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From our files – Director Pollack off the film set: His Hollywood movies turn out to be different

The director and actor, remembered for his films such as 'Out of Africa,''Tootsie,' and 'Absence of Malice,' was interviewed by the Monitor in 1975 upon release of his film, 'Three Days of the Condor.

By Nora E. Taylor / May 28, 2008

Academy Award winning director Sydney Pollack

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/FILE

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From the November 26, 1975 issue of The Christian Science Monitor

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In the film "Three Days of the Condor" lead character Joseph Turner tried to use the knowledge he has acquired as a CIA research librarian to safeguard himself from - the CIA.

Similarly, "Condor" director Sydney Pollack has used the (movie) establishment to make films the establishment itself would be unlikely to make.

He said, however, "I am not a cult director at all. I make Hollywood movies. I hate to say it as a pejorative term but I work for the Hollywood system for the most part."

And yet....his films turn out to be different. His western was "Jeremiah Johnson," which far from being a shoot-em-up trifle, took up the modern themes of dropping out of society to go back to nature, seeking a future apart from the accepted forms of the day. It was as though the flower children and Vietnam rebels, unthought of in J.J's time, were casting their shadows so far before. In pictures like "Condor," where suspense heightens all the way through its two hours or so of running time, Mr. Pollack noted, it is often considered that "women are a drag....but it would bore me to have any picture without a woman in it," However, "you don't want to stop for romance." So he integrated love with the uncertainties of Joe Turner's twistings and turnings to stay alive after he had discovered what an inner circle of the CIA was up to.

In the original book, heroin was being smuggled. In the film, oil is what it's all about. There are other changes, too. And, Mr. Pollack points out vigorously, the picture was not conceived as an expose of the CIA. When filming began, the CIA's dirty laundry was still waiting its turn at the public laundromat. After reading James Grady's original book, Mr. Pollack says, he thought "what if such and such occurred." The film answers that "what if."

Of all his films, perhaps only "The Yakuza," which starred Robert Mitchum and Takakura Ken and was made in Japan is outside the fold entirely. "I got very, very, fascinated with what I found to be very enigmatic about Japan."

"Three Days of the Condor" is the fourth movie Mr. Pollack has made with Robert Redford as his lead actor. And it underlies once more that the selective star, who will only accept roles that do not violate certain principles, gives his best performance under Pollack direction.

Pollack films have always told tales, and now this director feels the general trend is back to strong story lines. "The big emphasis on story now is kind of a throwback to earlier days. It's 'once upon a time this happened...' Even 'The Godfather' was a 1930s film updated."

In a picture with political overtones such as "Condor," "it's difficult not to get heavy-handed." Mr. Pollack pointed out. He solved that by making the film in New York rather than in Washington.

Even in New York, however, Mr. Pollack had problems. He may not be a cult director, but Redford has become a cult actor. And everywhere the cameras rolled, people crowded around to obstructing them, hanging out of windows to watch the star, inadvertently adding dialogue to the sound track, and upsetting the ordered routine of shooting. "We never had enough cops," Mr. Pollack sighed. "We had to stop shooting for two full days. They go crazy over him." But, he added, "you can't stop traffic on Times Square."

Mr. Pollack is also thinking of the future. "We have no specific project to go yet," he said, but "I have a lot of plans." Among them Lillian Hellman's "Pentimento" was mentioned, along with a biography of Hemingway, and Sterling Hayden's survey of the McCarthy era.

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