Monday, May 26, 2008

Sydney Pollack, 1935-2008


Sydney Pollack, movie director, dead at the age of 73. I was surprised to read in Pollack's New York Times obit that he had directed ony one comedy, but it sure was a good one: Tootsie. Of course, when you get Bill Murray to be in your movie, you have to work pretty hard to make it not funny, and Pollack surrounded Murray with a dream cast: Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Dustin Hoffman, and the very young Geena Davis in her skivvies.

Plus Pollack himself was in that, playing Dustin Hoffman's exasperated agent, which happened at Hoffman's insistence. Pollack also acted in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, and was one of the reasons for that film's failure; where the character was supposed to be shadowy and threatening, Pollack came across like the guy you got seated next to at a wedding where you didn't know either the bride or the groom all that well. Pollack had actually started out as an actor, studying with Sanford Meisner at thre Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City in the late 1950s.

Among Pollack's other directing credits are The Firm, unseen by me, Out of Africa, unseen by me, and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, which I'd really like to see.

11 comments:

Joe said...

Eyes Wide Shut was a failure?

T. Nawrocki said...

It didn't work for me. Don't tell Lee Siegel I said that, though.

Joe said...

I think the whole point of that movie is it not working -- that is, it's all about denial of pleasure. Granted, denying your audience pleasure is a little extreme. But effective!

Rob said...

"The Firm" is a lost 90s classic--best Wilford Brimley performance ever.

"Tootsie" is so strange. It should be just another pleasant, well-crafted, adult Hollywood 80s comedy...but there aren't any others, so it's the pinnacle of a genre that doesn't exist. When did Bill Murray ever do dry-straight-man again? When was Jessica Lange funny again? When did Dabney Coleman get material?

Where did this movie come from? Pollack only directed one comedy! Elaine May was brilliant but where are her other movies? What are Gelbart's other screenplays? "Oh God" and "Blame It On Rio." It's like this movie fell to earth.

T. Nawrocki said...

"Lost in America" is another great adult Hollywood '80s comedy, as is "Modern Romance," but hardly anyone has seen that one.

Joe, that's an interesting take on "Eyes Wide Shut." Maybe the whole point of "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" is that it's showing you that in real life, an adventure thriller would not have any thrills or sense of adventure, and thus is a success by those standards.

Joe said...

The flaw in your logic, Socrates, is that “National Treasure” is clearly supposed to be an action movie. “Eyes Wide Shut” is not a sex movie. It’s a movie about not having sex. The only reason anyone thinks it’s about sex is what was written in advance of the movie. But you’d have to ignore everything about the movie itself – including its title – to think it’s about anything other than denial. It’s like one those Goddard movies where the frustration of the audience is part of the point, except those Goddard movies were more ideological and experimental, and this has the gloss and perfect gliding action of an entertaining movie, making the experience of watching it very much like the action of the film itself, during which Tom Cruise thinks about getting laid, tries to get laid, goes to visit a prostitute, shows up at an orgy AND NEVER GETS LAID. It’s a smart movie, and all anyone thinks is: Well, gee, the orgy scene in that Cinemax thing that was on last Saturday at 3:45 was hotter, so this sucks.

There’s a fantastic Pauline Kael piece from 1982 that explains how the Hollywood system of rewrites and script doctoring shaped and produced Tootsie. It lays out how the whole machine functions, and – as I remember – how the movie almost never made it out of the machine. It certainly explains why there is nothing else like it from Pollack or May. (It must be her uncredited work on Tootsie that won her the power to get Ishtar made.)

T. Nawrocki said...

The problem with "Eyes Wide Shut" isn't that it's not sexy; the problem with "Eyes Wide Shut" is that it's not entertaining. Lots of movies are good without being especially sexy. "Tootsie," for one.

I never found any of "Eyes Wide Shut" engrossing or believable, especially the fake New York sets and Cruise (as a doctor!), as well as, as I said, Pollack, who should have been the fulcrum around which the entire movie pivoted but was kind of a cipher.

But I'm glad you liked it.

Pike said...

So "believable" is one of the things you pay for when you line up to see a Kubrick film? I don't find that believable.

Joe said...

Don't get Tom started on "2001"! Those monkeys, who should be the fulcrum around which the entire movie pivots, are entirely unbelievable.

I would have to watch Eyes Wide Shut to mount a defense of Pollack's performance, but as I remember he was pretty great. If he's not kind of cipher there's no mystery to the whole sex cult subplot, or plot, or whatever it was. And if he's evil, there's no way Dr. Cruise is going to be sucked in to helping him. The way he plays the whole thing as utterly ordinary but desperate -- like a banker trying salvage a deal instead a guy with a dead or dying naked lady in his library -- was perfect. At least for me. Also, some very nice lighting in that first party scene. And lighting is one of the things you pay for when you line up to see a Kubrick film. (Not joking.)

T. Nawrocki said...

The monkeys are believable! Part of what makes that sequence work is that the monkeys are utterly natural, then the monolith gets dropped in. I believe in the monkeys!

Plus, as Charles Portis wrote in "The Dog of the South," people want to see a lot of monkeys.

Pike said...

You believe IN the monkeys. I find that so odd.