A Good and Gentle Man

Sydney Pollack died yesterday. Back in the early 90’s I was lucky enough to “go to school” with him. I had had written a screenplay called “Panama” and he optioned it and then spent months with me and a writer named Jeff Fiskin crafting it into the kind of political thriller he made better than anyone of his generation. We never got the movie made, but it didn’t matter, because I learned about the craft from a master.

Sydney could deal with the most reluctant star or the biggest media mogul. He flew his own jet and in the later years of his career he was drawn to making independent films like “Michael Clayton” because he couldn’t bring himself to “take a job” on a big studio special effects’ picture with no soul. He made two documentaries, Sketches of Frank Gehry and “Amazing Grace”. Amazing Grace, which has never been seen, is one of the greatest music films of our age. It is the visual of record of Aretha Franklin and the Reverend James Cleveland’s Gospel Choir on two nights in a Los Angeles Church at the height of Aretha’s power. Aretha’s manager kept holding up Warner Bros. for more money than they could afford, so it was never released. I hope it will someday be released, because like the work of Bach, it proves the power of the spirit to make magical music.

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0 Responses to A Good and Gentle Man

  1. John Tarnoff says:

    Yes, Jonathan – what a loss. Somehow it is a shock to lose someone who was still so vital and engaged in his own growth and evolution as an artist and a storyteller. Sydney was a rare statesman in our business who was able to effortlessly transcend (or so it seemed) the confines of a given role, blurring the distinctions between big-budget director, writer, actor, producer, artist. He was a visionary who just made the fucking movie, played to his strengths, and kept it moving – all with a graciousness and generosity that is rare in any generation.

  2. rhb says:

    As a fan of his work, I can say I truly am sorry to see him go. As an observer of the arts, I can truly say I’ll miss the effortless appearance he gave to his acting. As an American liberal, I have to say what I’ll miss most is his point of view.

  3. Hugo says:

    I wish I’d known Mr. Pollack, even if only briefly. There are probably very few people who follow cinema who did not at some point come to the sudden realization, “Good grief, this guy can do everything!” And when one considers that cinema is itself a compendium and Gestalt of all other art forms—especially in the difficult business of cinematic adaptation, at which Mr. Pollack, like John Huston, excelled—then the hokey (and rather sexist) idea of the Renaissance Man, as personified delightfully by Sydney Pollack, suddenly glistens once more.

    What could Hollywood possibly do for an encore?

  4. Jon Taplin says:

    Hugo-I think your comparison of Sydney to John Huston is really good. They both knew how to put stars in the best light (literally and figuratively). And they both lived life to the fullest.

  5. Hugo says:

    Peace unto both of them, those two national treasures.

  6. Dan says:

    American filmmaking can ill afford the loss even of mediocre talent in these days of terrible movies. Losing Pollack is like yanking out a support beam.

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