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.