Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Sidney Lumet - RIP
What I didn’t expect to find is a vision that is startlingly relevant today. His career which spanned six decades grew increasingly concerned with the struggles of the little man, the working class, and the steadily weakening middle class to make ends meet. He was especially concerned with what man was capable of doing if pushed down hard enough and the consequences of his desperate actions.
The movies I’ve watched over the past week surprisingly fell neatly into two matched pairs. Dog Day Afternoon and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (his final movie shot when he was 82) are both about men driven to commit robberies to cover unexpected expenses. Daniel and Running on Empty offer two different views of revolutionary parents, focusing on the effects their actions have had on their children.
Every time my wife sees a poster from a family forced to hold a pancake breakfast to pay out of the blue medical expenses, she comes home upset and tells me I just have to write a letter to the editor. There is no way that people should be put through such hardship because fate deals them a card imprinted with a word like leukemia.
Lumet was fascinated by radical figures, with clearly mixed feelings. The parents in Daniel – arrested and executed in the 1950s as Soviet spies – and in Running on Empty – on the run from the FBI after bombing a napalm lab – are presented sympathetically. But their children are put through Hell as if asking, “Was it really worth it?”
Lumet’s masterpiece is Network. I didn’t connect with it when I was in my twenties, but it has grown increasingly powerful with aging, its aging, my aging. It deals with a fourth place out of four television news network and its struggles to improve its ratings. The old guard has been striving to remain ethical even if it loses money and the new, represented most memorably by Faye Dunaway, wants to turn the station into, essentially, Fox News.
Things just aren’t done live anymore. The sponsors have grown too concerned with their well-being to allow that and Timberlake and Jackson didn’t help matters. But I can imagine just as much shouting out of windows occurring today as back in 1976.