The winter bridging 2023-24 is an open season on socially-conscious Normans. Just as Norman Lear from last year’s necrolog brought social issues to the US sitcom, Norman Jewison mastered the craft on the silver screen. The Canuck broke into the industry with a string of fluffy Doris Day comedies before taking on more challenging material. Gambling drama The Cincinnati Kid placed him on the map, and Cold War satire The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming earned his first Oscar nomination.
But it was tackling racism and other bigotries where he best found his element. His desire to make a difference was crystalised by a hitchhiking trip through the US South in the 1940s, where he was repulsed by witnessing segregation firsthand. He channeled it into In the Heat of the Night, his finest hour and a Best Picture winner. Sidney Poitier’s Mr. Tibbs’s intelligent cracking of a murder case while much of the small Mississippi town viewed him solely through a racial lens laid bare the absurdity of racism, and him slapping the plantation owner remains a scene for the ages.
Jewison was far from done. He was offered to direct Fiddler on the Roof under the assumption he was Jewish (despite the surname, he was Protestant), and the folksy charms of Tevye the milkman proved quality films remained a Jewison TRADITION! The third of his big Oscar motherlodes came through Moonstruck as Cher navigated romance with her unforgettable Italian family. He turned out a second religious musical with Jesus Christ Superstar, explored the legal labyrinth in …And Justice for All, and resumed his recurring undercurrent of racial conflict in A Soldier’s Story, a second Deep South murder mystery, and The Hurricane, where Denzel Washington turned a powerful performance as the wrongly-imprisoned boxer Rubin Carter.
Norman Jewison was 97 and somewhat under-the-radar as a pick for his age and stature, though tbf he seemed like a good bet for the centenary. Seven teams picked him, including Zombie Dance Party, Wayne Manor, and Canuck theme Stars On Ice.
21 July 1926 – 20 January 2024, aged 97
7 TEAMS (💀💀💀💀💀 5 POINTS)