Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RIP Sydney Pollack

This morning while brewing coffee and getting ready for the day, I've been listening to NPR reports about the passing of Sydney Pollack (yesterday, of cancer). The name fills me with so many memories. Tootsie came immediately to mind. I think it was the first film of his I saw and I fell absolutely in love. I didn't always enjoy Sydney as an actor -- probably because he played the same type of role frequently -- but his work as Michael Dorsey's agent remains my favorite of his supporting turns. The scene when Michael first approaches him as "Dorothy" is a perfect comic jewel. Pollack does flustered double taking with the best of them. I think about that scene almost every time I think of Pollack and it continually endears me to him. He must have been so proud of the scene and Dustin. He must have known that film was gold. But he's digging for his own there at the table.

I love so many of his films as a director. My other two favorites are They Shoot Horses Don't They (previous appreciation) and The Way We Were (with apologies to Out of Africa and This Property is Condemned --but mostly for Natalie Wood in the latter).

Regarding The Way We Were: I think it's one of the best romantic dramas Hollywood ever produced. When I first saw it in college --I'm not sure what prompted me, but it was probably one of my many aborted attempts to get through all nominated Best Actress Oscar performances -- I was completely wowed by how substantial it actually was. Romantic films are so often critically dismissed. Even the smashes are often scorned once there's a little distance (see Titanic appraisals for a modern case). I liken this to people being embarrassed about their initial openheartedness... sort of the way that most of us are so easily aggravated by our significant others after the heady rush of the falling in love phase passes. Surely the contempt with which many romantic dramas (and comedies come to think of it) are held with both the public and critics after the fact has more to do with human nature than with the work. Like any genre, romance has its masterpieces. I think it's better than the other Robert Redford picture that won Best Picture that year (The Way We Were was not nominated)

It's always interesting to see how people view the work of artists when they pass on. One of the voices on NPR was talking about the lack of auteurial signatures or visual flourishes in his movies. This was spun in the most flattering possible way. It went something like 'it makes you concentrate not on the man behind the camera but on the film itself' When people pass away, you should always go with the positive. In this case it isn't difficult.

Sydney Pollack, you will be missed.
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16 comments:

Catherine said...

My dad told me this morning before I left for school and for some reason it really affected me. I think its because Pollack really looked like my grandad, or maybe because I rewatched Tootsie just last week, but I was thrown out of my regular morning mood for a while. He was old though, so it's not a tragedy. Hopefully more people will be encouraged to seek out his stuff.

Nick Davis said...

I was thrown by this one, too. (How come D always hears before I do?) He aged so remarkably well that I never thought of him as ill, or on the brink, or even all that old. And the Pollack-Minghella is a really awful one-two punch.

Totally feeling you on Tootsie, The Shoot Horses..., and especially The Way We Were.

And though his directing career will rightly take pride of place in the public tributes, followed by fond memories of his performances, look at those producer credits: Sense and Sensibility, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Michael Clayton, Forty Shades of Blue, Iris, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Margaret, and of course The Fabulous Baker Boys. In many ways it's Sydney Pollack the Producer that I'm most going to miss.

NATHANIEL R said...

I should add i totally would have given Babs the Oscar that year for Best Actress

elgringo said...

Three Days of the Condor!

This is really sad news, even sadder is the fact than he had to struggle with cancer during his last days.

I heard about this last night and Tootsie was the first thing I thought about. One of Hollywood's most valuable classics. It's too bad we won't have any more classics from Mr. Pollack but at least "The Sketches of Frank Gehry" was an interesting film to go out on.

kent said...

Tootsie was my favorite Pollack film. Followed by Out of Africa and They Shoot Horses, Don't They. The Way We Were was clearly underrated during its year of release. I thought he was quite funny in Tootsie, as well as his television appearances in Will & Grace.

Deborah said...

Three Days of the Condor is one of my very favorite movies.

Yesterday afternoon my sister and I watched Michael Clayton, and then just a few hours later I heard Pollack was dead, and it was like, 'But I just saw him!' like we were friends or something. It was eerie.

John T said...

I also would have gone with Streisand for Best Actress that year. I love the wistful romance of Way We Were and Out of Africa. I mean, two of the most famous scenes in these movies are in part due to the director calmly taking control-look at the way the camera moves across the ocean as Hubbell & Katie sail, or the plane flight in Out of Africa. There's something wordless and melancholy about those scenes, as they are precipices on which the rest of the story hangs-it's beautiful.

Such a talent.

NATHANIEL R said...

beautifully stated John T

amir_uk said...

With Minghella and Pollock sadly both no longer around, that's two of the The Reader's three producers down. I wonder what will happen with that film...

etslee said...

Out of Africa remains one of my favorite rainy day films. Pollack was also Will Truman's dad. Sadly, Will & Grace ended with his death as well.

Alfred Soto said...

Great actor, middling director. My obit.

susannah said...

Nathaniel, thanks very much for talking a little about The Way We Were. I would love to read a more extensive appreciation (hint, hint)!

I always enjoy watching that movie, and my mom and I have an on-going conversation about whether Hubbell was too weak to be with Katie or if Katie was too rigid and demanding to be with Hubbell (or both?).

My mom tells a great story about going to see The Way We Were with her mom when it came out in 1973. Sitting in a theater full of women on Monday Night Football night, she recalls an audible sigh that went through the audience when Redford first appeared on screen.

Glenn said...

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is perfect in my eyes, so that's my favourite. Although, oddly, I have never seen all of Tootsie and none of The Way We Were. I should get on that right away.

Aaron said...

I feel like a lot of the commentary on Pollack's passing has focused (as you say) on trying to accentuate something positive about him, as though it's vastly important that he wasn't an auteur. Pollack made big studio pictures, but Pollack made GOOD big studio pictures and that's no small feat. I don't just mean the films he directed, either. As a producer, his studio movies are gorgeous, always carefully cast and always working toward quality. As we all know, quality from the big studios is not something we readily expect. With Pollack, though, we always could.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is genius. And I love Three Days of the Condor.

michael said...

He was a terrific director and he will be missed. I also loved him as an actor, especially as Will's dad on Will and Grace and in the last season as a prisoner(a doctor?) on The Sopranos. So believable.

Jim Loftus said...

My name is Jim Loftus--I'm a pianist/singer/actor.... I was also saddened to hear of the passing of the great film director/actor SYDNEY POLLACK ....
When I had first started playing piano at DESTINO RESTAURANT(851 First Ave, NYC) in April 2006, not long after Mr. Pollack visited us for dinner a few times. On one particular Thursday evening, I spotted Sydney at the Destino bar dining solo--enjoying a simple marinara pasta dish and I introduced myself as the pianist at this venue. He was instantly gregarious and we began chatting. I told him I was also an actor and that "I came at a much cheaper price tag than Tom Cruise"(as I gave him my business card)--my memory was that Sydney was sipping his glass of red wine as I said this and almost spewed it across the bar as he chuckled. It struck me that this giant of Hollywood was so accessible and friendly. He said that he'd be back to Destino as he had a NYC residence right around the block from the restaurant. When I asked him what his current projects were, he spoke with avid interest of his foray into the documentary film world, and began describing in detail one of his then-current films. After his story we shook hands and I went to the piano and he stayed for my first set. He waved goodbye an hour later...but this would not be the last time I would see him...
On another Thursday evening(August 17,2006), once again I noticed Sydney at the intimate Destino bar about to have dinner. I greeted him again and he instantly remembered me and was once again gracious. After a brief chat, I told him "I had forgotten to do something the last time we met"--and said I'd make up for it now. He looked at me quizzically and I then headed for the piano. I then played and sang "The Way We Were", the theme song of the film which he directed, and followed that with the theme of his Academy-award winning film "Tootsie", the Stephen Bishop song "Maybe It's You". He smiled several times as he looked over and at one point lifted his wine glass in the air, "toasting" my renditions. What a great honor it was to tribute him in that manner, and as I look back on the memory I realized that I never saw him again after that evening. But those moments with the great Sydney Pollack will forever stay with me--rest in peace Sydney and thank you for your great work in the film industry--and the gift that you were to all of us.