Rest in peace, Sydney Pollack. I’ll miss knowing he’s around. He was one of the old guard. One of those old guys – like Redford, Beatty, Nicholson – who re-made the Hollywood studio system into their own image. Pollack’s films are some of the most successful of all time.
A graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse, and Sanford Meisner’s teaching, Pollack always brought that sense of moment-to-moment unpredictable reality to his films (and to his acting, let’s not forget) that is such a trademark of “the Meisner technique“. You can see it at work. Acting is sometimes (sometimes!) just as simple as listening and talking. That was what Meisner was all about – training actors how to do that, and how to do it in the moment.
While some of his films did nothing for me (Sabrina (correction), Out of Africa) – there are others that I count as dearest to my heart. Movies I adore, and can watch repeatedly. I love Absence of Malice. I love They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. I love Tootsie. And yes, I love The Way We Were – even in its too-obvious set-up of opposing viewpoints mixed with romance. I just like the details of the performances, frankly, and that, in my view, is what Sydney Pollack was best at capturing. The way Bill Murray’s character is set up and framed in Tootsie – I mean, that’s what I’m talking about. Bill Murray had to perform it, and he did so brilliantly – but it’s Pollack’s sensibility that really highlighted him, and Murray is so important to the success of that film (even though he’s only in a couple of scenes). He becomes crucial. Pollack always understood details like that. Kim has posted the clip from Tootsie with the great scene between Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Pollack as his exasperated pissed-off at-the-end-of-his-ropes agent. There’s not a moment there that isn’t real and also funny. So so good. “Nobody wants to pay money to watch a play about people living next to chemical waste! If they want to see that, they can go to New Jersey!”
Speaking of his acting: his performance in Husbands and Wives is a comedic tour de force. I LOVE it. There are certain performances which are so meaty … so … rich … that I feel like I could almost love being at a Renaissance Fair so that I could eat the performance with my bare hands, licking my chops. It’s THAT good. That’s what his performance does for me in Husbands and Wives. It is SO slimy, so unself-aware – like: suddenly that guy is talking about yoga and sprouts and stupid TV movies and how fun they are? Does he realize how ridiculous he seems? Well, no, he doesn’t. Because he is the kind of guy who can justify ANY behavior in himself, because he is always right. And that girl he dates, that ridiculous girl (I would say that her performance is a slam-dunk “10 minute Oscar” … “I just adore cous cous!” “Knowing your astrological sign is CRUCIAL . I cannot stress this enough!!”) Watching Sydney Pollack drag his new-age hippie girlfriend out of the party of snotty intellectuals is one of the funniest and most embarrassing scenes I have ever seen – and she fights him as though it’s the final scene in Deer Hunter. Like – it is life or death. She is in the jungle in ‘Nam, as far as she’s concerned, not an upscale driveway in Westchester. Pollack is so so funny here, so exasperated and mortified … talking to himself at the wheel of his car, “What am I doing? I gotta be crazy – what am I DOING?” His only moment of real self-awareness.
I just love his performance in Husbands and Wives – it’s an all-time favorite of mine from Woody Allen’s films, in general.
Seriously. It’s so funny and so detailed and so alive that I want to eat the damn thing with my hands.
I will miss knowing he’s around. I love that old guard.
Knowing that he’s gone makes me miss Mitchell, who is sailing along the African coast on a cruise ship as we speak. I want to talk with him about Sydney Pollack. We always just loved him so much.
Rest in peace, Sydney Pollack. And thank you thank you thank you.