‘By Sidney Lumet’
Director: Nancy Buirski
3 (out of 5) Globes
Like his films, the doc “By Sidney Lumet” is deceptively plain and unfussy. The opposite of slick, which is not to say lacking care or skill, it consists entirely of a lengthy, career-spanning interview from 2008 — three years before his death — with one of Hollywood’s most stubbornly thoughtful filmmakers talking, interspersed with relevant clips. There is no music, apart from any that bleeds over from film excerpts. No one but Lumet, wearing a comfy grandfather sweater in an anonymous beige room, appears.
This isn’t a case like Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s “De Palma,” which allows another unlikely Hollywood player to cycle through his CV, film-by-film. Lumet leaves out many (“The Group,” “The Anderson Tapes,” “Equus,” almost everything post-1988). He meanders, sometimes sticking to the timeline, sometime clumping his titles together by theme. He says people often complained his filmography has no clear throughline, that he was too diverse in juggling social dramas, popcorn thrillers, even a garish musical (“The Wiz”). But Lumet and “By Sidney Lumet” argue that the connecting tissue is him, his sometimes “invisible” style and his distinct worldview.
It was also a need to stay busy. The son of a star actor of the 1930s NYC Yiddish theater, Baruch Lumet, the filmmaker quotes his father’s gospel of having a “lack of self-indulgence in work.” Lumet the younger took that to heart, going from a boy actor absorbing the industry to a TV workhorse, who in the mid-’50s, would crank out 60 to 70 shows a year. He learned to work fast but efficiently, often ascetically: One of his stints on the Walter Cronkite-led educational series “You Are There” told the story of the Salem Witch Trials by adhering strictly to the original court transcripts.