American Artists

Sidney Pollack: 1934 – 2008

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On could argue, I suppose, that Pollack directed better movies than this one,
although it was the film that won him the Oscar. And possibly he created better scenes. But there are none that have stayed with me more vividly than this particular scene near the end of Out of Africa. (Of course he had Meryl Streep to work with.)


  • This is such a loss! Most recently, loved that doc he made of collab with Gehry, saw it at the Skirball screening he attended, and he remembered having met me in Berlin (film fest) over 20 years earlier, when I was just a kid out of college. He’s someone who never stopped evolving, becoming more “intellectual” and experimental as he got older… And he war warm and witty, never “got old.” They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

  • Tootsie might have been more the Zeitgeist, but I can watch Out of Africa over and over, DESPITE the corny plot: for that fabulous African aerial scenery, the Africa of our dreams. It’s what I had in mind when I went to the Serengeti and to see the Masai….

  • I really didn’t like Tootsie. I found the main character selfish to the point of repellent. I did like The Yakuza (script by Paul Schrader) and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They.

    He had a bit of a journeyman quality about him. While he did some great films, he also did projects like Bobby Deerfield, which are best forgotten. Rest in peace.

  • I happened to be in the middle of an early Pollack western – very “’60s” and comedic, which isn’t my favorite take on the genre – “The Scalphunters” (great cast – Burt Lancaster, Lancaster’s teeth, Ossie Davis, Shelley Winters, Telly Savalas) when I heard he’d died. Finished the movie paying more attention to the little touches – most notably a sly wit – that made it a Pollack film.

    Pollack was a first rate human being. Clearly a “good man” whose intellect, warmth, humor, and decency were written in his professional choices. A journeyman who – like “the other Sidney” Lumet – cut his directing teeth in television and rose to make some great films. I’m with Randy on Yakuza and Shoot Horses as favorites. In recent years his best work was as a producer – and actor. He was a damned good actor – at least playing to type. His scenes with Hoffman in Tootsie are terrific. Aside from his varied accomplishments, he was one of those few famous folk who – like Bruce Springsteen and George Clooney – passed my “next door neighbor” test.

  • “he was one of those few famous folk who – like Bruce Springsteen and George Clooney – passed my “next door neighbor” test.”

    Yeah, me too. I’ve never seen The Yazuka. But They Shoot Horses is, all in all, the film of his I think is the best—at least of those I’ve seen.

    But as for the movie I like the best—-for all its imperfections (and the woeful miscasting of Redford), I’m with WBC, I love Out of Africa. But much of that is because I love the book itself (for all it’s flaws), and the Judith Thurman biography. Most of all, Meryl Streep in the role…. (and Klaus Maria Brandauer). Her voice reading the opening lines of the book still shows up unbidden in my consciousness at odd moments. “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”

    (Perhaps therapy is needed. Or perhaps that’s just what good literature and good acting put together can accomplish.)

  • Yeah, good catch on catching Brandauer, Celeste. You’d have thought that after Mephisto, he’d have become a break-out actor, as director Istvan Szabo thought, but maybe he’s “too European” and intense. But Sidney had that perfect sense of casting. And as for his “everyman” persona, cool how he went back to a one-man (except for the guy filming HIM) hand-held, cinema verite director to docoument his conversations with Gehry — said if he hadn’t been a director, he’s have been an architect, and that framing is there in his films.

    Also liked how he wasn’t afraid to deconstruct the myths of some of our top stars and the industry, like when he told an anecdote at a small seminar about how Redford fancies himself such a man of the people with Sundance and all — yet on-set, he demands the biggest trailer, and sees no irony.

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