The first time Sydney Pollack registered with me I was around 14 years old seeing the Dustin Hoffman cross-dressing classic Tootsie. Pollack was the exasperated agent of Hoffman's Michael Dorsey, a difficult actor who dresses up like a woman to land a role on a soap opera. He was the possessor of great lines such as, "I'm begging you to get some therapy."
Soon after that, when the Oscar nominations came out, I would learn to he was also the director of the movie -- wasn't the credit reader I am now -- and from that time forward, seeing his name on a movie usually held the promise of an engaging and literate couple of hours.
His death Monday seems somewhat symbolic of the passing of an era when big stars and studios made major motion pictures that were intelligent, wise and witty.
Pollack won an Oscar for directing Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in 1985. It wasn't my favorite of his movies -- I liked his other two best director nominees, Tootsie and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) better -- but it was a time when great dramas had a place in the multiplex along with the big budget thrillers. That year, Africa, The Color Purple and Witness were in the year-end Top 10 along with Back to the Future. Last year, Michael Clayton, which Pollack co-produced and played a supporting role in, logged in at No. 55, according to Box Office Mojo. Clayton, starring George Clooney and directed by Tony Gilroy, seemed to be very much within Pollack's style of filmmaking. But there was no room for it at a box office topped by Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Yes, Pollack had his fumbles such as The Electric Horseman (1979). But looking at his filmography, there is much to appreciate, especially Three Days of the Condor (1975), featuring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway in one of the most taut political thrillers ever, and Absence of Malice (1981), a wrenching drama about how journalism can be manipulated starring Paul Newman and Sally Field.
It's sad to see Pollack go. He was a marvelous talent, a champion of storytelling and craftsmanship, and Hollywood could use more people like him.