Showing posts with label Sydney Pollack. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sydney Pollack. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack, 1934-2008

Although highly feted during his lifetime, Sydney Pollack (pictured, with award), who died yesterday, May 26, at age 73, was never a director championed among auteur critics, and probably never shall be. While he had a long career in both television and the movies, as a director he was not as prolific as, say, Robert Altman (1925-2006), a director of his generation whose work ultimately is more significant and, overall, more interesting. But like Robert Altman, Sam Peckinpah, John Frankenheimer, and many other directors born during the decade 1925-1935, he is one of a select group of film directors who began in television in the 1950s and later moved to a distinguished career in motion pictures.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Sydney Pollack began acting in television in 1959 and directing in 1961. His first feature motion picture, A Slender Thread, starring Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft, was released in 1965, but most certainly it was They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), based on Horace McCoy's excellent depression-era Hollywood novel, that was his first significant work, and one widely admired by the critics. And despite the hesitations of its writer, John Milius, I still find Jeremiah Johnson (1972) a highly compelling, very watchable Western. However, nothing Sydney Pollack directed in the decade after much interested me--until Tootsie (1982), a fine comedy, in which Pollack himself acted and was excellent.

For me, though, his best film shall always be Out of Africa (1985), based on the remarkable memoir of Isak Dinesen, an old-fashioned screen romance to be sure, but which for reasons I cannot completely explain, I find the story of Karen Blixen at turns disturbing, compelling--and devastating. It was a film in development for at least a decade--in the early 1970s, for instance, Nicolas Roeg was attached to direct--but somehow, Pollack managed to get the film made, and won an Academy Award as Best Director in the process. I note that his audio commentary for the 2000 DVD release of the film release is excellent, and it remains one of my favorite films.

Perhaps that Best Director award was enough, for afterwards, he directed only five features in the next twenty years. I remember most vividly his acting appearance in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999), but I saw none of the pictures he directed after the mediocre Havana (1990). I found a very good obituary of Pollack here, in which critic Jeanine Basinger is quoted as saying, "Sydney Pollack has made some of the most influential and best-remembered films of the last three decades." I'm not deeply convinced of this alleged truth, but that he made at least one of my favorite films is quite enough for me.