Friday, June 22, 2012

Director Retrospective #3 – Sydney Pollack

When I first decided to do director retrospectives for this blog, my mind immediately went towards the polarizing auteur ilk (which explain my first two choices for this series being Oliver Stone and Ken Russell) because it seemed like would be easiest since – no matter how bad the film – there would most likely always be something to talk about. Yes, I’ve been selective so far (covering more of a certain era than all of a filmmakers oeuvre – in the case of Oliver Stone it was for my own sanity as I wasn’t sure I could make it through U-Turn and Any Given Sunday a second time) in the sense that I’m really just cherry-picking the films I want to talk about. I knew that if I wanted to do another retrospective, I wanted to go in the complete opposite direction as my first two choices which led me to my decision to cover the films (in some cases watching them for the first time) of Sydney Pollack. More info after the jump...

I’ll fib a bit again with this retrospective as I’m going to start with the film that really, truly put him on the map, the 1969 Depression Era drama (or should it be capital D drama) They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Why start with that film? Well, the short and honest answer would be because I like the movie more than his other early films. But I think it marks a good starting point because there’s not much to assay from his early films. On only his second film, This Property is Condemned (notable, mostly, for being the first of many collaborations with future star Robert Redford) he’s more of a theater director making sure his actors give good performances and are in the right place as opposed to imposing any kind of aesthetic stamp on the film (this is actually how many people label Pollack’s career as a filmmaker). The film, based on a one-act play by Tennessee Williams (never been a big fan), is a lot of the usual yelling and screaming and men slapping women around that’s found in a lot of Williams’ work, and aside from nice quiet moments between Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, there’s just not much going on there (especially considering the way they waste the talents of James Wong Howe – a man that will always be one of my favorite cinematographers for his work on The Sweet Smell of Success and Hud – by boxing the characters in and framing them the same way one would if they were to just point a camera on stage and film a play). The same, too, can be said of his other early work like The Scalphunters (the best of his first three films) and the so-so war film Castle Keep.

So every Friday on the blog I will take a reprieve from the horror and the slashing to take a look at the films of Sydney Pollack from 1969 – to his final film as director in 2005 (The Interpreter). For sanity’s sake, I will only be looking at the films in which he directed; otherwise, if I also focused on his career as not only actor (which he was fantastic) but producer (he had a hand in some of the great films from 1999 until his death in 2008) then this venture could take forever (considering Ken Russell’s retrospective took me over a year to finish). So, I’ll just cover his films as director; and I have to say I’m really looking forward to a completely different kind of aesthetic than the previous filmmakers I covered for this project. There are more than a few blind spots in my experience with Pollack’s films (Out of Africa being the biggest), and I look forward to catching up (finally) with films like The Yakuza and classics like the aforementioned Out of Africa. First post will go up next Friday, and I hope you’ll join me in the conversation as I consider the career of Sydney Pollack.


  1. Uh, forget those fake comments below, I'm just looking forward to this retrospective. Really!