Filmmaker Sydney Pollack was one of the first artists I heard discuss his works in person—what he intended to portray on the big screen and how they were interpreted.
Pollack, who died yesterday, directed and starred in many great films, among them They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Jeremiah Johnson, Tootsie and Out of Africa.
Our paths first crossed when I was in graduate school at San Diego State in the 1970s and Pollack spoke to our history through film class.
At the time Pollack was in his mid-30s and had two big hits under his belt, They Shoot Horses Don’t They (1969) and Jeremiah Johnson (1972). Our class looked at cinema during different time periods, from silent films such as Greed to El Topo, and examined which films were popular and why and what some of the movies said about our culture and values.
Was a movie such as Jeremiah Johnson a Western, or did it owe its popularity to the star, Robert Redford, or the repressed American desire for freedom and the pursuit of loneliness?
Was the appeal of Bonnie and Clyde (not a Pollack film but one we discussed), a movie about outlaws or did it reflect the anti-establishment sentiment of the times, where the audiences rooted for Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as they robbed banks.
Pollack, of course, had his own ideas about what his movies meant, and what he intended in making them. And he was very interested in the perspectives of others who viewed them and came away with different messages. He hadn’t thought, for instance, that They Shoot Horses might be interpreted as a dismally fatalistic outlook on life, so much as Jane Fonda’s character’s resiliency and determination to succeed against all odds.
In later years Pollack and I met at various wine events, where we talked about cinema and grape juice. I mentioned meeting him years ago at his lecture to our film class and we reflected on how so many things in life are subject to wildly different interpretations, not the least of which is wine.
It’s times like this that I can reflect on and appreciate how each of us views wines, sometimes in unison and sometimes in extremes. In that way it has ties to film.