Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack

Pollack was a professional's professional as a director, but what I remember about him is how he kept playing the same role over and again since about Tootsie: a cynical, corrupt, wise man who knows what the world is about and is out to get his share. He did it superbly, which is why I always went to see a film he was in, and even in a film I didn't care for, like Eyes Wide Shut, his performance made me not regret the price of the ticket. I liked his work as a director of course; Tootsie is one of the best comedies I've ever seen, and his line in that film, "I begged you to get help," was delivered so perfectly, with such flawless timing, and with just the right expression of horror and dismay on his face, that it's one of my favorites in all of film history (it ranks right up there with Darth Vader's wordless heavy breathing while surveying the carnage in the opening scene of Star Wars). Out Of Africa is a great, visually stunning film, and he got out of Redford what I think is his best performance before he got old and became a pretty good actor. Some films people wouldn't think of as directed by Pollack: The Firm (the best of the Grisham adaptations in my view); Electric Horseman; Absence of Malice; Random Hearts (a rare misfire); The Way We Were (Barbra Streisand's topless scene in that film was the first one I remember seeing; I thought she was one hot chick back then, which she was, of course; the soundtrack was also excellent); Three Days of the Condor (yet another Redford film, and the film that, twenty years after The Third Man, arguably gave birth to the spy thriller genre with its paranoia and action). Pollack was a prolific director, and a damned good one, at home in just about every genre you can name.

Anyway, when I was thinking abut Pollack's death, and the films he now won't make, I read this, which made me think of Pollack's cynical wise man again. Whatever-her-name is (can't be assed to look it up; I read her blog -- often with a Pollack-like look of horror and dismay on my face -- but never learned her name) is something of a train wreck of a blogger, talking about subjects that are way over her head (she once got in a debate over economics with another blogger and her argument was "I never heard that in an economics class"; she then ended up plagiarizing another blogger's work to "win" the argument, only fessing up when she was caught), but in the blogosphere that sort of thing doesn't matter. What does matter is that you take the right positions and flatter the right people. She described Spencer Ackerman, who is, shall we say, a little on the callow side, as "brilliant," and Ackerman's roommate, the big-name blogger Yglesias, gives her a guest blogging spot on his widely-read blog. Yglesias himself got his start from his relationship with Josh Marshall. All these people parrot and link to each other -- they've become the blogosphere's version of the "cool kids." It took the mainstream media several years after deregulation to become completely corrupt; from what I can tell the blogosphere will beat them to it by a few years without even trying. There are a few honest bloggers left out there, but even most of them tread very carefully around certain subjects to avoid offending the masses. Pollack -- and I always figured he played those roles because on one level or another he identified with the character -- was right.

1934 - 2008