The Essential Sydney Pollack
Sydney Pollack paid tribute to himself this week. He didn’t mean to. He was far too wary, too skittish, too modest to do anything that brazen, but the last film he worked on, “Recount,” premiered on HBO o n Sunday and Pollack, 73, died on Monday of cancer ay home in the Palisades.
If you haven’t seen “Recount,” you must see it, If you have seen it, see it again. It’s an account of the vote count mess in Florida in 2000 that led to the Supremes giving George Bush the Presidency, and America an eight-year nightmare. In the film, both the Jim Baker and Warren Christopher characters say more than once that the transition was peaceful, there were no tanks in the streets, the system, worked, God bless America. Of course, “Recount” shows us in painful detail that the systen didn’t work. That sort of moral ambiguity is a Pollack trade nark. The best of his films leave us with more questions than answers, and the questions are pretty fundamental.
Pollack had just begun work on “Recount” nine months ago when he was diagnosed with cancer. He stayed on as producer, but Jay Roach took over as director.
The last film Pollack directed was his first and only documentary. “Sketches by Frank Gehry,” an old friend.
Pollack set out to be an actor, studied acting and worked with the legendary Sanford Meizner, and appeared on Broadway. But he soon moved behind the camera, and after directing on television, he moved to film in the late 1960s. For the next three decades, he directed and prodyced some of the era’s biggest films. The critics weren’t always kind. He wasn’t as innovative or original as Coppola or Scorsese, but his films were well-made, and smart, and very different, one from the next.
The films I go back to again and again are “The Swimmer,” “They Shoot Horses, Don’t they?” “Three Days of the Condor,” “The Electric Horseman,” “Absence of Malice.” ”Out of Africa,” “Havana,” and “Tootsie.”
Pollack produced some of his own films and a large number of outstanding films by other directors. He also continued to act, and did a stint as host of Turner Classic Movies’ series, “The Essentials.”
He was, then, a consummate movie man, and, as director, actor and producer, he made an indelible mark on Hollywood and the movies. because, it turns out, he’s one of the essentials himself.