Nationality: American. Born: Lafayette, Indiana, 1 July 1934. Education: South Bend Central High School; studied with Sanford Meisner, Neighborhood Playhouse, New York. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1957–59. Family: Married Claire Griswold, 1958, three children. Career: Actor on Broadway and for TV, also acting instructor, from 1955; TV director in Los Angeles, from 1960; directed first film, 1965; also produced his own films, from 1975. Awards: Emmy Award for The Game , 1966; Oscars for Best Film and Best Direction, for Out of Africa , 1986.
Films as Director:
The Slender Thread
This Property Is Condemned
The Swimmer (Perry) (d one sequence only); The Scalphunters
Castle Keep ; They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
The Way We Were
Three Days of the Condor ; The Yakuza ( Brotherhood of the Yakuza ) (+ pr)
Bobby Deerfield (+ pr)
The Electric Horseman
Absence of Malice (+ pr)
Tootsie (+ co-pr, role as George Fields)
Out of Africa (+ pr)
Havana (+ co-pr)
The Firm (+ pr)
Sabrina (+ pr)
Random Hearts (+ pr, role)
The Young Savages (Frankenheimer) (dialogue coach)
War Hunt (Sanders) (role as Sergeant Van Horn)
Il gattopardo ( The Leopard ) (Visconti) (supervisor of dubbed American version)
Scarecrow (Schatzberg) (pr)
Honeysuckle Rose (Schatzberg) (exec pr)
Songwriter (Rudolph) (pr); Sanford Meisner—The Theater's Best Kept Secret (doc) (exec pr)
Bright Lights, Big City (Bridges) (pr)
Presumed Innocent (Pakula) (pr); White Palace (Mandoki) (exec pr)
The Player (Altman) (role); Death Becomes Her (role); Husbands and Wives (Allen) (role)
Flesh and Bone (Kloves) (exec pr); Sense and Sensibility (Lee) (exec pr)
Bronx County (Carter—for TV) (exec pr); Sliding Doors (Howitt) (pr); Poodle Springs (B. Rafelson—for TV) (exec pr); A Civil Action (Zaillian) (role)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (Minghella) (exec pr); Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick) (role)
Up at the Villa (Haas) (exec pr)
The Quiet American (Noyce) (pr)
By POLLACK: book—
Out of Africa: The Shooting Script , with Kurt Luedke, New York, 1987.
By POLLACK: articles—
Interview with G. Langlois, in Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1972.
"Nos Plus Belles Années," an interview with Max Tessier, in Ecran (Paris), April 1974.
Interview with L. Salvato, in Millimeter (New York), June 1975.
"Sydney Pollack: The Way We Are," an interview with Patricia Erens, in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1975.
"Dialogue on Film: Sydney Pollack," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1978.
"Sydney Pollack, An Actor's Director," an interview with P. Childs, in Millimeter (New York), December 1979.
Interview with P. Carcassonne and J. Fieschi, in Cinématographe (Paris), March/April 1981.
Interview with T. Ryan and S. Murray, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), May/June 1983.
Interview in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Fall 1983.
Interview with J. A. Gili and M. Henry, in Positif (Paris), April 1986.
"Dialogue on Film: Sydney Pollack," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1986.
"Sydney Pollack," an interview with A. Dutertre, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), March 1991.
"Le papillon et l'ouragan: entretien avec Sydney Pollack," with M. Henry, in Positif (Paris), March 1991.
"Intervista a Sydney Pollack fra produzione e regia," with F. La Polla, in Cineforum (Bergamo), July/August 1991.
"J'espere que c'est a cause de Tootsie!" an interview with M. Henry, in Positif (Paris), December 1992.
"John Seale, ACS Lends Firm Hand to Law Thriller," an interview with Rick Baker and John Seale, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1993.
McGregor, Alex and Brian Case, "The Bright Stuff: That Thinking Feeling," in Time Out (London), 1 September 1993.
Segnocinema (Vicenza), January/February 1994.
Stivers, C., "Scions of the Times," in Premiere (Boulder), November 1995.
Hindes, A., "Pollack Packs Full Bag," in Variety (New York), 11/17 December 1995.
Jacobsen, M., "Copyright on Trial in Denmark," in Image Technology (London), May 1997.
On POLLACK: books—
Gili, Jean A., Sydney Pollack , Nice, 1971.
Taylor, William R. Sydney Pollack , Boston, 1981.
Leon, Michele, Sydney Pollack , Paris, 1991.
Dworkin, Susan, Making Tootsie: A Film Study with Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Pollack , New York, 1991.
Meyer, Janet L., Sydney Pollack: A Critical Filmography , Jefferson, 1998.
On POLLACK: articles—
Madsen, Axel, "Pollack's Hollywood History," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1973.
Massuyeau, M., "Dossier: Hollywood '79: Sydney Pollack," in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1979.
" Le Cavalier électrique Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 June 1980.
Camy, G., "Sydney Pollack: Souvenirs d'Amérique," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), May/June 1986.
Wharton, Dennis, "Top Directors Get behind Film-Labeling Legislation," in Variety (Paris), 29 July 1991.
Bart, Peter, "Filmers Face the Future," in Variety (Paris), 15 November 1993.
Stevenson, Jack, "Pan-and-Scan," in Skrien (Amsterdam), April-May 1997.
* * *
Sydney Pollack is especially noted for his ability to elicit fine performances from his actors and actresses and has worked with leading Hollywood stars, including Robert Redford (who has appeared in five Pollack films), Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, and Burt Lancaster, among others. Though Pollack has treated a cross-section of Hollywood genres, the majority of his films divide into male-action dramas and female melodramas. Among the former are The Scalphunters, Castle Keep, Jeremiah Johnson, Three Days of the Condor , and The Yakuza. Among the latter are The Slender Thread, This Property Is Condemned, The Way We Were , and Bobby Deerfield. The typical Pollack hero is a loner whose past interferes with his ability to function in the present. Throughout the course of the narrative, the hero comes to trust another individual and exchanges his isolation for a new relationship. For the most part, Pollack's heroines are intelligent women, often with careers, who possess moral strength, although in several cases they are victims of emotional weakness. Pollack is fond of portraying the attraction of opposites. The central issue in all of Pollack's work focuses on the conflict between cultural antagonists. This can be racial, as in The Slender Thread, The Scalphunters , or Jeremiah Johnson (black vs. white; white vs. Indian); religious, as in The Way We Were (Protestant vs. Jew); geographic, as in This Property Is Condemned and The Electric Horseman (city vs. town); nationalistic, as in Castle Keep (Europe vs. America; East vs. West); or based on gender differences, as in Tootsie (feminine vs. masculine).
Pollack's films do not possess a readily identifiable visual style. However, his works are generally noteworthy for their total visual effect, and he frequently utilizes the helicopter shot. Structurally the plots possess a circular form, often ending where they began. Visually this is echoed in the circular dance floor of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? , but is also apparent in Jeremiah Johnson and The Way We Were. Along with Sidney Lumet, Pollack is one of Hollywood's foremost liberals. His work highlights social and political issues, exposing organized exploitation rather than individual villainy. Most prominent among the issues treated are racial discrimination ( The Scalphunters ), the destructiveness of war ( Castle Keep ), the Depression ( They Shoot Horses, Don't They? ), Hollywood blacklisting ( The Way We Were ), CIA activities ( Three Days of the Condor ), commercial exploitation ( The Electric Horseman ), media exploitation ( Absence of Malice ), and feminism ( Tootsie ). Although Pollack has often been attacked for using these themes as background, rather than delving deeply into their subtleties, the French critics, among others, hold his work in high esteem.
Over the years, Pollack's cache in the Hollywood community has steadily risen. Unlike Lumet, to whom his work and directorial approach bear many similarities, he is not a New York director who occasionally works in Hollywood, but a Hollywood insider. His films make money and score multiple Oscar nominations. He is instantly forgiven for a failure like Havana , his sweeping attempt to recall the filmmaking styles of the Old Hollywood and such pictures as Casablanca. Because of all this, an American Film Institute Life Achievement Award cannot be long in coming for him. Pollack began his career as an actor and frequently appears, sometimes unbilled, in the films of other directors—though, ironically, not his own films a la Hitchcock (for whose legendary TV series Pollack both acted and directed). Woody Allen gave this former actor a particularly juicy part in Husbands and Wives. But Pollack prefers to direct, and with his standing in the industry he is able to command big budgets and big stars—and choice properties—for his work. His The Firm , based on the runaway best-seller by lawyer-turned-novelist John Grisham, and starring Tom Cruise, was a sizable hit, the film's alteration of the book's ending not even a minus with Grisham fans. His 1995 work, Sabrina , is, surprisingly, Pollack's first outright romantic comedy, a remake of the 1954 Billy Wilder gem, with Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond, and Greg Kinnear taking the respective roles of Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden.
—Patricia Erens, updated by John McCarty