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Sidney Lumet: Why Melodrama is Hard to Film


At 83, two years
past his Honorary Oscar and with more than 40 films to his credit (Twelve Angry Men, The Pawnbroker, Serpico, Network and Dog Day Afternoon are just a few of the best known),
Sidney Lumet has slowed down just a little. For his the first four decades of his career, he averaged one film per
year; now he spaces them out a bit more. But he doesn’t like to repeat himself, or to be recognizable by his particular directorial style. In an
interview with the New York Times, he said, "I hate any style if you can
spot it…I try very hard to find the visual style that story needs."

Lumet will categorize his latest film, though. Before
the Devil Knows You’re Dead
, which opens this Friday, is a melodrama. He told Emmanuel Levy, "In most dramas,
the story has to come out of the characters: this is such-and-such kind of
person, and therefore this is the inevitable result. In a melodrama, it’s the
exact reverse. The characters have to adjust to the demands of the story and
justify their actions." 

In the Times interview, Lumet discussed how that affects his
actors, in this case Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Albert Finney:
"It’s something I warned the actors about. I said, ‘Listen, I may need to
ask you for a climax here that you may not feel, because the nature of the plot
demands it."

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