The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack (1934-2008)

Man With A Movie Camera: On location for 2005's The Interpreter.
Image via NicoleKidmanUnited.

Someone once remarked about how Merchant-Ivory, the renowned directing and producing team, had the sound of an exclusive catalogue company, like J. Peterman; from which you'd order quality but unusual items. You'd be intrigued and not disappointed.

When Sydney Pollack's name popped up as a producer of the recent HBO tele-film Recount (see my assessment in the previous post) I was pleased. This meant the film would at least be interesting, even if it didn't fire on all cylinders. Sydney Pollack was one of those names that seemed more a description of a solid, well-made film -- a sydneypollack. The Associated Press obituary is here.

He was a student of the great Sanford Meisner whose main premise was; don't act, react. Be in the scene and don't impose upon what's happening between the characters. Let it happen. He also worked in live television, back when that was a manic panic scene. So his films as a result breathe; there's no cynical distance, no over-emphasis of technique, though he was a superb technician (If The Interpreter is on when I'm channel-flipping I get caught up watching because of the way the images flow. And there's Nicole Kidman, before she turned into a fright doll). Pollack recognized storytelling, and that characters are action.

I also enjoyed his appearances on television and in cameos in films. Wherever he showed up, Pollack brought a sense of weight and authenticity to the role that looked easy and natural, but seldom ever is. Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut was disconcerting because, playing against type, he turned his affability into an underlying deviousness. I always remember him as Dustin Hoffman's exasperated agent in Tootsie.

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At 8:55 AM, Blogger Paul H said...

I have enjoyed the subject matter as much as the actual films. There are far too few stories about Africa and Sidney Pollack stands out in this regard. Out of Africa had a hard time capturing the spirit of Isak Denison's work, but when he let the camera and the landscape speak for itself, the natural poetry of nature came through. The people seemed to keep getting in the way of the story. The original material came from a slim volume of stories, but balooned into a 3 hour romance which played very little part in the book.

At 9:01 AM, Blogger HEK said...

Thanks Paul, for dropping into my wee corner of the Interwebz.

Yes, "Out of Africa" was based on exquisite short stories and trying to be true to a literary source is a challenge-- but here was Pollack's chance to make an epic.

"The English Patient" owed a great deal to that film, in my view -- and it too annoyed people for the length and "corpulence."


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