I was stunned this weekend to hear that fellow Hoosier Sydney Pollack died while I was off getting smashed against rocks in
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
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
Best line: “That’s a corn cob.”
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,
Best line: “God is happy, msabu. He plays with us.”