Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sydney Pollack R.I.P. May 26th, 2005.

For those of you not aware, Sydney Pollack died on Monday at the age of 73. He had been suffering from stomach cancer for the last nine months. The noted film director had made more than 21 films over his long career, including The Way We Were (1973), Tootsie (1982), Out of Africa (1985), and The Firm (1993). He was also an important producer, listing among his credits The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Cold Mountain (2003), and the recently released Michael Clayton (2007). Unlike many filmmakers, Pollack wasn't afraid to appear on screen. He can be seen in such diverse works as Husbands and Wives (1992), The Player (1992), Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Will & Grace (2000), The Sopranos (2007), and Entourage (2007).

Pollack was born in Lafayette, IN to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. His father David was a professional boxer and pharmacist. His mother died when he was a teenager. After graduating high school, he moved to New York City and got involved in theater. He served a short stint in the Army, and then returned to the Big Apple to teach stage acting. Eventually he moved into film work, and found success behind the scenes. His diverse body of work earned him several Oscar nominations, and an Academy Award for Out of Africa. Pollack married Claire Griswold, and stayed with her throughout his life. They had three children, one of which (Steven) died in a 1993 airplane crash.

Known as a consummate professional, Pollack is the only filmmaker with two of his movies ranked near the top of the American Film Institute's 100 Most Loved American Movies (The Way We Were and Out Of Africa). He was selected to be the President of the Cannes Film Festival jury in 1986, and was lifelong friends with Robert Redford. He was well known for his excellent relationships with the actors he worked with. The mutual respect he shared with his players paid off- he directed 12 different actors in movies for which they received Oscar nominations (Jane Fonda, Gig Young, Susannah York, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, Melinda Dillon, Jessica Lange, Dustin Hoffman, Teri Garr , Meryl Streep, Klaus Maria Brandauer and Holly Hunter). Gig Young and Jessica Lange won the awards.

Unlike many of the directors that were active during the 1970's, Pollack is not known as an 'auteur'. There really isn't any distinctive stylistic stamp to connect his diverse projects. Still he has made many memorable films. His career included stirring epics, light comedies, and scorching dramas. He was always capable of injecting stirring emotion into challenging material. They Shoot Horses, Don't They (1969) remains among the bleakest flicks that I have ever seen. Centered around a 1930's dance marathon, it depicts the pessimism and world-weariness of its main characters (played effectively by Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin). On the other hand, Tootsie was a trifling crowd-pleaser.

One of his most interesting projects was his last release- Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005). Pollack had never before made a documentary, but when invited by his architect-friend to tell his story, he decided the opportunity was too good to pass up. Somehow he was able to draw the connection between Gehry's artistic temperament and his vibrantly extravagant building designs. Despite Pollack's self-admitted lack of architectural understanding, he managed to communicate the magic and movement of Gehry's creations with his camera. As with his other films, Pollack allowed the material to speak for itself. This obviously meant a lot to the director, as he actually once sued a Danish television station for airing Flight of the Condor (1975) in pan-and-scan format.

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