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Appreciating Sidney Lumet; Obits, Spike Lee Tweets, Photos and Clips UPDATED

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 10, 2011 at 7:58AM

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."
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Thompson on Hollywood

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."
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood
Thompson on Hollywood

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).

Lumet was never a Hollywood filmmaker. He really was the King of New York, a political thinker and humanist as well as a true independent.

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.

APPRECIATIONS:
Here's Salon, Movieline, The WSJ's Joe Morgenstern and Manohla Dargis in 2005. UPDATE: Eric Kohn, Richard Corliss, Glenn Kenny, and a 2007 DGA Quarterly interview.

VIDEOS:
Alan Rifkin introduces the trailer from Serpico at Trailers from Hell.

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:

This article is related to: Directors, Video, Obit, Trailers, Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.