Sidney and Sydney
- Five time (::copious amounts of teeth sucking::) also-ran for a Best Director Oscar. In what universe does the director of mother fucking Network NOT win the best director Oscar? Seriously? And, you know I love me some Rocky (the winner), but like, it wasn’t the direction driving that bus. It was the fucking script. The fucking I’m-so-broke-I-got-nothing-to-lose script drove that bus all the way to Fuck Yeah City. John G. Avildsen. Playa, we go way back and I’ll always love you for getting me through the chicken pox with your awesome film, but like, I’m sorry that’s Sid’s Oscar on your shelf.
I’m gonna need to take a Pirin tablet before I can continue with this entry.
Oh yeah, he’s also Lena Horne’s former son-in-law, hopefully that explains her fantabulous appearance in The Wiz. Nepotism FTW! And damn, she raged the hell out of her six or so minutes of screen time.
Like most black folks – at least in my fantagical version of the black folk narrative (said in a Booming Earl Jones voice), when really it’s probably just my sister and me – I came to know of Lumet through The Wiz and the giddy seven year old in me still gleefully mispronounces his name “LUM ET” instead of “LOO-MET” the correct pronunciation.
We used to chant “LUM ET LUM ET” while watching the opening credits of The Wiz and tossing Cabby (my sister’s CPK) in the air.
We also thought he was black.
He had to be, because in our childish way we assumed black folks had to be at the helm of shit this money. It would be years before we were introduced to Teena Marie, Hall & Oates, Roger Ebert, Young Americans era Bowie, racial and sexual dynamics in Hollywood or the concept of white folks and black folks collaborating to harness the power of pure awesome in service of pop culture.
So I wasn’t exactly ready for Network when my mother sat me down to watch it. The sheer paucity of Anthony Johnson booty shakers, jive ass trash talking crows and Diana Ross wearing my mom’s 3rd Sunday church dress (seriously, she had that damn dress!) confused me. This just wasn’t our Sid! Where was the “posterior prison” we had come to know and finally understand? Where was the metal Pryor head complete with a faithfully detailed ‘fro?
I got over it and moved on to Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. The former became something of a life handbook for me as I came to believe faux Frank and I were simpatico and found him useful as a model of how to navigate the minefield of saboteurs, the soul crushing reversals of fortunes and conspiracies of Wiesbaden Middle School.
Sydney Pollack (July 1, 1934 — May 26, 2008)
Academy Award-winning director, producer and quite the actor! Oddly enough his sole directing Oscar is for a film I will probably NEVER WATCH. (Out of Africa)
4. I do not like costume dramas or any kind of movie where fucking happens but sanitation/bathing is sketchy. This means that Out of Africa is the only Pollack film I will not watch. I’ll be strapped to a chair watching Random Hearts on loop before I’ll ever watch Out of Africa.
–from a previous post
- This is a terrible admission since I adore his work and while not generally given to gratuitously adverb-ing, I sobbed hysterically in a Barnes & Noble parking lot on my way to pick up a copy of the deliciously shittastic remake of Sabrina when I heard the news of his passing. I was chair dancing for a second when Terry Gross said she’d be replaying an interview with Pollack on what would turn out to be a rather sad May afternoon – for me anyway. Quickly remembered the subject of previous “best of” interview – Studs Terkel – and as Terry said the words …he died today – my eyes filled, forehead seared itself to the steering wheel and my shoulders began their inevitable loop of liftoff/touchdown.
Sydney led to me to his Gingerbread house with a gumdrop called The Way We Were. Of course, I knew the song before I knew the movie. I was staunchly Team Katie in my early 20s, with my self righteous politics, “tall” personality and inability to get pretty boys to like me for extended periods of time. After a recent viewing I am totally on Team Hubbell having grown increasingly intolerant of folks who have a clear understanding of who you are and sign that contract (under NO duress) at the start of a relationship and then have the cheek to later be all crockery tossing when you won’t – you know – BE different. Like it’s your fucking problem they didn’t fully appreciate how much you NOT changing was going to burn their home fries.
From TWWW it was a forever thing with me and Sydney. I like me some Pollack so much that I suffered through the needles-in-eyes Patrick Dempsey vehicle Made of Honor solely for the precious moments of Sydney glazing the ham like church ladies on Easter Sunday.
In fact, as much as I love watching his directing efforts, I relish his acting efforts. Hey, while it might be true, nobody does vegetables like Michael Dorsey, it’s also true that nobody does delicious scene stealing like Pollack.
Selected Filmography – Lumet
12 Angry Men, The Pawnbroker, Fail-Safe, The Group, The Appointment, THE ANDERSON TAPES. THE VERDICT, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, THE WIZ, Prince of the City, THE VERDICT, Deathtrap (which I haven’t seen!!!), DANIEL, Power, THE MORNING AFTER, RUNNING ON EMPTY, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
Selected Filmography – Pollack
THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?, Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, The Yakuza, THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN, ABSENCE OF MALICE, Toostie*, The Firm, The Player*, Eyes Wide Shut*, The Sopranos*, Michael Clayton*+. Made of Honor*
How they work with actors
- The Verdict
- Absence of Malice
- Both Lumet and Pollack have directed Paul Newman, yielding intergalactic performances in the films The Verdict and Absence of Malice respectively. If you have not seen these films, as your blogger, I strongly urge you to check into the Tropicana and also view these films.
I think of them as directors who really align themselves with their actors and emphasize character development and chemistry, which makes even their clunkier movies worth watching. Even if the movies themselves have a stink reminiscent of a construction site Johnny-on-the-spot – I’m looking at you, Havana (Pollack) and Power (Lumet) – the acting generally won’t.
Lumet really encourages actors to frame themselves in ways that are unfamiliar to the audience. I’m not even talking about casting them in “against type” roles here. Look, Newman can light into nuanced grit like it owes him fucking money. And for corn’s sake, boozy, down-on-their-luck-lawyers-with-hearts-of-gold-plating are certainly no novelty. But under Lumet’s careful direction Newman’s work in The Verdict is messy, disturbing and utterly hypnotic. Newman would hit a similar note – albeit in a more polished way – in Nobody’s Fool, another film you should check out.
- Like Lumet, Pollack can draw refreshing and interesting performances from his actors and Absence of Malice is a spectacular example of this. Newman ran quite the triple crown with the blowout bonanza of lift-you-out-of-the-recliner performances in the 80s in the above mentioned films and the rare sequel, which matches the original film in many respects and exceeds in others – The Color of Money. But then the combination of a Clapton fist pumper and Newman raging a pimptastic ‘stache and perv aviators is guaranteed new hotness.
Pollack is also great at getting the more – how do you say, um – wooden of our acting populace to be a bit more complex. I count three different facial expressions on Harrison Ford in Sabrina and two of them are in the same FUCKING SCENE!!! While the movie is unforgivable for many legitimate reasons – my personal favorite being much of the class issues were clumsily addressed. Okay, I’m being merciful here. It’s bad. There are a couple of montage scenes that are on par with a SkyMall ad in terms of wealth worship and usefulness. That said, I do love the film. Any film that has Dana Ivey snarking at Harrison Ford and Angie Dickinson shagtastically flirting with him AND presents him as funny works for me!
I hesitate tossing the Kube in an entry about directors, whose egos probably have their own zip codes, despite not rising the level of perceived ass clownage of say a Cameron or a De Palma (I love you DeP!), I did want to mention Eyes Wide Shut, which for the most part is a UNWATCHABLE film, unless you’re a Kube enthusiast, which I am. Far, far too much Cruise and far, far too little of anyone else. Though he’s not completely unwatchable in this.
An aside: My director ass clown scale goes from Howard to Cameron, with Bigalow being the equiv of a five. The scale does not suggest those at the Howard end lack ego, but rather it denotes an ego equiv to a successful Neurosurgeon, which is barely ego by filmmaker standards.
It asks a lot of an audience to make them bear witness to anyone’s psychosexual midlife crisis (Unless it’s Shirley Valentine’s), but it’s completely UNFORGIVABLE to make us sit through Cruise’s.
Anyway, Sydney was so boss in this movie. Moreover, the rapport Cruise and Pollack cultivated in The Firm is evident throughout their scenes in Eyes Wide Shut. So while Syd’s not the filmmaker in this case, he’s still drawing out interesting performances from actors. This is also true of his acting work in Michael Clayton. It left me yearning to see more of Clooney and Pollack in another project.
What films I think you should watch by them
These are a few of my favorites and/or relatively lesser known films of each director.
- Serpico. Lumet is the rare director to make all that Pacino shouting less grating.
- The Morning After. An overlooked film, partially due in no small part to the wonky casting of Jane Fonda as a drunken actress – at odds with her fitness persona at the time. Her performance was Oscar nominated and she’s doing exceptional work here. Of course, it goes without saying that Raul Julia is fantastic,. as is Jeff Bridges.
- Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Strange as it seems, Lumet’s most recent film feels very much like classic Lumet. All the best of his stylistic choices are there and Ethan Hawke’s performance reminded me of how talented he can be when properly nurtured.
- 3 Days of the Condor. Come for Redford at the apotheosis of his 70s hotness and stay for an engrossing political thriller that is chillingly relevant thirty years later. Whoa, I went a long time before mentioning Redford in relation to Pollack. This is probably some kind of record.
- They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. I adore this film. I often recommend it to people even when not preaching the gospel of Sydney.
- Absence of Malice. Better yet, get this and The Verdict and have yourself a merry little Newman kind of evening.
Normally, I do these kinds of posts cage fight style, but didn’t feel it struck the right note. These are two filmmakers whose work is just too damn good. Thank goodness they have the same name, thus providing me a framing device to get my fangirl on.
* = actor
+ = producer