Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) Oh goodness. As I make my way through musicals through the decades, it’s clear that the post-Hays-code decade was terrible for the form. Musicals are best suited for light-hearted fare, but in-between 1968 (Oliver Twist, blah) and 1973 (Cabaret, yuck), everything got darker, heavier, longer and impossible to enjoy. While I don’t dislike Fiddler on the Roof quite as much as Oliver Twist or Cabaret, it certainly reminded me of both of them in the way a story is stretched over an interminable amount of time, further deadened by musical numbers that sabotage whatever pacing the film had going for it. To be fair, there are quite a few things that I like about Fiddler on the Roof: Topol is fantastic as the protagonist, addressing the audience and God Himself throughout the film as he tries to cope with his daughters making their own matrimonial choices. “Here’s to life” is a good number, and I finally got to experience firsthand the inspiration for Gwen Stephani’s “Rich Girl.”  The look at life within a shtetl (and then later on in an urban enclave) feels of quasi-anthropological quality. But as it turns out (and maybe it’s the weather), I wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind for a nearly three-hour immersion in traditional Jewish culture. The film drags on and on, especially in its second post-pogrom half as the laughs stop. Fiddler on the Roof isn’t helped by an overall visual scheme that revels in its rustic quality—the film feels as brown as it looks, and that is an endemic quality of post-Hays musicals. It’s not a bad movie—I just wasn’t ready to commit to it.

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