in ,

Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1 and the Importance of Physical Media

Feature Presentations: Episode 100

Al Pacino seen in Serpico, part of Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1. Image courtesy of Imprint Films

Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not- I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. Today’s article spotlights the seven-disc collection, Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1 from Imprint Films.

The box set design for Directed by Sidney Lumet.
The box set design for Directed by Sidney Lumet.

I’ve never been or will claim to be an expert in reviewing the technical specs of a physical media release. There are plenty of knowledgeable people in this realm of commenting on the audio and video aspects of a disc with better setups than I’ll ever own. 

As a disclaimer of transparency for this episode of Feature Presentations, my review of the box set collection, Directed by Sidney Lumet, comes from a review copy that Imprint Films provided for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

It has taken me a while, but we have reached an impressive milestone with Feature Presentations: Episode 100. Instead of the usual rigamarole rundown of what each disc holds, I felt this article deserved something with slightly more pizzazz. As someone who consistently advocates for physical media, a light bulb went off in my head once I received the latest collection: an all-encompassing celebration of physical media.

You might wonder why I feel that Directed by Sidney Lumet is the release that brought such a revelation. I have reviewed box sets in the past; Imprint Films‘ own After Dark Neo-Noir Volume One and Volume Two instantly come to mind, or their similarly-themed Directed by Walter Hill. Yet, having this collection dedicated to one of the finest cinematic directors struck me differently with having a gathering of films that (mostly) are not the first films that come to mind when one thinks of Sidney Lumet.

In film, as with most projects one works on, your first time out of the gate is usually far from your best work. You need to work on your skills and continue improving. James Cameron cut his teeth at the Roger Corman film school, and while Piranha II: The Spawning is cheesy fun, I doubt many, including Cameron, would say it is his finest work. Who’s That Knocking on My Door and Duel are solid opening movies from Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, but I highly doubt either is the pinnacle of their filmographies.

Sidney Lumet is a different cat.

The Pawnbroker stares ahead with the shadow of a gate on his face in Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1
Rod Steiger seen in The Pawnbroker in Directed by Sidney Lumet. Image courtesy of Imprint Films

Instead of taking steps towards crafting a masterpiece, he kicked the door down with his directorial debut, helming one of the greatest films of all time: 1957’s 12 Angry Men. Armed with a tight script and a powerhouse cast, Lumet expertly directed the courtroom drama with precision and skill, creating a cinematic masterpiece that most would assume came from a veteran director. One might think having one masterpiece under their belts for their career would be enough, but Lumet, as mentioned, was a different cat.

Throughout his storied career, not only did he work with the who’s who of cinema and theater, he brought to screens one masterwork after another. Whether it’s the stone-cold masterpieces of Dog Day Afternoon, Network, or Serpico, to the certified bangers of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Prince of the City, and The Verdict, the man proved time and time again that he was a directorial juggernaut. As with any director, the man wasn’t hitting home runs every time he stepped up to the plate, but when you are the director of 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network, you’re allowed for the occasional swing-and-miss.

As Sidney Lumet’s career traversed 50 years, there are to be works in his filmography that slip through the cracks. And this is where Imprint Films steps up to the plate!

Recently released in a luminous, six-case, seven-disc release, Imprint Films gathered five of Sidney Lumet’s lesser-known movies and one classic: Serpico. For someone like myself, who has seen some of Sidney Lumet’s most widely-regarded films, it was a treat to have an opportunity to dive headfirst into a compilation of additional, lesser-known films from the legendary director.

And having a compendium such as this, curating the works of Sidney Lumet’s early career is why a release such as this is so important. As an advocate for physical media, having a copy of films you wish to own at your fingertips goes beyond fancy packaging and limited editions, both of which describe the Imprint Films Directed by Sidney Lumet collection to a fault. It also allows someone like me, who self-identifies as a cinephile, the opportunity to continue expanding my horizons and admiring works that I might not have been able to view otherwise.

While we’re on the topic of viewing, what makes Directed by Sidney Lumet a collection worth owning comes in the battle of streaming versus physical media. A subject such as this deserves its own article, but with the complicated issue of the rights of intellectual properties, it’s not out of the question to assume finding some or most movies in this box set would be a challenge. And even if all are available to stream currently, there is no guarantee that will be the case tomorrow or the next day. Maybe diving into the streaming versus physical media argument is a bit of “Old man yelling at the clouds,” but the issue is real. Owning the disc is tangible; streaming is not.

Johnson stands in a room with a chair in front and a light above him in Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1
Sean Connery seen in The Offence from Directed by Sidney Lumet. Image courtesy of Imprint Films

To own a copy of an intellectual property is not enough; Imprint Films continues their stellar track record of releases with another glorious box set. The cases come housed in a lift-top cardboard box with a blue and yellow design featuring images from the films in this collection. I’m not always fond of collage designs, but the look on this box set has a touch of class with a welcoming aesthetic for the films in this collection.

And speaking of the Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1 collection, Imprint Films amassed six of Sidney Lumet’s early works: the aforementioned Serpico plus 1964’s The Pawnbroker, 1966’s The Group, 1967’s The Deadly Affair, 1972’s Child’s Play, and The Offence from 1973. One of the rewards of a collection such as this is compiling multiple works from one director presenting many aspects of that filmmaker’s style across many years. Imprint Films offers a tease listing this as Vol. 1, and one would hope a second collection arrives sooner rather than later.

As for the films themselves? For me, they are a mixed bag. Serpico is a masterpiece of dramatic storytelling with one of Al Pacino‘s finest performances, and Sean Connery gives an underrated turn in the character drama The Offence. The most welcome surprise came from The Pawnbroker. Not knowing what to expect from each film, this 1966 Holocaust drama knocked me around with its storytelling, direction, and excellent performances. The remaining batch in the box set had moments of flair, but as with every director, not every film worked well. Child’s Play was a bit of a confused mess, and The Group was a mild disappointment but had a heck of a cast. I can’t say any film was a complete miss; more than anything else, this collection showcases how even below-top-tier Sidney Lumet productions still offer plenty for film connoisseurs to enjoy.

If you’re familiar with one of Imprint Films‘ limited edition sets, you know these sets are not just the films in a fancy box. Stacked within each disc, you get multiple audio commentaries from various film critics, historians, and commentators in Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1. Unfortunately, as these movies are 50-plus years old, many of those associated with these films have long since passed, including the director. Imprint Films did the next best thing by bringing on those who can bring a critical eye toward analyzing Lumet’s films, and each commentary offers plenty for those who enjoy these cinematic offerings or are looking for a varied analysis of the filmmaker.

Even more intriguing comes in the form of newly-recorded interviews and video essays with historians and multiple crew members associated with certain films in the set. As mentioned previously, not many cast or crew with first-hand knowledge of these early Sidney Lumet films are still with us, so I applaud Imprint Films for reaching out and getting comments from second assistant director Michael Stevenson for The Offence and production designer Philip Rosenberg on Child’s Play. And even if these aren’t new, Imprint Films included archive interviews with actor Rod Steiger for The Pawnbroker and multiple crew members on The Offence to help round out the package.

All of the above makes for a nifty collection with Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1. I saved the best for last as Imprint Films commissioned a feature-length documentary, “One Step Further: Becoming Lumet,” chronicling the first half of Sidney Lumet’s career. Produced by the fine folks at Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, this feature is almost worth the price for the entire box set. Filled with plenty of information and produced with top-notch production, this is a feature you’ll return to multiple times. If you’ve ever seen a Ballyhoo bonus feature, you know “One Step Further” is a must-see. 

Not content with a feature-length documentary, the disc includes additional supplemental material with three additional featurettes focusing on editor Alan Heim, production designer Philip Rosenberg, and historian Daniel Schweiger, each discussing first or second-hand collaborations with Sidney Lumet. All contributors tell tales about their time on set or the work done with Lumet and are valuable bits of information that Imprint Films and Ballyhoo thankfully thought to include in such a stellar release. Closing out the release, Imprint Films adds an episode of “Trailers from Hell,” featuring director Adam Rifkin discussing Serpico.

Two men in a split-diopter shot. The man in the background sits at a desk and the man in the foreground is close on his face.
An image from A Deadly Affair, part of Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1. Image courtesy of Imprint Films

What a collection! Imprint Films hits it out of the physical media park once again with the Directed by Sidney Lumet Vol. 1 box set. A release of this magnitude is more than a shelf piece: it’s allowing these films a chance to live forever in our homes at a time when we do not know from one day to the next if and when various cinematic offerings are available to stream. Streaming has a place; I swear I’m not always yelling at the clouds, yet having that physical copy of each film at your fingertips available for your viewing pleasure instead of being bound by a streaming service’s availability is why physical media matters. Add on the plethora of bonus features, and you have an early contender for 2024’s best release and a perfect release for my 100th episode. And if there ever was a director deserving of such loving treatment on physical media, it’s Sidney Lumet.

Written by Robert Chipman

Robert is a lifelong cinephile and has had an admiration with film for as long as he can remember. When he's not checking out the most recent theatrical release, viewing a movie on one of a 1,000,000,000 streaming services or picking up the latest physical media disc, he's trying and failing to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter. He also has a weird fascination with Stephen Dorff. Make of that what you will. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

Geoffrey Cowper directs Nashla Bogaert and Jackson Rathbone as they walk the beach on the set of Books & Drinks.

Geoffrey Cowper Is All in on the Rom-Com with Books & Drinks

Estefanía Piñeres (Las Villamizar) waits for a bus on the streets of Bogota in Malta.

Malta’s Character Study Burns Slow, Sears Deep