Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles – Review and Interview with Valerie Thomas

Here is my review of the documentary and interview with Co-Writer/Co-Director Valerie Thomas.

The origin story behind one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, Fiddler on The Roof, and its creative roots in early 1960s New York, when “tradition” was on the wane as gender roles, sexuality, race relations and religion were evolving.

I started my conversation with, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles Co-Writer & Co-Director, Valerie Thomas by diving into her career prior to this documentary.  Specifically I was really curious about her connection to late Director Jonathan Demme.  Valerie Thomas stated how “starting out working with him in my 20s on the first film being Silence was amazing”.  She talked about how the success of Silence of the Lambs really allowed Demme to create so many more opportunities for himself and his team.  She was apart of his writing team for nearly a decade and expanded to numerous roles.  She reflected on Philadelphia, “that was a poignant project since we all new people with AIDS or HIV, and actually it was a friend of Jonathan’s wife who inspired the story and that person was played by Antonio Banderas”.  And lastly she mentioned how Jonathan’s work on docs helped her later trajectory.  She got to work on a doc called Cousin Bobby which was a real cousin of Demme who was Episcopalian minister in Harlem.

As we started to discuss Fiddler I found myself basically explaining all the amazing parts I loved in the documentary.  The interviews with so many folks is extraordinary on it’s own merit and well worth viewing simply for the number of important people.  So I asked who was the first to come on board.

“Max and I saw a Sheldon Harnick on a panel and he was telling stories about Fiddler.  We thought this story hadn’t been told to he level we wanted and we asked if we could interview him on camera.  We got an incredible 1st interview that helped spark everything that follows.”  Valerie Thomas on the origin of the documentary.

Valerie went on to explain at how so many folks were open to being interviewed.  They ended up spending roughly 2 years interviewing and a year in post production.  She was most intrigued by the people they didn’t think of that ended up on board like Fran Lebowitz and Itzhak Perlman.  I myself was amazed at how the team touched on topics and interview moments that aren’t normally associated with Fiddler.  The woman’s movement and the power of the feminine mystique literally came out within the same time frame as Fiddler.  Valerie stated, “We knew female empowerment was an underlining theme and so we geared questions for that, but after a while people would recommend folks for us to talk with.  That lead us to people like Jan Lisa Huttner”.

Jan Lisa Huttner impacted the film even more when she, “recommended an Argentinian doc about groups of women being taken from eastern Europe to Buenos Aires to be prostitutes and it was literally like ‘Tevye’s daughters’ being taken”.  They even found an entire novel about that story and it was one of the more enlightening moments in the film.  Overall the global impact seen in this documentary is an incredible through line.  The team showcased Fiddler done by a college in Thailand that was really fascinating.  The final line in the doc will impact you fully on just how important this musical has been to mankind!

Valerie and Max landed almost every living Tevye and each brings a unique tale to the doc.  And of course the fiddler film version has Chaim Topol and he is in the documentary.  His discussion on Chava’s importance to him personally is one of the most powerful moments in the entire doc.  In our conversation, I brought up a moment in the doc that one of the Tevye’s is explaining how some one cheered when Chava is sent away from the family for going outside the religion.  This moment in the play and in the doc is still so wild to me and Valerie pointed out that was something they tackled with in the doc.  She also clarified that particular scene involved a show when Danny Burstein was on Broadway as Tevye.

Valerie also said “The Chava story was important to the structure of the film.  We knew that story would be the highest pitch and so we built to that moment.  It encapsulates the entire story of the musical and about religious persecution.  Because Tevye as a father loved Chava the most.  It’s why Topol was so emotional.  Most of the men who played Tevye love Chava the most too.  But the most intriguing interview about the subject was when Alexandra Silber (Hodel) talked about the door being locked from the inside and Chava is not aware of that.  She’s gone on to write an amazing book, After Anatevka.”

Overall this documentary is filled with such amazing moments and never loses it’s momentum.  A must see film for 2019!!

The film is out now in most theaters but for more info:  FIDDLER A MIRACLE OF MIRACLES.
For those in North Texas the film is out today at the Angelika Film Center Dallas.

Directed by Max Lewkowicz & Valerie Thomas
Running Time 1 hour 32min
Documentary
Selig Rating A
Out in Most Theaters Now
Starring: Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Danny Burstein, Chaim Topol, Harvey Fierstein, Alexandra Silber and many more.

The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.

 

 

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