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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Film: Actor/Director Sydney Pollack Dies

By Noah Mallin

Sydney Pollack, best known for the big budget star-studded films he made as a director, has died at age 73. He was also a welcome presence as an actor throughout the world of film and television, appearing memorably in his own Tootsie, Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, Michael Clayton and on the programs Will & Grace and The Sopranos among many others.

Pollack essentially straddled two worlds as a director. Like Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer he had cut his teeth directing for television before moving to film in the 60s but Pollack's specialty was the "prestige picture" -- usually big stars set against an inherently dramatic backdrop. The prestige pic was more often associated with an older generation of Hollywood director like Stanley Kramer. This didn't always lead to great cinema as Pollack was the first to admit. Films like Random Hearts, The Interpreter and Havana demonstrated the bloat that crept in too easily on this type of film.

On the other hand the harrowing dance-a-thon They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, the spectacular Robert Redford thriller Three Days of The Condor, the anomalous Dustin Hoffman comedy Tootsie, and the sudsy Oscar-bait romance of Out of Africa were memorable high points. His other film's include his first -- The Slender Thread in 1965 which starred Sydney Poitier as a suicide hotline operator, a well-known uncredited stint on the Burt Lancaster film The Swimmer (1968), both mountain man drama Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and Barbra Streisand romance weepie The Way We Were (1973) with frequent star Redford, The Yakuza (1974) with Robert Mitchum, a 1995 remake of the classic Sabrina and his final film, a documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry in 2006.

Though it's as a director that he's been best-known and most rewarded for Pollack initially started his career as an actor, and its as an actor that he has most consistently excelled for me. He can be slimily sinister or amoral (as in Micheal Clayton or Changing Lanes) uptight (Tootsie), a keeper of wisdom who may not be entirely trustworthy (Sopranos, Eyes Wide Shut) a flawed but lovable best friend or father figure (Will & Grace, Husbands and Wives). He was one of those actors who immediately made whatever scene they are in that much better. He was utterly believable in every role he played.

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