Monday, April 11, 2011

Remembering Sidney Lumet

by Ivan Vargas

As the government threatened to shut down, as most of Northern Africa continued to go crazy, and as Japan got hit with another earthquake, our country experienced the loss of a different kind. On Saturday, April 9, Sidney Lumet, the first New York director, died in his Manhattan home. He was 86.

Sidney Lumet might not mean a lot to you New York kids who hang out at Gymbar or G lounge and drink cosmos to the beat of Lady Gaga or Kesha with hair cuts emulating that of Adam Lambert. After all, the name isn’t current and sounds like a Jewish remnant of another time, right? But of course it does.

However, to anyone who has watched and experienced life through films be it live, through film festivals, or through Turner Classic Movies, the name Sidney Lumet means our very own existence and is synonymous with New York City then and now. Even before [Woody] Allen, [Martin] Scorsese, and [Spike] Lee, Lumet was there, spinning passionate stories of men caught in tremendous quandaries, hoping for a way out and that they did the right thing. Because of Lumet an innocent man did not get the death penalty in 12 Angry Men. Because of him, we saw how crime and corruption were married in Serpico. Because of him reality television is what it is today via Network, one of the most prophetic films I’ve ever seen about TV and Internet culture.

"Attica! Attica!"

For anyone wanting to know what it was like to be in New York then, and how it has translated into the now, all you have to do is watch Lumet’s social dramas on TCM. It’s all there. The locations. The grittiness. The sense that this could be happening right next door to you, down the hall, across the street at the nearest bank where there might be a hold-up orchestrated by an alpha-man trying to get a break for a guy who happens to be his husband and a woman trapped in a man's body in the Seventies, all in a neat little ball of frenzy. Or a playhouse where one of the nation's greatest plays by one of the nation's greatest playwrights might be playing. It made your story yours. For all of the stars and power-actors, New York City down to its nuances and quirks was the ultimate character in any Lumet film.

My only complaint, and this is to you, Mr. Lumet, wherever you are (and if you ever read this): couldn’t you have waited after the Tribeca Film Festival? And given us one last film?

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