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The Dartmouth
February 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Director Lumet to be honored by DFS

Although Hanover, N.H., is not exactly the epicenter of the entertainment world, Dartmouth still manages to bring in great music and film to campus via the Hopkins Center with only the occasional disappointment (i.e. Vanessa Carlton).

To add to the Hop's impressive credits, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, film director Sidney Lumet will be coming to Dartmouth. Lumet directed highly acclaimed films such as "Dog Day Afternoon," "Network," "12 Angry Men" and "Serpico" and received an honorary Academy Award last year for his contributions to the film industry.

Next Wednesday, Dartmouth will bestow on Lumet the Dartmouth Film Award, but the presentation promises to be more than just your standard boring tribute. A compilation of film clips and an onstage discussion with the director will commence in Spaulding Auditorium.

Although Lumet may be less well known than some of his contemporaries such as Martin Scorsese, his roster of movies is just as impressive. Of the 40-plus films he has directed, 17 have either won or been nominated for Academy Awards, and Lumet himself has been nominated four times for Best Director. To whet your appetite, the Dartmouth Film Society will be showing two of Lumet's most powerful and important movies, "12 Angry Men" and "Network," this Sunday at 7 and 8:50 p.m. respectively.

Starring Henry Fonda, "12 Angry Men" debuted close to 50 years ago in 1957. Nearly the entire movie takes place in a New York City jury room behind closed doors. Although the setting of the jury room may immediately lead you to think "courtroom drama," the movie is hardly in the fashion of hackneyed (albeit mildly entertaining) crap such as "Law and Order." It is high drama that requires us to reflect upon our own Constitution -- specifically, the oft-quoted phrase "innocent until proven guilty." Like most good movies, "12 Angry Men" does not have a nice and tidy resolution. As Roger Ebert wrote, "'12 Angry Men' never states whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. It is about whether the jury has a reasonable doubt about his guilt."

Despite the fact that the movie was one of his first, Lumet demonstrated his propensity to tackle complex issues, a tendency which would resurface in many later films. "Twelve Angry Men" received Oscar nominations for best picture, director and adapted screenplay, but was passed over for David Lean's also-excellent "Bridge on the River Kwai."

In "12 Angry Men," Lumet did more than just interpret a screenplay and direct his actors, which is no small task in and of itself. Even though this was his first feature film -- he had directed numerous films for TV previously -- Lumet already understood quite well how to use the technical aspects of filmmaking to enhance the movie's thematic elements. To generate a feeling of claustrophobia, Lumet employed various methods to create, as he terms it, a "lens plot." One such method was moving to longer and longer lenses as the movie advanced, so that the walls would seem to be closing in. Lumet goes into more details in his frequently cited and used text, "Making Movies."

The second movie the Dartmouth Film Society will show this Sunday is also a highbrow drama. This time Lumet takes us behind the scenes of network television news in the aptly named "Network." The film revolves around a just-fired anchorman named William Holden -- a man not completely unlike the more familiar Holden Caulfield -- who announces on his last day of broadcasting that he will commit suicide. After realizing what Holden has said, the network executives scheme to profit from his madness.

Lumet continues to use the camera like another actor in "Network." He explains in "Making Movies" that he wanted to gradually shift from a naturalistic look in the beginning to an artificial one by the end to convey the idea that the camera too had "become a victim of television."

Lumet's technical prowess, ability to bring out the best in his actors and desire to explore difficult subjects marks him as one of America's great directors. Prior to giving Lumet an honorary Academy Award last year, Academy President Frank Pierson described Lumet as "one of the most important film directors in the history of American cinema." It is no surprise, then, that Dartmouth too wishes to pay tribute to this brilliant director.