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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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Sydney Pollack’s career as a director blossomed in the 1960s and ’70s, but in many ways he was a throwback to an earlier era in American movies.
The story of the New Hollywood, dominated by a wild bunch of ambitious, iconoclastic would-be auteurs, is by now overgrown with nostalgia and legend-mongering, but Mr. Pollack’s place in that legend suggests continuity rather than upheaval. The vitality of motion pictures has always been sustained by craftsmen with a modicum of business sense and the ability to tell a good story. Mr. Pollack, who died on Monday at 73, was never (and never claimed to be) a great innovator or a notable visual stylist. If he could be compared to a major figure from the Old Hollywood, it would not be to one of the great individualists like Howard Hawks or John Ford, who stamped their creative personalities onto every project, whatever the genre or the level of achievement. Mr. Pollack was more like William Wyler: highly competent, drawn to projects with a certain quality and prestige and able above all to harness the charisma of movie stars to great emotional and dramatic effect.
Just about any film by Robert Altman or Martin Scorsese, for instance, will be immediately and primarily identifiable as such, no matter who’s in it. But if you think of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” you’ll remember Jane Fonda, so desperate and defiant and sad as she pushes herself through a Depression-era dance marathon. “Tootsie” is Dustin Hoffman’s movie. “This Property Is Condemned” will conjure up Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, oddly cast but nonetheless generating Southern Gothic heat in an overripe Tennessee Williams scenario. And it is Mr. Redford who defines Mr. Pollack’s oeuvre nearly as much as the director himself. Over nearly 25 years, from “This Property Is Condemned” to “Havana,” they worked together on westerns (“Jeremiah Johnson,”); love stories both sweeping (“The Way We Were”) and intimate (“The Electric Horseman”); paranoid thrillers (“Three Days of the Condor”); and high-toned literary adaptations (“Out of Africa.”)
My favorite scene in all the movies is Mr. Pollack and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie arguing over the latter's skill and demeanor in playing a tomato. Read it all.
Previous entry (below): Christian Science Monitor: the 2008 Presidential Race has got Religion—is that Good?
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