Sidney Lumet – A tribute

Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) is the person who taught me filmmaking.

This post is my tribute to this great individual, director, teacher and mentor. 

I first heard about Sidney Lumet while I was in college, when I picked up his book Making Movies (1996) from a local book store. I chose this book because there were hardly any film books that focused on direction in that store, or any other store I had access to at the time. At that time I hadn’t heard of Kurosawa or Welles. It cost a big chunk out of my pocket money, but when I found out this guy had directed for more than 30 years with Hollywood’s best, I guessed the book couldn’t be all that bad.

Reading Making Movies was life-changing, and it still is. Whenever I read it I learn something new. To me, Sidney’s method is the most democratic way of filmmaking, without losing the director’s vision or integrity. How did he achieve the impossible?

The simple, yet deceptive, answer is: He chose to work with the best people and let them do what they did best.

Easy to say, but hard to follow for most of us. He achieved the respect of his peers with great ease because he was honest, ethical and straightforward. I got the same feeling by reading his book, and it must have been the same qualities that endeared him to his actors and crew. He was not capable of disrespect or dishonesty, especially to his craft.

Yet he was a master at manipulating the tools of his trade: the camera, sound, music, and most importantly, acting. The actors (all of them superstars) loved Sidney. He is known as an actor’s director, but I disagree slightly. He was also a writer’s director, and a cameraman’s director, and a director of everything else that is involved in the filmmaking world. He was, and for me still is, the director’s director.

My favorite film of his is 12 Angry Men (1957 – his first film), followed closely by Network (1976) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975).

My wish was to meet him, just to say: Thank you, Sidney, for helping me start right. But it remains unrealized. I didn’t learn about his death until about two months after it had happened. Was there any tribute in the newspapers that so shamelessly flaunt and publicize non-talents? No. So this is what I can do (and console myself as the only thing I can do): Follow in his footsteps and support others with the same passion, and keep his name and legacy alive.

Signor Lumet, con amore e grande rispetto: grazie mille. Grazie mille.