Wednesday, 2 July 2014


My obituary of director and screenwriter Paul Mazursky is up now at the Guardian online, you can link to it here. It is pretty much as written to a very tight deadline this afternoon; they changed the spelling of 'hippie' to 'hippy' (a rhinoceros is hippy; the long-haired guy watching Rhinoceros is a hippie), omitted a specific reference to the Esalen Institute as being the inspiration for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (I assume to avoid having to explain Esalen to the interweb generation) and a few other small alterations.

There is a resonance to Mazursky's having written the pilot for The Monkees, which obviously drew on the Beatles' Hard Day's Night; it could be a metaphor for much of Mazursky's career. Even the best of his films that draw heavily on European models seem to hold something back, as if unwilling to take a real stand. The same is true of his more personal movies, but within the context of American life and his own experience that makes more sense.

Watching his movies as they came out, I always thought they reflected the arrival of the Sixties into the world of middle class America, as if Benji's parents started smoking dope. It was like Johnny Carson letting his hair grow; Hollywood was a more intense version of people buying (and I choose that word carefully) into the image of the lifestyle without necessarily digging the ethos.

I liked Harry & Tonto the best of his four Seventies hits (you could see Bruce Dern in the latest version, Nebraska, recently). Next Stop Greenwich Village is good but held back by some of the cast, while Blume and Unmarried, while touching at times about love and loss, are also about spoiled people whom Mazursky seems prone to indulge.

Which is why I think Enemies is such an impressive film for him; Singer is able to relate personal betrayal to the wider grief his characters face, and Mazursky doesn't sugar-coat that. His and Simon's reworking of Scenes From A Marriage just doesn't work, although, like Down & Out in Beverley Hills, it does have its moments. It just doesn't deliver in the clinches, mostly because it's too affectionate towards its Beverley Hills neighbours, where Renoir had no such compunctions.

I wonder if there's a comparison to be done between Mazursky and Woody Allen on the basis of Allen's relative independence, or perhaps on Allen's dichotomy in his early work between his comedies and his Bergmanesque dramas, a dichotomy which seems to cease after Stardust Memories, which in a way is his bitter version of Alex In Wonderland. Then Woody goes Hitchockian...

Two things I probably should have said clearly were that Mazursky's films always had heart, and that they were almost always funny, at least in parts, even when the funny didn't fit. And I would really like to see Vic Morrow's version of Deathwatch.

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