In Praise of Sidney: Friends & Family Salute Lumet

Posted by Michael Gibbons on 6.27.2011

An iconic American filmmaker was in the spotlight today at Lincoln Center. 

At Alice Tully Hall this afternoon, the Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted a tribute to director Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) that was  organized by his family. Today, the Film Society also announced the details of a sixteen film tribute that will screen next month (July 19 - 26).

With a lineup of speakers that included close friends and collaborators like Lauren Bacall, David Mamet, James Gandolfini, Jonathan Demme, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Glenn Close (among others), the light-hearted and often very funny memorial celebrated the work of the famously hard-working man, who directed over 50 films and several television series. Sidney Lumet's daughter Jenny Lumet served as the on stage host of the event, introducing the all-star roster of speakers.

Screen icon Lauren Bacall (pictured right) reminisced that Lumet showed up in a Rolls Royce and was wearing impeccable jeans the first time she met him (his charming fashion choices were commented on by several presenters throughout the event). She was working on a play in London when he invited her to participate in Murder on the Orient Express along with an reknowned roster that included Sean Connery and Vanessa Redgrave: “‘Everyone’s going to be getting the same salary,’ he said. ‘So if it ever occurs to you that you want to bargain, forget it!’” “It was one of the happiest work experiences I ever had in my life.”

Veteran screenwriter Walter Bernstein said he met Lumet in 1950 when he had just become a director of the half-hour series on CBS called Danger. “He really did snap, crackle, and pop on the set. He was a rare combination of enthusiasm and organization.” Bernstein left the audience howling with laughter as he recalled their days as pioneers of product placement at the dawn of live television: “If you mentioned Charlie the Tuna on the show, you got a case of scotch. It wasn’t easy, but we were creative people.” Ending on a more serious note, Bernstein said, “I was blacklisted most of that time but I worked because of Sidney. A lot of us did.”

Well known New York character actress Marcia Jean Kurtz, who worked on Dog Day Afternoon, remembered Lumet’s career that spanned Hollywood eras: on the verge of age of the blockbuster, “in ‘74, ‘75, he told me that the time of the small personal film was over - and sure enough, Jaws would open in a few months.” Marshall Brickman, screenwriter of Annie Hall, continued what became a recurring joke throughout the event about Lumet’s infamously fast shoots: “Sidney could shoot a 90-minute film in 43 minutes with time for lunch. He once completed a film while his actors were still in hair and makeup.”

Bold-faced names were not only on stage, but in the crowd.

Among the famous faces seated in the audience at Alice Tully Hall were none other than Al Pacino, Bob Balaban, Boaty Boatwright,, Joan Didion and Treat Williams with reports that Lee Grant, Vanessa Redgrave and Buck Henry were also on hand. 

In honor of his work, the Film Society will hold a Prince of the City: Remembering Sidney Lumet series from July 19 to  25 (tickets go on sale this Thursday).

Other speakers included Andrzej Bartkowiak, Jeff Berg, Marshall Brickman, Bobby Cannavale, Jonathan Demme, Chris Newman, Phyllis Newman (pictured below), LaTanya Richardson, Gene Saks, Tony Swartwout, Christopher Walken and Tony Walton, 

The celebration of Lumet’s life ended with a rousing 30-minute “greatest hits” compilation spanning the work of his career, including classics like Network, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, Serpico, and The Wiz. The impression left by the presenters who knew the prolific director well was that he was an affectionate, compassionate man who was a master of his craft.

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