBERY OF THE UTMOST,” tweets @SpikeLee, who revered Lumet and laced Inside Man with references to his films. “The awards are all about a ‘select’ group’s opinions…People, Fuck the Oscars Sidney Lumet deserves but didn’t get. His Great work lives on with us forever. Much more important than OSCAR. YA-DIG.”
“We all lost a master filmmaker yesterday,” Lee wrote. “There could have been no INSIDE MAN without his superb DOG DAY AFTERNOON. He was one of the BEST STORYTELLERS…My Lumet Joints-The Anderson Tapes-1971. Fail Safe-1964. The Verdict-1982. Prince of The City-1981. Network-1976. Dog Day Afternoon-1975. Serpico-1973.”
Lee is right. The important thing is for everyone to keep watching Lumet’s movies, and hang on to the underlying values that made them great.
Jamie Stuart interviews Lumet.
Here’s the opening to Fail Safe:
Lumet on the end of film:
A selection of his best films:
An interview for TV Legends: