Friday, May 30, 2008

A COUPLE OF LIVE ONES. While we're on artistic subjects, I think we should acknowledge a couple of fallen heroes. Sydney Pollack was a director of, let us say, likeably modest talents; I have always prefered to think that what I saw on his face as he accepted the Oscar for Out of Africa from Billy Wilder, John Huston and Akira Kurosawa (!) included some embarrassment. But he had his moments, and real charm and skill as an actor. I can't compete with David Edelstein's magnificent summation at New York magazine, but I will add that the very thought of Pollack laying it all out for Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut ("Okay. I think I should also tell you that I was there at the house." Tom Cruise: "Well, what an amazing coincidence." Pollack: "The words practically right out of my mouth") gives me the giggles, and I think he precisely caught the mordant Kubrick tone that baffled so many of the film's critics. It stunned me to learn that he'd been acting since the "Playhouse 90" days. Every time I saw him in a movie or on TV I thought, oh, here's Pollack slumming again. Maybe that's what they mean when they talk about making it look easy.

Also, word just came that Harvey Korman has passed. Korman was always willing to go too far, and on the Carol Burnett show you can often see how eager he was to crack up his fellow players. I still recall the impeccable timing of his reaction to Burnett's gushing Shirley Temple routine: he brought his fingertips to the bridge of his nose and, turning a beat into a drum solo, muttered, "Please, madam, I have diabetes." Blazing Saddles was his apotheosis. The movie pitched its tone on the border of hip and vaudeville, and while Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder worked the hipster angle, Korman came on with a fusillade of stutters, mad walks, lazzi and double-takes straight out of the Orpheum circuit. It played as well with stoned teenagers as it did with elderly variety-show fans. Hail and farewell to the last of the great schtickmen.

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