Norman Jewison: A Director’s Life

Sutherland House. May 2021. 400p. ISBN 9781989555385. $28.95. FILM
With a career spanning 50 years, award-winning director Norman Jewison has long deserved a full evaluation of his life and work. He was passionate about his projects, including Canadian television programs, American TV specials for Harry Belafonte and Judy Garland, and classic films such as In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof, and Moonstruck. Jewison was equally passionate about the projects he didn’t complete—such as a controversial attempt to make a film of William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. Wells (English and academic programs, Univ. of Toronto) argues that Jewison is an artist who maintained his integrity despite frequent struggles with the studios. Although the author covers Jewison’s first 25 years in only 14 pages, he describes a racist and anti-Semitic 1930s Toronto (where the filmmaker grew up); although Jewison was Protestant, he often encountered anti-Semitism because many assumed he was Jewish due to his last name. In a touching coda, Wells affirms that, unlike works by other great directors of the era, Jewison’s films do not share a style; instead, as Sidney Poitier observed, Jewison’s movies have a “value frame” and are often characterized by a deep sense of social engagement, likely stemming from the filmmaker’s youth.
VERDICT A thoroughly enjoyable and detailed look at a memorable life in film.
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