Fiddler on the Roof will get a loving, slick and star-studded appreciation in Max Lewkowicz’s Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles. Possible destined for a protracted shelf life amongst Broadway aficionados and college students of Jewish-American standard tradition, the documentary is a by-the-numbers however well-produced take a look at the theatrical and wider cultural afterlives of the inimitable musical, in addition to a few of its touchstone productions.
What it lacks at occasions in complexity and a willingness to transcend grand statements in regards to the textual content’s significance, the movie makes up in its fleet pacing and considered incorporation of Jerry Bock’s music. It additionally will get mileage from its wide selection of speaking head interviews, together with cultural commentators, followers like Lin Manuel Miranda and performers whose lives have change into inextricably sure up with the story of a put-upon milkman from the shtetl and his three unruly daughters and disabled horse.
Lewkowicz begins within the early 20th century, when, in his estimation, Sholem Aleichem’s tales of Tevye the Dairyman had been primed to be tailored for the melting pot nation of the USA. Whereas tracing the beginnings of Joseph Stein and Sheldon Harnick’s textual content, in addition to its revolutionary Broadway manufacturing, the filmmaker sketches a historic second when Jewish tales had been changing into part of American standard tradition. It definitely helped that Jewish-American theatregoers on the time had been significantly receptive to a musical in regards to the uneasy shifts entailed by getting into modernity with out dropping sight of custom.
From these origins, Lewkowicz strikes in two divergent instructions, burrowing deeper into particular songs, dance numbers, and tropes in addition to turning outward to think about the textual content’s outstanding endurance greater than 50 years after its premiere. A few of these avenues are extra fruitful than others. The quasi-academic remedy of a few of Fiddler’s extra manifestly throwback thematic explorations of gender, as an example, usually are not all the time convincing.
Regardless of one of the best efforts of some commentators to tie the conclusion of the music “Matchmaker” to Betty Friedan’s The Female Mystique as an indication of the writers’ consciousness that change was within the air, or the try of others to retroactively champion the textual content as a “feminine empowerment piece,” each readings really feel a bit skinny, and are pointless given the movie is preaching squarely to the transformed.
A montage that tracks the cross-cultural success of the present tune “If I Had been a Wealthy Man” equally oversells the music’s universalism as a substitute of exploring what about its sentiment has made it such a persistent ear worm for artists as various as The Temptations and the Australian punk band Yidcore. (Gwen Stefani and Eve’s chart-topping interpolation of the music in “Wealthy Woman” is surprisingly left unmentioned.)
Right here, as in Lewkowicz’s repeated effort to justify the musical’s resonance through its worldwide diversifications, the movie is taking over a extra advanced argument than it is aware of what to do with. The result’s a profile that by no means actually pauses to discover plenty of the attention-grabbing points it raises, content material sufficient to have introduced them up earlier than shifting on to a distinct topic.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a novel attraction to the movie’s heat tone and refusal to pander to gentile audiences, in addition to its breakneck velocity and scattershot curiosity in every part from the low standing of the determine of the matchmaker to the affect of painter Marc Chagall on the manufacturing design. Fairly like Fiddler’s personal Janus-like place — wanting again on the flip of the century whereas anxiously anticipating the modifications to return for Jewish-American id after 1964, as one interview topic factors out — the movie’s twin curiosity on this textual content’s previous and future ought to solid a large sufficient web to attraction to any variety of followers. It additionally doesn’t harm that the songs are so catchy.