When it comes to discussing musicals, there will be a few that spring to the minds of many such as West Side Story and The Sound of Music. One of the best and most iconic musicals ever is the 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. Following lovable milkman, Tevye (Topol) who lives in a small fictional town Anatevka that has a strong Jewish population. This community is in the midst of facing harassment from the current military regime and the film sees this harassment grow as tensions worsen. Directed by Norman Jewison from a script written by the stage production’s writer, Joseph Stein, Fiddler on the Roof remains a favourite among musical fans thanks to its array of songs and emotional storyline that still feels timeless today.
One of my favourite characters and performances, Topol is nothing short of exceptional throughout the film. Being the audience’s way into the world of Anatevka and often breaks the fourth wall by talking to the audience. He is an outsider to the wider society but it also seems that he is an outsider within his own community as well. In my mind, no one but Topol can pull the lead performance with such dedication and commitment to the character. It could be argued that Topol is synonymous with Tevye and vice versa but that is by no means an insult. Tevye is a deeply complex character, a man so ingrained in his religion and place in the community but there is also a struggle to fight against the ideals expected from him as he longs for more than what he has. who laments his life as a poor man as he tries to navigate the matches of his three eldest daughters. Tevye is a man who likes to talk and sing about the importance of tradition but the life he leads is anything but. He misquotes scripture, goes back on a promise to let the widowed butcher marry his eldest daughter, Tzeital, and allows a communist from Kiev to educate his younger daughters. Tevye is a man who wants to follow traditions but is inherently progressive which makes him an outsider amongst his own community at times.
Now I can’t write why I love Fiddler and not talk about the songs. From the lively intro “Tradition” to Tevye’s iconic soliloquy “If I Were a Rich Man” and of course the beautiful “Sunrise, Sunset”. There aren’t as many songs in Fiddler as there are in other musicals but each song makes use of the space and the cast onscreen. No two songs sound the same and yet they will be stuck in your head one way or other. With John Williamd adapting the music from stage to screen, the film doesn’t feel like a stage production at any point which can easily happen, especially when the locations are limited.
Another aspect that I appreciate is the colour palette for the film. Strong hues of orange glow against the rural backdrop of browns and greens. It brings a natural richness and peace to the film, particularly during the opening credits. Aside from the sunset glow, the candlelit setting for Tzeital’s wedding to Motel is another beautifully created scene and is directed flawlessly. Despite being set in an open space in the village with everyone in attendance, the reception after the ceremony feels claustrophobic as chaos ensues.
Overall, Fiddler on the Roof is a film that should be watched by all film fans not just musical fans. With a three hour running time, it’s easy to think that watching a musical for that long would be daunting and (dare I say) boring, especially if you’re not necessarily an avid musical fan but the pacing is fantastic and it doesn’t feel that long. With an intermission placed so you can easily take a break should you wish to, Fiddler on the Roof is an experience that should be enjoyed at least once. Featuring one of the best characters brought to the screen, it is sure to delight most people thanks to its fantastic music, captivating performances and beautiful landscapes.
What do you think of Fiddler on the Roof? Let me know in the comments below!