Pacino, Hoffman, Hepburn, Fonda—Sidney Lumet has directed some of the biggest names in the business and helmed such passionate classics as Twelve Angry Men, Network and Dog Day Afternoon. So why is his book on filmmaking dry and mechanical? Lumet answers that question when he warns that "there are no personal revelations other than feelings arising from the work itself" and says of his colorful coworkers, "I respect their foibles and idiosyncrasies, as I'm sure they respect mine."
Too bad, since Lumet's line of work surely involves more than technical know-how and narrative instinct. Hasn't he had to corral runaway egos? Douse creative fireworks? Soothe giant talents clashing over great material? It turns out that Lumet is too much of a gentleman to intrude on the privacy of his actors, much less mine their "idiosyncrasies" for insight into his craft. Lumet recalls how a troubled Marlon Brando stumbled over the same line of dialogue dozens of times on the set of The Fugitive Kind (1959); but, by holding back his insider's take on Brando's well-known volatility, he comes across as a detached observer, not a savvy director. The range of Lumet's remarkable work gives even mundane details weieht. and his story telling skills are evident in this swiftly paced book. Still, you wish he had spent more time on the gifted actors and writers he has worked with and less on the types of lenses he prefers. Maybe reticence is what makes Lumet such an enduring, versatile director, but it's unfortunate that a large swath of his professional experience and indeed of his own fascinating personal life—his ex-wives include Gloria Vanderbilt and Lena Home's daughter Gail—has been omitted here. (Knonf. $23)