Thursday Playlist: Sydney Pollack RIP

A.O. Scott wrote a great piece on the director Sydney Pollack who died last week, of cancer, at the age of 73. He noted how Pollack had been involved in a type of film known as “the A picture.”

“In both capacities he worked, comfortably and with conviction, within the parameters of the Hollywood ‘A picture’ tradition, turning out high-quality commercial entertainments that did not shy away from ethical and political engagement.”

Pollack is in the company of American film makers of the 1970’s like Sydney Lumet and Robert Altman. Although he was perhaps more corporate than either. One of the distinguishing characteristics of his career is that he also worked as an actor. I think this makes him unique among directors. As an actor, Pollack often played a great kind of Serious Senior Executive type. Probably not far from his real life. I remember him in particular in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, as Dustin Hoffman’s agent in Tootsie, and most recently as the senior law partner in Michael Clayton. I always enjoyed his performances. I will miss him.

But enough of my drivel. Today’s play list is a run down of some Sydney Pollack highlights.

1. This Property is Condemned. 1966. Robert Redford’s first big break, I’ve never seen it.

2. They Shoot Horses Don’t They? 1969. I can’t remember this movie (I often fall asleep in movies) but Adriana tells me we rented it once and it’s great.

3. Jeremiah Johnson. 1972. I’ve seen this like . . . 14 times. It was filmed up Provo Canyon, it was really big in Utah.

4.They Way We Were. 1973. . . . I might never see this.

5.Three Days of the Condor. 1975. I WILL see this!

6.The Electric Horseman. 1979. I’ve seen this 2 or 3 times. Oddly also filmed in Utah, St. George.

7. Absence of Malice. 1981. I saw it in the theater, one of those movies at 13 your parents take you to and you don’t get, like Syriana today I suppose. I rented it not long ago and decided it wasn’t very good. Sorry Sally, I don’t like you, I really really don’t like you.

8. Tootise. 1982 6 or 7 times. Great film, don’t miss Andy Warhol’s photo shoot moment. Classic.

9. Out of Africa. 1985. ?, anyone?

10. Sketches of Frank Gehry. 2006. Cute little film that goes along way toward Frank Gehry’s project of self-mythologizing. Don’t miss the Juilan Schnabel sequences, he steals Frank’s show!

Here is a complete list of Pollack’s work.

18 responses to “Thursday Playlist: Sydney Pollack RIP”

  1. rm says:

    lane, thanks for this. i thought pollack’s most interesting work in the last two decades was as an actor (he made husbands and wives but don’t forget about eyes wide shut too) but jeremiah johnson and three days of the condor were huge parts of my movie memories as a kid. johnson holds up well, in my opinion, but other than the opening scene and max von sydow’s performance throughout condor falls flat. i know it’s bobby redford and everything but the way dunaway suddenly accepts him with few questions asked in her apartment and her life strains credibility to the breaking point when i watch it nowadays.

    i know we have some swimmer fans out there so let my movie geek trivia maybe pay off for some of you-pollack was brought in specifically to direct the scene between lancaster and his girlfriend. check the film out again, it’s interesting to look for slight changes in the acting and editing compared to the rest of the film knowing that pollack is a pinch hitter for just that one scene.

  2. lane says:

    i liked him in eyes wide shut, but he was really like a parody of the serious businessman that he played.

    that whole movie was a parody really. that scene when pollack is warning tom cruise “DON’T MESS WITH THESE PEOPLE!” when all it is a a kinky costume club.


  3. Marleyfan says:

    Now I’m going to add some of theset to my Netflix cue. Thanks for the post.

  4. LP says:

    Here’s my favorite Sydney Pollack performance. This cracked me up the first time I saw it in a theater. I had never seen Seth Rogen in a movie when this came out; he’s the schlub on the phone.

    It ranks right up there with Inconsiderate Cell Phone Man for Great Moments in Pre-Feature Cinema.

  5. Scotty says:

    I saw Absence of Malice a couple of years ago and was struck by its early Reagan-years swagger. I was also deeply troubled by what seemed to be its super anti-feminist message: Fields is a girlish ladder-climbing reporter who acts un-ethically to get a story, and is confronted by, and later attacked by the cowboy booted Newman. And of course, he’s in the right for ripping her shirt open in a fit of rage; after all it was Fields’ shoddy reporting that caused a truly innocent young woman to commit suicide.

    This film stands out as surprising to me when you consider Pollack’s political leanings. Maybe he just got a little to caught up in me generation cocaine (not such a bad excuse).

  6. Rogan says:

    Pollack was at Gehry’s office a lot while I was still working there. He would come in with a single cameraman and spend most of his time in the office with Frank, doing interviews. I can’t believe I still haven’t checked out the film, so that at the very least I might find out what colleagues (me???) show up in the background shots of the studio.

    Speaking of Julan Schnabel, last night I watched The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and WOW, what an amazing film! I can’t help but think that history will remember Schnabel as a film maker first, who picked up his aesthetic chops from photography and painting. Schnabel is a genius, and the film is a great inspiration. The subject, who after a stroke loses all motor skills except the ability to blink one eye, plumbs his memories and writes a book by dictating to a nurse/therapist through blinking out letters . Which reminds me of a David Sedaris interview. When a Newsweek reporter recently asked him, “You said you have more than 30 years recorded in your diary, is that why you never run out of material?” Sedaris quipped, “All you have to do is live.” Likewise, during a NY TImes interview with recently passed Bo Didley, Bo talks about how his distinctive style grew out of his inability to imitate John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. When I studied architecture under Frank Gehry, the basis of his studio was simple– Find your voice. It was my senior project, and Frank set it up like this, “You have spent the better part of the last three years studying program and space and architectural details. All of those things drive design to a point, but in my practice they have not been the most important thing. Find your aesthetic voice. That is what this studio will be about.” (can I put quotations around that, if I am paraphrasing?). Find your voice. What else matters?

  7. Jeremy says:

    Wow, rm, that is an interesting bit of trivia. Steph and I have both taught the Cheever story, “The Swimmer” (perhaps some of the rest of you have as well–it’s pretty fun to teach) and watched the film after becoming a fan of the story. Quite a difference. Anyway, the Pollack-directed scene is with the girlfriend he had snubbed or the young girl he woos before she runs off? (My favorite scene is when he races the horse–too bad Pollack didn’t direct that.)

    I, too, found Pollack more appealing as an actor. It’s too bad the last film in which he acted was, apparently, Made of Honor.

  8. Tim says:

    The Yakuza is among my favorite Pollack-directed movies. It’s a little over the top at moments, but is a very interesting treatment of post-WWII American-Japanese relations.

  9. rm says:

    it was the girlfriend he snubbed.

    i almost specified that it was the scene by the pool but that wouldn’t exactly narrow it down with this particular film, would it?

    and i love that you are a fan of the horse racing scene-that was my dad’s favorite too.

  10. Gale says:

    I think “Tootsie” can restore faith in anyone’s heart. Always found it interesting that Pollack cut the first makeover scene out of the movie; we go from “No one’s going to hire you” to seeing Dorothy Michaels bobbing along in pedestrian traffic down the street. The Makeover Montage is such a touchpoint in many films — Moonstruck, Pretty Woman even Made of Honor — and Gelbart wrote the buying women’s clothes/putting on makeup transformation montage. But Pollock didn’t show us how Michael became Dorothy until we were already very familiar with Dorothy. A bold choice. And just because it’s fun to say: “I’m a tomato! A tomato doesn’t sit down!”

  11. Dave says:

    “The A Movie” describes one of the big holes in my movie knowledge. Of this list, I’ve only seen “Absence of Malice,” which I liked the first time (I think a high-school teacher showed it to us, God knows why) and disliked on cable the second time. Pollack is so upper-middlebrow. The Gehry movie, for example, sounds completely unbearable.

  12. lane says:

    there we go. those sound like fightin’ words.

    who’ll defend the upper-middlebrow, like . . . cadillac, aspen and richard deibenkorn.

  13. swells says:

    The scene by the pool in The Swimmer is the one where although his ex is basically telling him to piss off, he grabs the ladder, leers at her, and says forcefully “You know you wanted it!!” SO creepy! I think I love every second of that movie.

  14. Scotty says:

    Just look at that water!

  15. A.O.Scott says:

    turns out all i have to do to review a film is say either “i’ve seen it” or “i plan to see it” or “i haven’t seen it”. makes my job easier.

  16. Dave says:

    Keep digging, Lane.

  17. Dave says:

    That might be an improvement, Tony.

  18. A.O.Scott says:

    ooh! snap.