I have never met pilot and legendary film director Sydney Pollack, who passed away this past week at 73 to cancer. But a have always felt this distant kinship to him, a man I am told is known for just hanging out with other pilots, even though he owned and flew a Cessna Citation, FAA N138SP and was one of Hollywood's major players.
This post is not about his film career, which was off-the-charts successful. How great a director was he? Here's AOPA's Woody McClendon in a "Pilots" column from 1998:
"In 1975, Pollack formed his own production company, Mirage Productions, and produced several highly successful films, including world-famous titles such as Out of Africa, Tootsie, and The Firm. His films have won 46 Academy Award nominations and seven Oscars, as well as many other prestigious awards throughout the world. Most powerhouses of Hollywood ride in the back of their jets, working on scripts and movie deals. But this man is different. He is a type-rated jet pilot, an accomplishment as important to him as a major film award."While I have seen most of Pollack's films, one stands out above all others, because of one particular brilliant filmmaking moment only an aviator could dream up. Each time I watch it, tears still nearly fill my eyes:
In Out of Africa, the moment Denys Finch Hatton's de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth came into the frame, Director Pollack knew he would have the full attention of any pilot in the audience. As Denys lifts Karen Blixen into the plane, John Barry's voluptuous score comes up in symphony with the Gipsy I engine as it taxis away...and their romantic journey begins. For the next few minutes, Barry's music builds to a roaring crescendo as Redford takes Streep on a magical flight over sweeping Kenyan vistas photographed with perfection by Pollack's crew. The scene exemplifies what it is like to soar on fragile fabric wings and FLY! I can think of no better scene in any cinematic effort that displays the joy of flight with such emotion, captured in an way that a non-pilot director could never imagine. IMHO, this was Pollack's finest moment.As many of my readers know, I acquired the movie rights to Jerrie Mock's life story back in 2004, to try and bring to the big screen the fantastic story of the first woman to fly solo around the world. On many nights as I sat at the computer wrestling with the screenplay, I wore headphones listening to Barry's score for Out of Africa.
And when Cut #7 "Flying Over Africa" came on, each time I had to stop and imagine what wonderful things a director like Sydney Pollack could do with such an emotional story like "Three-Eight Charlie". As Barry's music grew more powerful, I became overwhelmed and would have to stop typing, because telling Jerrie Mock's story has been my life's work for over eight years now. The screenplay means so much to me, and when I let my mind imagine Jerrie alone in her 1953 Cessna 180 "Charlie" heading out over the Atlantic, I envision a strong orchestral score filling the theater, and think about how much emotion a director like Pollack could have brought to my project.
I always held out hope that through the magic of manifestation, I could somehow attract the attention of Mr. Pollack, who would fall in love with Mock's story as I had, and be eager to join me in telling the greatest aviation story that has yet to be told. Maybe he could get John Barry attached to the project, and we could all earn a fistful of Oscars.
But this dream will never be. I can now offer only sincere condolences to the Pollack family for their loss, and hope that one day, I can sit down with Papa Louie, Jimmy Doolittle Lindbergh, and now Sydney Pollack at the big hangar party in the sky.