Director challenged and entertained across generations
Sydney Pollack's appeal was not limited to boomersI've been thinking a lot about bombs, boobs and boomers this past week. It's hard not to when you've been immersed in so many films from around the world at Cannes, and as always at such cornucopias of celluloid, there was a lot of explosions on display and a lot of skin exposed. As at most festivals these days, there are fewer baby boomers in attendance, as festgoers tend to be thinner, younger and taller than they all used to be.
In any case, it's pre-eminently at Cannes that one gets a feel for the state of global filmmaking: its diversity, its obsessions, its artistic achievements and disappointments and also what's missing from the selection.
One of the things that is missing, and no doubt by design, is mainstream moviemaking. Festivals by and large were set up to hail those movies that weren't in the mainstream, that would go missing from exhibitors' selections or that didn't need the extra oomph or critical support that a fest could provide.
I get that, and that's fine. The problem is that what I'm generically calling mainstream moviemaking -- those commercially valid movies that entertained and raised interesting questions and that most everybody used to go and see -- is disappearing from our screens at a faster clip than film festivals are proliferating. Boomers in particular, I believe, are being underserved by what's being churned out by the Hollywood studio machines: Even "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" seemed to be tilted toward attracting the young or youngish males who play "Grand Theft Auto" and not really to their dads, who appreciated the wit and whimsy of the first three Indy installments. Did we really need three over-the-top waterfall exploits and only 30 seconds devoted to the quicksand revelation about Indy's son?
As I was thinking about this increasingly gaping void and the fact that 78 million boomers have almost always been great movie fans and now don't know where to turn for entertainment, the news flashed that Sydney Pollack had passed away. He was one of the few mainstream directors who successfully straddled several heady decades in Hollywood from the late 1960s through the '90s and consistently managed to make movies that boomers, as well as those older and younger, largely appreciated. The best of his oeuvre still resonates with me, and I'm sure I'm not alone in sitting through and enjoying the umpteenth replay on TV or on DVD of one of my favorites.
In addition to tackling meaty subjects that didn't rely on special effects, violence or nudity, Pollack had a knack for coaxing memorable performances out of some of Hollywood's top stars -- from Natalie Wood and Jane Fonda to Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Characters, not car chases, were what he focused on, even in thrillers like "Three Days of the Condor," one of the best of its class.
I remember the first time I saw a feisty Fonda in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and I'd bet that was the movie that established her in so many women's minds as one of the role models of the late '60s, not to mention sealing her as one of the town's best actresses. Not that long after, Pollack presented his own multitextured and moving take on love and politics, class and commitment with "The Way We Were," which to my mind stretched Redford and Barbra Streisand in new directions.
I saw "Tootsie" for the first time while living in Rome, along with American and Italian friends, all of whom then segued to a restaurant to -- of all things -- talk about the movie, not to mention whistling "It Might Be You" on the way.
As for "Out of Africa," what can I say? Pollack arguably was at his peak in the '80s, when source material routinely included real books -- classics rather than "graphic" -- and studio executives apparently did not automatically flinch at a pitch about a female landowner in Kenya based on a bio by a Danish writer few probably had heard of.
Not for naught, Pollack had lately teamed up in Mirage Entertainment with another first-rate talent, Anthony Minghella, whose sensibilities also gave hope to many moviegoers that they would continue to be moved, challenged and entertained. Let us hope others manage to build on their legacies.