Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack Dies

I read today that Sydney Pollack died. To me, he was not the Oscar-winning director, the man behind Out of Africa, The Way We Were, The Firm or many others. To me he was George Fields, Michael’s agent from the effervescent Tootsie. Tootsie is very often referred to as a run-of-the-mill comedy about a man in drag. Those who think of Tootsie in this way flabbergast me, because to reduce this movie to a comedy about a man in drag is, quite frankly, as appropriate as referring to Port as ‘yet another red wine’ or to Michelangelo as ‘a sculptor that was also good with a paintbrush’. Only a philistine would do this but judging by Amazon’s reviews, there are many philistines out there. Amazon’s reviews make for quite a depressing read actually; to think that barely literate people consider themselves capable of a review is mind-blowing, but this is a dangerous veer off topic for which I must apologise.

Tootsie is rife with multiple sub-texts; unfulfilment, performance anxiety, sexism, creativity, and the gambles one needs to take in order to answer to a greater call. It just happens to be extremely funny as well, with superb acting, writing, photography, comic timing and directing. I first watched Tootsie many years ago, when I didn’t even comprehend the difference between a job and a vocation. In fact, I didn’t even know a difference existed. Now, if for whatever reason I am mulling over what happens or, as is often the case, what does not happen in my life, I play Tootsie and finish the day smirking to myself, with that deep knowledge of self-validation stirred inside of me like only the movies that speak to your creative abilities can stir, like only I and George and Michael know that secret. When I wrote my piece about agents, those of you familiar with Tootsie will have detected a self-conscious nod to it. The scene between Michael, enraged because George hasn’t put him forward for a job, and George, who tries to defend his decision on the basis that no-one wants to hire troublesome Michael, is one of my favourite moments of movie entertainment. I am reproducing it here as a homage to Sydney Pollack who has created so much unforgettable magic in his life, and who has gifted me personally with my favourite movie moment ever. Don’t just read it; go and watch it and learn the secret.

George: Hang on. Michael, will you wait outside? I'm talking to the Coast.

Michael: This is a coast too George. New York’s a coast too.

George: Oh, boy. Sy, are you--God-- Look what you-- Margaret? Get him back. I cut myself off. What is it, Michael?

Michael: Terry Bishop's doing Iceman Cometh on Broadway. You promised to send me up for that. You told me I'd get a reading for that. Aren't you my agent?

George: Stuart Pressman wants a name.

Michael: Terry Bishop is a name?

George: No, Michael Dorsey is a name, when you want to send a steak back. Wait, wait, wait! You always do this to me. It was a rotten thing to say. Let me start again. Terry Bishop is on a soap. Millions watch him every day.

Michael: That qualifies him to ruin Iceman Cometh? I can act circles around him. I played that part in Minneapolis.

George: lf he wants a name, that's his affair. People are in this business to make money Michael.

Michael: I'm in it to make money too George!

George: Really? The Harlem Theatre for the Blind? The People's Workshop at Syracuse?

Michael: Wait a minute. I did nine plays up at Syracuse. I got great reviews from the critics. Not that that's why I did it.

George: God forbid you should lose your standing as a cult failure.

Michael: You think I'm a failure?

George: I will not get sucked into this conversation. I will not.

Michael: I sent you my roommate's play to read. It had a great part in it for me.

George: Where do you come off sending me a play for you to star in? I'm not your mother., I’m your agent, I don't find plays for you to star in. I feel offers. That's what I do!

Michael: Feel offers? Who told you that, the agent fairy? I could be terrific in that part.

George: Nobody's going to do that play.

Michael: Why?

George: Because it's a downer about a couple that move back to Love Canal.

Michael: But that actually happened.

George: Who gives a shit?! Nobody wants to watch people living next to chemical waste! They can see that in New Jersey.

Michael: I don't want to argue about it. I'll raise $ 8,000 and will produce Jeff’s play. Send me up for anything. I don't care. I'll do dog commercials. I'll do radio voice-overs.

George: I can't put you up for that.

Michael: Why not?

George: Because no one will hire you.

Michael: I bust my ass to get a part right!

George: And you bust everybody else's ass too! Who wants to argue about whether Tolstoy can...walk when he's dying or walk when he's talking--?

Michael: That was two years ago and that guy's an idiot!

George: They can't all be idiots Michael. You argue with everybody! You've got one of the worst
reputations in this town. Nobody will hire you.

Michael: Are you saying that nobody in New York will work with me?

George: No, I am saying nobody in Hollywood will hire you either. I can't even get you a commercial. You played a tomato and they went two days over schedule because you wouldn't sit down.

Michael: Yes, it wasn't logical.

George: You were a tomato! A tomato doesn't have logic! It can't move!

Michael: So if he can't move, how's he going to sit down George? I was a stand-up tomato. A juicy, sexy, beefsteak tomato! Nobody does vegetables like me! I did vegetables off-Broadway! I did the best tomato, the best cucumber! I did an endive salad that knocked the critics on their ass!

George: I'm trying to stay calm here. You are a wonderful actor.

Michael: Thank you.

George: But you're too much trouble. Get some therapy.

Michael: Okay, thanks. I'm gonna raise $ 8,000 and I am gonna do Jeff's play.

George: Michael, you're not gonna raise 25 cents. No-one will hire you.

Michael: Oh, yeah?
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