Friday, May 30, 2008

My NETFLIX pick of the month

I was quite saddened to hear of Sydney Pollack’s passing earlier this week. I always thought he was an excellent director and an even better actor. In the many tributes I’ve seen and read the films of his that receive the most accolades are TOOTSIE, OUT OF AFRICA, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, and THE WAY WE WERE (a movie that makes me absolutely cringe).

But there’s one film that is just in the pile of his “other” works that I think is his very best picture. And so it becomes my NETFLIX PICK OF THE MONTH (just in the nick of time too since this is the last day of May).

THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY? came out in 1969. It’s not a comedy despite that hilarious title. During the Great Depression (as opposed to our current one) there used to be ballroom dance marathons. Couples would compete for cash prizes by staying awake and dancing for weeks on end. Last couple still standing won. You’re probably wondering, how could they get a full movie out of that? Watching zombies schlep around a dance floor for weeks doesn’t seem like riveting entertainment.

But that’s the genius of the movie because Pollack does make it riveting. Also compelling, heartbreaking, and disturbing. Jane Fonda starred and deserved the Oscar nomination she received and probably would have won if she wasn’t also “Hanoi Jane” at the time. Gig Young did win an Oscar for his performance.

Check it out. You’ll have a better appreciation of Sydney Pollack and Dr. Scholl’s.

24 comments:

Chuck Sigars said...

Fabulous pick; I remember being mesmerized by this film the first time. And since this is such a great pick, I hereby give you an extra day in May for tomorrow. Enjoy!

PS: Can you come do a little Mariners broadcasting soon? SOMETHING has to change here...

sephim said...

You'll be glad to know that the title of this film was the inspiration for the song title "They Shoot Heroin, Don't They?" by the nice little Melbourne band known to most as TISM.

Rinaldo said...

A nice and well-deserved tribute to a fine director and a film that should be remembered (my own difficulties with it have to do with script, not direction -- the flashbacks and flashforwards). Characteristic of Pollack's films, lots of actors get a chance to look good in it: not just Fonda and Young, but also Susannah York and Bonnie Bedelia, among many others.

I don't think Jane Fonda's not winning an Oscar can be blamed on politics at all (she wasn't yet "Hanoi Jane" in 1969, and was when she did win 2 years later for Klute). It was simply a very strong year for leading actress performances, what with Fonda, Liza Minnelli (Sterile Cuckoo), and Genevieve Bujold (Anne of the Thousand Days) breaking through to public awareness as major actresses simultaneously, and Maggie Smith (who won) outdazzling them all as Jean Brodie. Or so it seems to me.

A. Buck Short said...

Up early on a Saturday, ‘cause this is Texas – and we got chores. Also a bar mitzvah. You are so right about this picture. But last night I proudly brought home the hot-off-the-presses DVD of our new documentary. Wife went to bed one-third of the way through. Said she was tired and the subject was depressing. Should have run it as a second-feature pick-me-up with TSHDT.

This is more proof that if God had intended man to dance, he wouldn’t have created crepe-soled shoes. It was a great role against type for Gig Young, and I’ll bet Pollack had to fight for him in it. Red Buttons another excellent performance. My friend wrote and produced a picture, Arena, with Dore Schary in which Young was actually on a horse, playing one of his rare leads as a rodeo cowboy, if you can believe it -– and it was in 3-D (I am not making this up).

Out here on the range I’m mulling a new entrepreneurial venture that’s probably as bizarre as marathon dancing – polygamous dude ranching. I mean you got 5-6 wives, you want to plan a vacation where you can get away from ‘em for awhile – them or you out on the trail for a couple days, rustlin’ up grub for the entire family. And speakin’ of dancin’, when it’s square you can take care of ‘em all at once, no havin’ to pick and choose. Now if you’ll excuse me, got to find that 10-gallon scull cap.

A. Buck Short said...

And what 12 or 13 year-old wife hasn't always wanted a pony? I mean it's better than having the bridal registry (get it?) at FAO Schwarz.

mcp said...

Everytime I see a contest reality show, I think of "They Shoot Horses, Don't They." The desperate hunger for fame and money shown in the film shows up in "Survivor." In fact, I'd think Mark Burnett got the idea for "Survivor" from the movie if Jane Fonda had ate a bug.

Jake Hollywood said...

My very first movie biz gig was as an usher in a movie theater when this came out. It ran for a looooong time and I worked the floor and watched it 37 straight times--usually twice a night.

And now, every once in a while I roll it off the DVD shelf and watch it again. I think it's Pollack's best work.

calamity said...

Wait, is it just me, or are you talking about Earl? He didn't start my morning with a post, and I can't seem to find my gun.

jbryant said...

To me, this is clearly Pollack's best film (well, maybe a toss-up with Tootsie), but it's too "old" and "arty" to get much play in the obits, especially since the man's resume contains bigger hits and more recent award winners.

And rinaldo is right: on paper, Fonda probably had a better shot at the Oscar in '69 than she did when she actually won in '71. If I recall, her acceptance speech even acknowledged the controversy surrounding her by saying something like, "there's a lot to say but this isn't the time or place to say it" (paraphrase based entirely on memory).

Vermonter17032 said...

I too will miss Sydney Pollack, both the actor and the director. He was so good in Michael Clayton... well, he was good in everything he did. I've got Three Days of the Condor coming from Netflix today... never saw it. I'll have to get TSHDT next. Thanks for the recommendation.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I don't watch anything with Hanoi Jane no matter how good it might be. How she avoided a charge of treason is inexplicable.

This is not to diminish Pollock in any way.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Even the mention of They Shoot Horses... makes me want to blow my brains out just to get in the mood.

I loved him (acting) in Husbands and Wives with the great Judy Davis.

Laura Deerfield said...

I remember when I first watched this movie. I must have been about 17, saw it on TV, with no idea of what it was about...and I was devastated. Few films have ever effected me so powerfully.

Anonymous said...

If you think that we're in a "depression" right now, then I suggest you reread your history books and educate yourself, because that is one of the most informed, foolish comments I've read in a long time.

Marcus Bachan said...

how many people is that now that have died within a year or so of appearing on entourage? i can think of three off the top of my head, plus the guy who turtle is based on.

Marcus Bachan said...

hey, Cap'n dickhead - maybe she "got away with it" because that's freedom of speech.

never mind the high treason of ollie north and reagan, right? or any of the utter (war and other) crimes committed by bushco, right? only treason when it's a left winger saying something rather than a right winger doing something that kills thousands of people, right?

yeah right.

Marcus Bachan said...

hey, anonymous -

"your ceiling is leaking"
"no, it's not. we've looked into it and it's not"

and -

"you don't have pens???"
"we're not in a recesssion!"

jbryant said...

anonymous: Pretty sure Ken was making a joke there, being a comedy writer and all (I'm gonna go out on a limb and say there might even have been some sarcasm involved). Plus, he explicitly differentiated the GREAT Depression from our "current" one, so clearly he knows at least a little history.

Well, at least you admitted that his "foolish comment" was one of the "most informed" you've seen.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

marcus,

Until Ken decides to implement a more extensive comment policy we're pretty much on our own in setting the tone of these threads. Speaking for myself, I'd hope we could keep it civil, and if we're lucky, maybe even friendly. In other words, I'd be grateful if you refrained from personal attacks.

Thanks.

Greg said...

I remember walking out of the theater just drained, as if I'd been in the marathon. One of the most powerful, depressing films I've ever seen.
I think I recall an interview with Red Buttons who commented on that. He said that Pollack shot most of it in sequence (a rarity) so that by the end of filming the actors really were exhausted.
Like I said, I think I recall that (so don't jump on me if I'm wrong!).

Tom Quigley said...

Sidney Pollack played a marriage counselor that Paul and Jamie visited in the first MAD ABOUT YOU episode that Helen Hunt ever directed. As far as I could tell, the whole evening he was gracious enough to keep to his role as an actor, and I never saw him involved in discussions over any reshoots or pickups on any scenes. This isn't to say that he might not have offered her some advice while they were putting the show together during the week, but on filming night, he let her fly on her own, and I think it took some of the pressure off of her. In a business where a lot of people seem to want to put their two cents in too fast or too readily, I think it was a wonderful gesture on his part, and it told everyone that he felt she could handle the job wih no problem.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Where did I complain about Hanoi Jane's statements, Marcus? I was talking about her going to North Viet Nam and posing on an anti-aircraft gun, among other stupid stunts. Look up "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." That's treason. North, Bush, and whoever else you don't like are a separate matter. One has nothing to do with the other.

TCinLA said...

my old friend Jane Fonda just didn't get the Oscar that year. The whole lame rightwinger's wet dream "Hanoi Jane" crap didn't happen until 1972.

At least Jane actually went to Vietnam, unlike Still-President little Georgie (for only 232 more days), who was much too busy enjoying "all day pool volleyball parties with ambitious secretaries" while his partner in crime Darth Cheney was busy fucking his wife (god, what a horrid visual image - the Cheneys" In bed? fucking????).

But you're entirely right that "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" beats hell out of the lame-o "Way We Were" and the awful "Out of Africa." It's right up there with "Tootsie."

April said...

I saw that film about a year ago, and it still pops into my head from time to time. Great movie!