Monday, June 02, 2008

4 by Pollack

I was stunned this weekend to hear that fellow Hoosier Sydney Pollack died while I was off getting smashed against rocks in Boulder. Huh, I guess that’s where the name “Boulder” comes from. I just got that. Well, that’s certainly a literal approach to naming your city. If LA had done that, we’d be called “Smog,” or “Run for Your Life!” or “Geographic Features Certain to Exacerbate Cultural Divisions.”

It was a bad week for the movies, as part of the fabled Universal Studios backlot went up in flames about a mile from my house. Gone is the corny King Kong ride with the scary flooded subway sequence and the canned smell of bananas, yuk, yuk. Gone is their video library. Gone also is the set that was the Back to the Future courthouse square. The Bates Motel was spared, however, in a rare example of art triumphing over commerce, or at least lucking out over commerce.

Sunday at my house was spent trying to escape the smell of burning plastic video cases, which permeated most of the eastern Valley.

Ah, but Sydney Pollack. What a fine and underrated director. Why not celebrate his life by getting your hands on at least one of his best films and giving it a spin? Here’s four I can recommend:

Jeremiah Johnson, 1972

By the early 70s, the west had stopped being the place where movie heroes went to save others, and started being the place where they went to save themselves. In his 3rd collaboration with Pollack, Robert Redford plays the title character, a Civil War vet who loses faith in mankind and heads into the American West (yes, lets just say that Dances with Wolves owes a considerable debt to this film) to find that the Indians are no longer the bad guys, but have instead become a kind of film shorthand for the rejection of a cynical, consumerist society, and well, Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War. Will Geer does a great turn as a crotchety frontiersman with a fondness for bears.

Best line: “Elk don’t know how many legs a horse has!”

Three Days of the Condor, 1975

It’s 1975, and Robert Redford again stars, this time as a NYC scooter-riding, messenger-bagged intelligence nerd. Who does he work for, and does he really? Who is after him, and are they really who he thinks they are? And what’s up with that lame-ass love scene in the middle? No matter. Faye Dunaway is wonderful in the kind of part they used to write for women before parts for women really had to make sense, and Max Von Sydow is the most perfect hit man in the world: completely understated and cool in that non-glossy, no-label-wearing, towering Swede kind of way. If they made this movie today, they’d totally screw it up and cast Geoffrey Rush. Also, Robert Redford does not get thrown through a single plate glass window in this film, an oversight that would no doubt be corrected when it is eventually remade with Will Smith.

Best line: “It’s a great face, but it’s never been to China.”

Tootsie, 1982

Let’s skip ahead a few years to 1982, when a prescient comedy about modern gender confusion ruled the day, and Bill Murray was still just “funny,” instead of a poignantly sad substitute for funny. Seriously, though, did Murray improvise every single line of dialogue he has in this film? I think so, although with Terri Garr and Dustin Hoffman around him being completely hilarious themselves, he manages to fail at stealing the movie. Some feminists were perhaps rightfully irked when the film premiered, asserting that its inescapable message was that men make better women than women. But looking back, I think the film’s more subversive message was that Hoffman’s character, having never been taught the lessons of female inferiority, never internalized them and thus, could not, even as a woman, be made to act or feel inferior. So there.

Best line: “That’s a corn cob.”

Out of Africa, 1985

Okay, you’ve seen the entire movie, you’re pretty sure, by catching snippets of it on cable for the last 15 years. And yes, Redford pulls a huge Connery and refuses to even attempt the correct accent for his role, and sure, there’s Meryl playing a foreigner again, and okay, yes there is especially that cheesy flying sequence that is so obvs done in front of a screen with a wind machine. Still, all in all, it’s a wonderful movie, although I’m not quite sure why. There are themes of colonialism, and the confinements of marriage, and sexual mores of the early 20th century, but in a larger sense the film is about loss, about what we can have, and what we can not have. And just as in the Karen Blixen memoir that the film is based on, it all takes place in the alternately beautiful and brutal Ngong Hills in Kenya. Klaus Maria Brandauer is absolutely fucking perfect in this film, as is Streep. Also, watch for a nice cameo by supermodel and Bowie spouse Iman.

Best line: “God is happy, msabu. He plays with us.”


Cheer34 said...

Thank you for the information I never knew he directed all those fab movies

Doc said...

J. Johnson had a powerful effect on me as a young man and for a long time I thought that this might have been a good career path for me, as I didn't seem to be good at anything else, why not try being a mountain man. Best line: "Skin that one nd I'll get you another! Har Har!"

Out Of Africa- This film will always hold a special place in my heart as this is one of maybe three movies I ever saw with my Dad. He hated what Hollywood had become after the quit making Errol Flynn movies and often swore that he wouldn't walk across the street to see a movie even if it was free. But we went to see this one, and it provided one of my all time favorite movie lines. Redford hands Streep a pen as he is leaving and she trys to refuse it and give it back, and he responds, "No, we reward our story tellers here."

Thank you Dear. This has been a wonderful trip down amnesia lane. I wish I had a pen I could give you.


GETkristiLOVE said...

I should watch Jeremiah Johnson again - all's I remember is mom going ape shit over Redford.

Doc said...

P.S.- I included some well wishes for you and GkL on Sz, tcob. Look under "If Wishes Were Horses..."


SkylersDad said...

Great collection of memories Vikki, my favorite scene in Jeremiah Johnson was when he found the guy frozen sitting in place after having his legs broken by the 'bar.

Some Guy said...

I didn't realize JJ was a Pollack movie. I think it might be time for another viewing. I'll definitely be checking out Three Days Of The Condor, which I have not yet seen.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Doc - Hey, thanks for that post. Work's been crazy and I have been having a tough time recently keeping up with my blogger friends.

And yes, I love the storytelling scenes in OoA. I love the safari scenes as well. Spooney can attest that if that movie is on tv, I will watch it from that point on until the end, every single time. I think he's a little tired of it.

GKL: Yes, that one was definitely a favorite of Mom's. I think she always wanted a mountain man. Or a farmer in Nebraska, of course.

SkyDad: Yes, and the note that said something like "this is a good gun and kilt the bear that kilt me."

SGuy: Ooooh, I'd be very interested to hear what you think of 3DotC. The first time I saw it was in my college film class. My prof was using it as a classic example of its genre.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Cheer34: Sorry, I skipped you. Although Pollack directed some great movies, he also was responsible for The Way We Were, so he wasn't infallible, you know.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I've never been able to like Out of Africa. The other three and a few more yes, but not Out of Africa.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Is it because that, even though it is shot in Africa, there are no monkeys?

dguzman said...

Nice effing work, Vikki. Those are three of my all-time favorite movies. I like your interpretation of Tootsie as well--and there are so many great lines, especially Pollock himself as Dorsey's agent, saying, "My God, I begged you to get therapy!"

Grant Miller said...

I love Sydney Pollack. Great actor, too. Played in a bunch of Woody Allen movies.

But a Hoosier?