Norman Jewison Was a Versatile Director. These 6 Films Show His Range.

by The Technical Blogs


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‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (1971)

Norman Jewison, despite his last name, was not Jewish. It was a common misunderstanding throughout his youth, and he was bullied by classmates nonetheless. Jewison, however, would go on to make one of the classic Jewish films with the adaptation of the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” which tells the story of Tevye the milkman and his family, as a pogrom approaches their village of Anatevka.

Jewison brought a painterly quality to the landscapes of the movie, once telling The New York Times that he “tried work in the colors of Chagall,” referencing the artist Marc Chagall. Anatevka is rendered in earthy tones — a sunset has never looked more vivid than the one behind the film’s protagonist. When Tevye speaks to the camera, the breaking of the fourth wall feels like a warm invitation rather than a cheesy cinematic convention. In choosing the Israeli actor Chaim Topol to play Tevye over Zero Mostel, who had played the role on Broadway, Jewison eschewed star power in favor of an actor who he felt would make the audience travel back in time.

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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ (1973)

Jewison followed up “Fiddler” with another interpretation of a stage production — but one that could not have been more different. In taking on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Jewison leaned into the psychedelic rock opera vibes of the material. Whereas with “Fiddler” Jewison went for truth, with “Superstar” he leaned into the inherent absurdity of a groovy song cycle about the Passion. His “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which was filmed in Israel, seems to take place less in our universe than in an alternate one. Just take the “King Herod’s Song” number performed by Josh Mostel (son of the actor Zero Mostel) and a chorus of bikini-clad dancers in body paint who look as if they were dropped in from “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” The compositions are wildly creative with a hallucinogenic touch.

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‘Moonstruck’ (1987)

“Moonstruck” is perhaps Jewison’s best loved film, and for good reason. It’s hard to find a movie more exquisite than this romantic comedy directed from a screenplay by John Patrick Shanley. “Moonstruck” is the kind of movie that sweeps you off your feet from the moment you hear Dean Martin singing “That’s Amore” over shots of the New York skyline. At the center of the film is the romance between a widow, Loretta Castorini (Cher), and a tormented baker, Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), who happens to be the brother of her fiancé (a bumbling Danny Aiello). But “Moonstruck” is also a generational tale about the ways in which love waxes and wanes. Jewison treats Shanley’s story with the grandeur it deserves, lingering on the very sensation of being infatuated. If anything, “Moonstruck” is proof of how much Jewison’s camera loved actors, capturing the grandiosity of Cage, the wry wisdom of Olympia Dukakis as Loretta’s mother and the emotional splendor of Cher. Dukakis and Cher both won Oscars for their performances.


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