SIDNEY LUMET by Maura Spiegel
Kirkus Star


A Life
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A well-grounded biography of the American director’s expansive career.

Throughout a prolific career, Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) emerged as one of the most acclaimed directors of his time, recognized for his accomplishments in theater, TV, and, especially, film (Twelve Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, etc.). In this first significant biography of Lumet, Spiegel (Literature and Film/Columbia Univ.; co-author: The Breast Book: An Intimate and Curious History, 2002, etc.) offers a comprehensive study of this multifaceted filmmaker, thoughtfully examining the creative and personal forces that influenced his work. The author traces his early years as a child actor performing in Yiddish theater at age 5 through his work on Broadway as a teenager and his enlistment in the Army during World War II. After the war, Lumet’s interest quickly shifted from acting to directing for the theater. In the early days of TV, he firmly hit his stride, mastering the quickly evolving technical craft of directing for live TV, which included directing diverse groups of actors while remaining mindfully efficient with tight schedules and budgets. These skills would benefit his later work on film. Spiegel comfortably weaves elements of Lumet’s personal life into her narrative, touching on his complex relationship with his father, Baruch, also a theater actor in his day; his four marriages (Gloria Vanderbilt was his second wife); two children; and his expansive network of show business friends. Yet the author shines brightest in her illumination of Lumet’s skills as a director. Beyond offering knowledgeable film summaries, she deftly examines the technical artistry he brought to each project. “Sidney never stopped experimenting,” writes Spiegel. “He was constantly working with new actors, new equipment, new genres, and new techniques. Throughout his career he drew upon his earlier experiences in radio, theater, television, and film to expand beyond his comfort zones and break new ground as both an artist and a citizen.”

A likely definitive exploration of the director’s distinguished career—of great interest to budding filmmakers and film enthusiasts.

Pub Date: Dec. 10th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-250-03015-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2019