FirstCuts: Death of Film Icon Leaves Void

The death of Sydney Pollack this past Monday marked the loss of one of our true cinematic marvels. He was a rare breed in Tinseltown, the ultimate Hollywood operator with talent to burn. An accomplished director, producer and actor, Pollack’s presence brought instant integrity to a film no matter what hat he happened to be wearing. ↵
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↵Most people will remember him for his acting turn in Tootsie and for directing that film along with other classics like Three Days of the Condor and Out of Africa, for which he won two Oscars. For myself, though, I’ll stick with Bobby Deerfield, Pollack’s 1977 film starring Al Pacino as a tortured Formula One driver wrestling with his fear of death. It’s one of those 70’s movies of the auteur era that in retrospect it’s hard to believe ever got made, overly stylized as it is and existential and almost laughably wrought, the American hangover of the French New Wave. The melodrama is so inscrutably thick that some thought the whole thing was a big inside joke – debates on that question continue among Pacino acolytes to this day. ↵
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↵ ↵There’s little actual race footage in the movie, but what’s there is taken from the actual 1976 F-1 season and includes shots of Mario Andretti and the great Brazilian driver Carlos Pace, who had died in an airplane crash by the time the movie premiered. The score is also a gem, a strange, mellow concoction by composer Dave Grusin that sounds fantastic in the recently released DVD edition of the movie. It had something of a cult following back in the day not unlike those devoted to Gato Barbieri’s Last Tango in Paris soundtrack, and that’s a comparison that works on a lot of levels, because in essence Bobby Deerfield is the Formula One racing edition of Last Tango, less the weird sex and oceans of pubic hair. ↵

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↵If you haven’t seen Bobby Deerfield, I can’t go so far as to recommend it, for it’s impossibly boring at times and the fun of watching Pacino doing Michael Corleone (in the full-pot simmer of Godfather II) as a race-car driver gets old fast. But there is something about the movie that triggers heavy nostalgia for me, nostalgia for a time when big-time American directors thought they had a mandate to try and create something other than expensive trash. They aimed high, and all too often crashed and burned, but at least they were failing nobly in an enterprise that resembled art. As I sit here trying to decide whether I’m going to see Iron Man or Indiana Jones at today’s one o’clock matinee, the loss of a figure like Sydney Pollack seems all the more of a loss to me, the last of a dying breed that we can ill afford to lose. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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