Jonathan Mostow’s encounter with Sydney Pollack largely deals in generalities about the latter’s work, with Pollack a smooth, practiced interviewee who admits his most personal movies have been among his biggest flops and some of his best work simply done as a job with a check attached.
Ditto Adam Simon and Roger Corman, with the latter basically using the former as a prompt to recount well-traveled anecdotes and stories. These include Corman’s grand theory that houses in his pics represent a woman’s body, and their corridors are a vagina through which one moves to something “wonderful.”
In Bob Balaban’s seg on Robert Altman, made during the filming of “The Gingerbread Man” in Savannah, Ga., there’s a familiar, jokey tone between the two that lightens the general run through Altman’s career and influences (Bergman, Lean, Bunuel, Fellini). Altman, who admits he can’t remember when he last took a vacation, recalls bringing in “MASH” for $3 million ($500,000 under budget) while Fox execs’ eyes were focused on the megabuck “Patton” and “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
Best of the lot, though initially the most annoying, is Jonathan Nossiter’s day with Arthur Penn. Though the veteran director begins by giving clearly articulated, down-to-earth replies to Nossiter’s arty, convoluted questioning, there’s little sense of the man behind the mask till the pair hit the streets of New York. Penn seems strangely reluctant to discuss his childhood and Jewish background, averring it has no special importance in his work, and there’s an unresolved tension between interviewer and subject that’s finally — fascinatingly — resolved in the docu’s final minutes.
Reclining in the back of a car on his way home, Penn suddenly opens up, admitting he wished he had a bigger talent (“I think I’m good — but not very good”) and the courage to be less inhibited and more theatrical. Some of the stuff he did earlier in TV was much braver than his movies, says Penn, and for a fleeting moment the viewer gets to look into the soul of a director who feels he never grasped the brass ring when he had the chance.