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By Sidney Lumet Blu-ray Review

By Sidney Lumet Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com By Sidney Lumet

Theatrical Release: October 28, 2016 / Television Premiere: January 3, 2017

Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Nancy Buirski / Interview Subject: Sidney Lumet

1.78:1 Widescreen / Dolby Digital 2.0 (English) / Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Blu-ray Release Date: January 9, 2017 / Suggested Retail Price: $24.95
Also available on DVD ($19.95 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

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Sidney Lumet's name rarely comes up among the great film directors. There's Hitchcock, Capra, Wilder, John Ford, David Lean, and Billy Wilder from the olden days. Non-English speaking parts of their world have their legends in Truffaut, Fellini, Kurosawa, and Bergman.
Working into modern times, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Kubrick all have their admirers. Even directors who don't have the same renown among academics, like John Hughes, John Cassavetes, and Hal Ashby, have people who are plenty passionate about their bodies of work. Somehow, Lumet doesn't fit into any of these classes, but his filmography is longer and more impressive than most.

Lumet started in television in the early 1950s. Within a few years, he was at the helm of the jury deliberation drama 12 Angry Men, which has long been regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Oddly, Lumet remained in television after that exceptional theatrical debut, but by the 1960s he was making cinema. By the 1970s, Lumet was making great cinema, often directing two films a year. Many of his best-known efforts came in this decade, including Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, and Murder on the Orient Express. He would pick up his fifth competitive Oscar nomination on 1982's The Verdict, yet another Best Picture nominee he helmed. But maybe because he never made just one kind of film or maybe because he rarely wrote in addition to directing, Lumet never quite got treated like a maestro. But he was a talent up until the end. His last film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, released in 2007 when he was 83, was extremely well-reviewed.

After that film and before his April 2011 death, Lumet sat down in 2008 for an interview reflecting on his career. That interview, conducted by Daniel Anker, is the foundation of By Sidney Lumet, a feature-length documentary from director Nancy Buirski (The Loving Story, an inspiration for Jeff Nichols' Loving). By Sidney Lumet premiered at Cannes in 2015, received a limited US theatrical release in fall 2016, and soon thereafter aired on television as part of PBS' long-running biography series "American Masters."

Just six days after its broadcast debut, By Sidney Lumet hit Blu-ray and DVD from FilmRise, the former of which is the subject of this review.

Here, Lumet supplies the same candor that made his 1995 book Making Movies such an absorbing and straightforward account of filmmaking. He recalls growing up dirt poor in New York as an ordinary reality. He confesses he never had great aspirations and that he would have been content to make television had 12 Angry Men not opened doors. Lumet describes the morality of his films as unconscious. He goes into detail about a good number of his dozens of credits, his comments complemented by judicious clips.

For the most part, Buirski is interested in Lumet as an artist, not a person. But a few aspects of the latter inevitably surface, as he discusses his relationship with his children and repeatedly reflects on an incident where he saw American GIs taking turns raping a girl plucked from a Calcutta train station and did nothing to stop it.

Lumet's long career perhaps justifies the 109-minute running time, which is substantial enough to wish for a little more depth and insight than semi-chronological retrospection. But the director is an engaging speaker regardless of topic, whether he's reflecting on the flack he received for allegedly attending a Communist Party meeting or considering Network as a reflection of his experiences with inessential department heads.


By Sidney Lumet is authored as a BD-R, not a standard commercial Blu-ray Disc and that seems to be responsible for a number of the technical difficulties I encountered watching it.
The film is presented in today's standard 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, with film and TV clips pillarboxed within the frame when necessary. The excerpts vary greatly in quality. 12 Angry Men and Lumet's television work have the appearance of a not-so-good YouTube stream on a compatible device. Serpico and The Verdict come closer to resembling a proper Blu-ray presentation. The presentation was subject to a number of glitches, from scenes slowing down and skipping to digital artifacts appearing over the picture. I assume these occurrences were unique to my disc, but a brand new one with nary a scratch or fingerprint should not be exhibiting such issues, even if BD-R is known to be a somewhat sensitive format.

The plain Dolby Digital 2.0 sound was fairly underwhelming and it too had issues corresponding with the picture jumps and skips. English SDH subtitles are offered.

My hopes that I would have fewer problems on my computer's BD-ROM drive proved to be misfounded. That drive had trouble even reading the disc. Yikes.


By Sidney Lumet is joined by three types of extras here.

First and most significantly are nine extended interview clips unused from Lumet's interview. Running between 1 to 6 minutes each and adding up to 29 minutes and 18 seconds overall,
these deal with 12 Angry Men (its backdrops and depictions of racism), Lumet's hits and misses at the Academy Awards, and a clash with a dispirited editor.

Next up, we get an extended interview of Treat Williams, star of Lumet's 1981 cop drama Prince of the City, by Buirski. It's a little loosely edited, including such bits as Williams drinking water and acknowledging he was put up in a hotel to do this, but it provides some valuable insight from an actor who's worked with Lumet, celebrated for being an actor's director.

Finally, we get a trailer for By Sidney Lumet (2:01), which perhaps sensibly shows off clips from his movies more than the interview at the heart of this documentary.

The static menu is accompanied by score and sounds. Well, presumably it's supposed to be static, but it posed all kinds of problems for my player, from listings that wouldn't load to a buggy display.


By Sidney Lumet warrants a viewing for its celebration of one of film's most accomplished directors. Lumet's compassion and candor make him a valuable interview subject. Unfortunately, FilmRise's Blu-ray was riddled with glitches for me, probably the result of being authored as a BD-R not a standard Blu-ray. If you could guarantee your copy wouldn't suffer from the same issues, I would consider recommending the disc.

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Directed by Sidney Lumet: The Anderson Tapes Deathtrap The Verdict
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Reviewed February 8, 2017.

Text copyright 2017 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 RatPac Documentary Films, Augusta Films, American Masters/Thirteen, Matador, WNET Thirteen, and FilmRise.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.