Fiddler on the Roof ★★½

Three-hour musical about an impoverished Jewish family in pre-Revolution Russia nearly replicates all of the content of the famous Broadway production, with Chaim Topol in place of the presumably more charismatic Zero Mostel, though Topol is perfectly OK. Some of the songs are good enough to have passed into the cultural lexicon -- indeed, to have arguably outlived the musical itself, which I reckon was a readymade artifact for the end of the '60s -- like "Sunrise, Sunset" and "If I Were a Rich Man" (and only one, "Miracle of Miracles," is absolutely dreadful, largely because of Leonard Frey's voice) but the film goes on forever at a glacial pace, really capturing nothing more than how one father gradually breaks away from Orthodox tradition as his daughters begin to marry off. The tone is comic and wistful for the first half, tragic and bleak in the second, and the use of a musical to talk about antisemitic Tsarist edicts generates the same kind of oppressive discomfort in me as turning Oliver Twist and Les Miserables into big-show song productions. It's kitschy misery porn and it turns me off. The credits promise excitement thanks to production designer Robert Boyle (and it is a handsome film), and choreographer Jerome Robbins, but director Norman Jewison concentrates on assaultive editing and drab, ordinary staging more than big impressive dance or song sequences, which unfortunately by now was the "vogue" in Hollywood musicals and has been ever since, on the rare occasion that one gets made. It's all just too much -- repetitive to the point of drudgery, loud and overdriven until you just can't take anymore, and the film's Hank Hill-like characterization of Tevye as a charming old fogey set in his ways but coming by an organic flexibility with the years never makes much sense or has any real consistency, but maybe I'm just not putting myself in the culture of the era (and belief system) depicted enough. One thing I don't mind is that the script's own skepticism with regard to the limitations of faith, tradition and conservatism are subtle and unresolved; but that again is something I have a hard time reconciling with the context of a crowd-pleasing musical production; I haven't yet seen a musical that really lent itself well to those kinds of intricacies -- a suspension of disbelief problem, perhaps.