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Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

by on 2014/01/18

Fiddler_1971“Stop yelling and finish packing.”

* * * *

Norman Jewison’s Fiddler on the Roof made me want to be Jewish. Rather a lot. After watching a VHS copy of Fiddler on Roof over and over as an impressionable teen, I went on a bender, attempting to learn Hebrew, reading Hasidic tales, learning all there was to learn about Jewish food (during a series of highly pleasing field experiments).

Come to think of it, now that I am no longer an impressionable teen, more of a grizzled Gen-Xer who is past all hope of impressive Slavic dance moves, I still love Jewish culture dearly.

I love this musical. So much so that I lovingly hung a framed LP of the Fiddler on the Roof starring Zero Mostel on my living room wall. I never managed to convince my favourite teenager Miss_Tree to partake of the gloriousness of Fiddler and in specific, this Jewison gem, until a few days ago.

I am enormously pleased to report that I have created another zealot. Miss_Tree has asked me to see Topol as Tevye’s rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man” over and over and over. She’s jammed her social media accounts with animated GIFs of Tevye dancing.

It is understandable. Less understandable, however, to my Miss_Tree was my declaration that the film made me want to be Jewish. “Why in the world?” she asked after the credits rolled.

While the film’s action underlines how much the Jewish people suffered throughout history – with pogroms, the confiscation of land and property an ongoing reality – there was something so charming, so warm and appealing about the Tevye portrayed by Topol that he made me want to live in the Jewish quarter, observe the Sabbath and learn Hebrew prayers.

Now Tevye is not a one-dimensional, white-knight hero. He’s a complicated guy – with a fondness for learning, a willingness to be flexible (up to a point) and possessed of a questioning spirit. Tevye is lovely – appreciative of the simple things, grounded in tradition, hard-working, self-sacrificing but pleasingly questioning.

In fact, the entire family is made up of lovely people. There’s the delightfully acerbic Golde (Norma Crane), the willful Tzietel (Rosalind Harris), the beautiful Hodel (Michele Marsh) and the seeking Chava (Neva Small). Best of all, it has my former beloved Paul Michael Glaser, from Starsky and Hutch (how I loved Starsky back in the day), as the learned Perchik.

The cast and their performances made me want to have dinner with them all, and listen to their songs over and over again.

Despite the injustice portrayed in the movie, the indomitability of the human spirit is on display here, and this Oscar-winning film does my heart good every time I see it.

Fiddler always reminds me that no matter what kind of upheaval life deals us, there is always the opportunity to triumph.

“Sunrise, sunset; sunrise, sunset; swiftly fly the years… one season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”

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181 minutes

Rated G

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