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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

entry arrow9:23 AM | Sydney Pollack, 73

Sometimes, working in Hollywood (and playing by its rules) is not exactly the Faustian bargain we'd like to believe it is. Consider the body of work of the great Sydney Pollack. He was one of those studio directors who had an independent spirit, and knew exactly how to make good cinema even out of the most frothy of projects. Consider the brutal dance marathon of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, with Jane Fonda as an angry dancer finding solace in desperate times. Or the espionage thriller Three Days of the Condor, with Robert Redford finding himself in Hitchcockian territory. Or the epic sweep of Out of Africa, with Meryl Streep and Redford finding love at odds in Isak Dinesen's memories of the Dark Continent. (He won the Oscar for Best Director for that film.) Or the comedic genius of Tootsie, with Dustin Hoffman as an actor finding out how to be a real man by becoming a woman. Or the thrilling tautness of The Firm, with Tom Cruise as a greenhorn lawyer finding corruption and murder entangled with the law. There was also the critical debacle of The Way We Were, with Barbra Streisand and Redford as lovers from opposite temperaments, which still made a killing at the box office despite hostile reviews -- and remains, inexplicably, as one of the best-remembered romantic movies of all time. (Must be the theme song?) Which just goes to say that most of the things Pollack touched turned to gold. Usually that happened with projects he produced, including Bright Lights, Big City, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Presumed Innocent, Dead Again, Leaving Normal, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Flesh and Bone, Sense and Sensibility, Sliding Doors, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Iris, Heaven, The Quiet American, Cold Mountain, Breaking and Entering, Michael Clayton, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Leatherheads, and Recount, which is now garnering much praise as an HBO original movie. Some upcoming projects include Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret and Stephen Daldry's The Reader. His choices of material -- whether to produce or direct -- reveal an intelligent and very literary streak, which makes almost atypical of Hollywood types. I enjoyed him as an actor as well, and his surprising turns as an agent in Tootsie, as an amoral lawyer in Michael Clayton, as a husband questioning marriage in Husbands and Wives, and as a surprised doctor in Death Becomes Her were inspired, and put him in the ranks of Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen as directors who have their own gravity as actors. I loved even what critics consider his misfires. Like Havana, and most especially Sabrina, his glorious (if critically-assailed) 1995 remake of the Billy Wilder classic. It updates the upstairs-downstairs Cinderella story with a sleekness and oomph that most critics (perhaps blindsided by the remake angle) just did not see when it came out. Too bad. But all in all, at 73, Pollack knew he had made a mostly positive impact on Hollywood.

Read The New York Times obituary here. Roger Ebert writes about him here. A.O. Scott gives a very thoughtful appraisal in The New York Times. And Entertainment Weekly has a slide show of his body of work.

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