April 14, 2011
Sidney Lumet, one of the truly great directors, died on April 9th. His passing caught me off guard. A colorist at Deluxe Labs in New York told me that while finishing Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, Mr. Lumet (who I never heard referred to as anything but Sidney) familiarized himself with digital internegative color correction in less than a day. He directed Devil, a very hip "'perfect murder' gone wrong" story, when he was 82 years old! It just seemed like he would go on forever.
Everyone currently making movies has learned much from his work. Whenever I start a new editing assignment, I watch Dog Day Afternoon and marvel at how cinematic this essentially one-set movie is. Of course, I'm always dazzled by Dede Allen’s cutting. But everything about the picture is amazing -- Frank Pierson’s script, Mr. Lumet’s staging, the sense of heat he conveys... and the performances! Pacino, Cazale, Sarandon, Broderick, Durning, even the bank tellers!! Wow!!!
Then there’s Network -- with Paddy Chayevsky’s brilliant screenplay, Allen Heim’s pitch-perfect editing, the inspiring acting... you name it. And it doesn’t end there, of course. The list of Mr. Lumet’s towering achievements in film direction seems endless: 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, The Pawnbroker, Murder On the Orient Express, Fail Safe, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and on and on.
In addition to being a consumate filmmaker (as if that weren’t enough) Sidney Lumet was a great teacher. His dvd commentaries -- on which he shares thoughts about lens choices, color schemes, rehearsal strategies and countless other aspects of filmcraft -- are graduate level cinema studies classes. And his book, Making Movies, is a must for anyone who’s serious about the art form of which Mr. Lumet was a master.
On a personal note, I can’t think about the late director without recalling a “golden age” of filmmaking in New York’s Brill Building in the 1980’s. At that time, while I edited pictures there for Paul Schrader and Joel and Ethan Coen, Mr. Lumet was a tenant alongside Martin Scorcese, Francis Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Elaine May, Warren Beatty and a “who’s who” of editors, sound designers and re-recording mixers. Occasionally I’d run into him at a third floor coffee station or waiting for an elevator, and he always had a kind word and a ready smile. It seemed like he not only loved making movies, he loved everyone who shared his passion.
Deepest condolences, of course, to Sidney Lumet’s friends and family. He will be missed.