Published January 13, 2015
Birth: July 1, 1934 in Lafayette, Indiana, United States
Academy Awards (Nominations and Wins)
Best Motion Picture of the Year
for: Michael Clayton (2007)
Won Oscar Best Director
for: Out of Africa (1985)
Won Best Picture
for: Out of Africa (1985)
Nominated Oscar Best Director
for: Tootsie (1982)
Best Picture for: Tootsie (1982)
Nominated Oscar Best Director
for: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
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.
Family: s. David and Rebecca (Miller) P.; m. Claire Griswold, Sept. 22, 1958; children: Steven, Rebecca, Rachel. Education: grad., Neighborhood Playhouse Theatre Sch., NYC, 1954. Civil/Military Service: Served with U.S. Army, 1957-59. Addresses: Address unknown, Deloitte & Touche, 350 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA, 90071-3406;
Recipient Acad. award for best dir. and best picture, 1986; John Huston award Directors Guild Am., 2000.
Films as Director
1965: The Slender Thread
1966: This Property Is Condemned
1968: The Swimmer (Perry) (d one sequence only)
1968: The Scalphunters
1969: Castle Keep
1969: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?;
1972: Jeremiah Johnson
1973: The Way We Were
1975: Three Days of the Condor
1975: The Yakuza (Brotherhood of the Yakuza) (+ pr)
1976: Bobby Deerfield (+ pr)
1979: The Electric Horseman
1981: Absence of Malice (+ pr)
1982: Tootsie (+ co-pr, role as George Fields)
1985: Out of Africa (+ pr)
1990: Havana (+ co-pr)
1993: The Firm (+ pr)
1995: Sabrina (+ pr)
1999: Random Hearts (+ pr, role)
2005: The Interpreter
2005: Sketches of Frank Gehry