Here’s something you probably didn’t know about Fiddler on the Roof: cinematographer Ossie Morris shot a majority of the movie musical with silk stockings stretched over his camera lens. That’s just one of many little-known facts about the classic 1971 film revealed in Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen, a new documentary about the making of the movie directed by Daniel Raim.
“A majority of the film looks to me as if it was actually shot through a silk stocking, and there are certain scenes where they’re panning, where the sun is reflecting into the lens, you can actually see the texture of the silk stockings more so! So, certainly, that was the case,” Daniel Raim said on Factual America.
He also pointed out one easily Google-able but still shocking thing: Chaim Topol was a lot younger than he looked when he played the iconic role of Tevye.
“What’s interesting — Topol’s 32 years old when he’s playing Tevye the milkman, but he looks like he could be an elderly father in his 50s or whatever, with… the gray beard,” Raim said. “They would have to trim some of the gray hairs from Jewison’s beard to apply to Topol’s beard.”
During the interview as well as in the documentary, Daniel Raim also gave a lot of props to director Norman Jewison, who actually waited until sunset to capture the perfect golden hour magic of the wedding procession scene featuring the famous song “Sunrise, Sunset.”
Jewison actually called that “one of the most beautiful shots in all of his oeuvre,” according to Raim.
Jewison also had a synagogue built from scratch on the movie’s set in Yugoslavia so that it would closely resemble the countless places of worship that were destroyed during the Holocaust.
“They had this big research project where they traveled through Eastern Europe, and there were no surviving — there were no synagogues survived after World War II, after the Holocaust, but they were able to piece together through archival photographs, what it might have looked like and recreated an actual structure in Lekenik, Yugoslavia, using… the real wood of that area,” Raim said of the synagogue we see in Fiddler on the Roof.
Oh, and while interviewing Michele Marsh, who played Hodel, Raim happened upon an incredible discovery that most documentary filmmakers only dream of.
“We were asked to enter her house with our gear through the garage, and in her garage was this box. And it said Fiddler on the Roof. And I said, ‘Michele, what’s in this box?'” Daniel Raim recalled. “She said, ‘Oh, that’s my evacuation box, because here in California, we’re dealing with fires.’ And so I said, ‘Well, great, can we please bring your evacuation box into the interview, and… go through the materials?’ And in that box was a series of Polaroids that we see in the documentary. Never before seen, that she took, her friends took, of the behind the scenes of the making of the procession to the wedding and other gems, so that was like a documentary filmmaker’s dream.”
Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen is now playing at film festivals and in theaters in the U.S.Here are some time stamps from the Factual America interview:
00:00 – The trailer for Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen.
03:45 – What it’s about and where you can watch the film.
05:43 – The cultural phenomenon of the movie musical Fiddler on the Roof.
07:45 – What makes the story so relatable to people.
10:20 – Who Norman Jewison was and what made his films so powerful.
13:19 – The collaboration of musicians behind Fiddler on the Roof.
16:38 – The importance of set design in the film.
18:15 – The extent of Robert Boyle’s attention to detail.
24:19 – Norman Jewison’s skill at picking actors and making them feel comfortable.
28:43 – What inspired Daniel to create a documentary about the iconic film.
31:54 – The key differences between theatrical and movie versions of Fiddler on the Roof.
36:09 – How Daniel gained access to the archival footage of Norman directing.
41:00 – Different short docs Daniel has made and the feature he is now working on.
Factual America uses documentary filmmaking to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy, and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main Image: A BTS photo from Fiddler on the Roof featured in Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen, courtesy of Factual America