Harry here... This is a miserable way to wake up - to the news that one of the great directors has passed away.
I mean, think about it. Long before many of us were born in 1957, Lumet shot the brilliant 12 ANGRY MEN - the definitive jury film. Perhaps the best courtroom drama ever made - with sizzling performances from such brilliant actors as Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden and Ed Begley. It is generally considered one of the flat out GREAT films. And that... ...that was just Lumet's first attempt at a feature film. He came out of television and throughout a great deal of his career he continued to make and contribute great work to television. SO much of it, unavailable to be seen still to this day. I'd love to see his Television remake of RASHOMON with Ricardo Montalban. I mean, seriously...
I loved his LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, based upon Eugene O'Neill's own home life - fueled by the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Sir Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell... Or his utterly brilliant film with Rod Steiger, THE PAWNBROKER - a film I really can not recommend highly enough.
Lumet's FAIL-SAFE was the flip side serious take to Kubrick's satiric DR. STRANGELOVE - but no less great. This is a film about the nightmare. A mistake that will cost millions of lives, but a President, played by Henry Fonda - who must, in turn, make an in-human decision in order to save the planet from death. FAIL-SAFE is as great as a film gets. Walter Matthau's Groeteschele is a character that lives in a cynics' mind. And he's kind of evil. I loved Larry Hagman in this. But this film illustrated Stan Lee's "With great power comes Great Responsibility" and my father had recorded this film in the late 70s off of some showing on TV - and I saw it several times - and it scared me. Those were still the Cold War days when Bombers with Nukes were in the sky - preserving life on Earth through the brilliant madness of Mutually Assured Destruction.
By the time the decade of the 70s came about, Lumet hit a stride that is not likely to be replicated. I mean... SERPICO, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, NETWORK, EQUUS and yes, even THE WIZ. That's an amazing group of films to come from the direction of a single man. I mean - to really think about DOG DAY AFTERNOON and THE WIZ coming from the same man is just astonishing. That somewhere in Lumet he had THE WIZ. It's one of the reasons that Sidney always made me smile, because as a little boy growing up at the time, I thought THE WIZ was pretty goddamn cool. And I still think it is one of the most visually creative and fucked up movies I've ever seen - and I've seen most of the creative fucked up stuff - and this one works for me. I can only blame Michael Jackson, Stan Winston and Sidney Lumet.
The film that Lumet made that most fucked with me, was DEATHTRAP. I saw DEATHTRAP when I was 10 years old, and when Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine kiss - I became a very confused boy. SUPERMAN was gay? And in my oddly geek boy logic center... I accepted that and decided if SUPERMAN was gay, then that couldn't be a bad thing. Thanks to DRESSED TO KILL by DePalma I was on a pretty solid path of Heterosexuality, but DEATHTRAP made me ok with Gay - without ever having to have someone to tell me what to think. I just figured, if SUPERMAN could be gay, it must be ok. I know. Crazy way to think about it, but I was 10.
I loved THE VERDICT with Paul Newman, THE MORNING AFTER with Jane Fonda & Jeff Bridges made me think that rape was the most repugnant thing that could ever be done.
Sidney Lumet was a director who was - very much - a cinematic Social Conscience. He made thrilling, engaging cinema that felt and often times was important.
Oddly enough - yesterday in Rehab, my Occupational Therapist told me that he was on IMDB reading about a film called BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, which just happened to be Lumet's last film. We talked about how good Phillip Seymour Hoffman was - and I asked him if he'd seen Lumet's earlier work. Monday when I see Curtis, I get to tell him that Lumet is dead, but I think I'll pick 3 films... Probably FAIL-SAFE, DOG DAY AFTERNOON and NETWORK to loan him. That's a taste that you have to follow through with.
We've lost one of the great filmmakers since the 1950's. He was a senior director making solid and strong emotional work all the way until the end. As a lover of cinema that pushes social concerns, that is about quality and power... Lumet will be missed greatly.