Category Archives: Come Back to the Five and Dime

Real, Funny

Flipping through the index in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls — a book about the rampage of sex, drugs and revolution in Seventies Hollywood and Hollywood in the seventies — one discovers that “Mazursky, Paul” has only two page numbers after it. (Scorsese alone takes up six lines.)

At the time, Mazursky’s status as one of the decade’s reigning directors was an item of popular and critical consensus, but by the early nineties, the tides had turned. The Pickle (1993) was panned, and Mazursky’s subsequent efforts, though intermittently wonderful, did not live up to the work of his New Hollywood golden age. These days it seems like many cinephiles and even some critics have simply forgotten Mazursky’s films, full stop.

But back then (way back), in the American cinema’s most formidable post-war decade, Mazursky was untouchable. So much so that Time magazine critic and Film Comment Editor Richard Corliss could confidently predict:

Paul Mazursky is likely to be remembered as the filmmaker of the seventies. No screenwriter has probed so deep under the pampered skin of this fascinating, maligned decade; no director has so successfully mined it for home-truth human revelations…. Mazursky has created a body of work unmatched in contemporary American cinema for its originality and cohesiveness. 

Mazursky’s pictures were explicitly, almost aggressively, enmeshed in the here and now (or from the vantage of decades passed, the then and there). Remember the psychedelic brownies? The suburban orgies? Remember the gurus, the shrinks, and the Rodeo Drive fetishists? They’re all there. Chronicling these shifts in the cultural ethos, Mazursky has preserved the changing passions of the American middle class in a kind of comic formaldehyde. The films were prescient, honest, and always hilarious.

Nearly forty at the time of his directorial debut, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), Mazursky was some ten years older than the fresh batch of younger iconoclast directors. That fact understandably clashed with the then-popular image of directors as studio-lot rebels and insurgents of style. Mazursky, by comparison, seemed like an old-fashioned romantic and unreconstructed classicist. Like Frank Capra, he had an open heart but a satirical squint. Like Jean Renoir, he never let jokes get between him and the hard truths of his characters. And unlike most New Hollywood filmmakers, Paul Mazursky, part hippie, part father, had perspective andtendress. There was no other Hollywood writer/director with such a generous admiration of human foible, no other American auteur so shrewdly attuned to the cockeyed truths of how we love.

How could such an accomplished film-maker have slipped by?

Please continue reading reading excerpts from my new book, Paul on Mazursky, at Altscreen.

Dear Show Business Journalism

Dear Show Business Journalism,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sam Wasson, I’m a Los Angeles native, and I’ve been following you for sometime. Years ago, after a solid decade of really admiring your progress, I began to wonder if something was going wrong. For a long time I didn’t want to say anything, but now I must admit I’ve begun to panic.

You see, Show Business Journalism, I saw this video (above), and I realized you really have devolved into snide remarks from girls making unfunny jokes about dead celebrities. When did this happen? I wonder, do you remember an exact moment? If so, what were you doing? We’re you out of town? Asleep? I don’t mean to pry – it’s just that I haven’t heard from you in some time and I want to make sure you’re okay.

And while I have your attention, I have to ask you, when did Lillian Ross’s profession become Chelsea Handler’s? I mean, when did Hollywood cede into The Valley? It’s okay if you don’t have the answer, but honestly, Show Business Journalism, I’m starting to get a little embarrassed when sports writers ask me what I do for a living!

I know coming to you for advice is a little bit like writing to Santa Claus, but I really don’t know what else to do.

If you are dead (as I suspect you might be), would you do me the favor of passing along this note along to Paddy Chayefsky? Thanks! Please tell him that I just looked outside and no one in Venice, California is throwing open their windows and screaming into the night. If you get a chance, ask him if I should scream. I’d be more than happy to. Also, ask him if “I’m mad as hell” etc is still his scream of choice, or if he’d like to rewrite the line for 2010. Something tells me “I feel nothing and I’m not going to take it anymore!” might rouse contemporary masses, though paradoxically, I’d wager those who feel nothing would take anything, i.e. Furry Vengeance.

Thanks again,

Sam

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Dear Adrian

Dear Adrian,

The other night, my friend and I were having a falafel down by the beach, and your name came up, and I managed to convince him that you were worth a serious look. Having seen Fatal Attraction fairly recently, and not wanting to reopen the Eszterhas mess of Flashdance, we decided on Indecent Proposal.

I have to admit, I was nervous. I knew I was in safe territory with 9 ½ weeks and Lolita and Unfaithful, but all I could remember from Indecent Proposal was the air of Dawn Steel goofiness about it, the instant-camp quality that surrounded the movie when it came out almost twenty years ago. And after spending the full lunch defending you, extolling your knack for inserts, your sensitive handling of actresses, and your amazingly variant sex scenes, I didn’t want to roll the dice (as it were) on what I was sure would be an unwise gamble.

(Are you in France, btw?)

But I was wrong, Adrian. Really wrong. Indecent Proposal looks better now than it ever did. Parts of it are terrific.

Of course, there’s really no way you can surmount the problem of your material, which even you must admit is TV stuff. (“If you ever want something badly let it go. If it comes back to you, then it’s yours forever.”) There were certain moments when I could practically feel a tampon commercial coming on, moments when I understood why coming to your defense has been an uphill battle.

But can we get back to those sex scenes? Where your contemporaries went in for things like panting stomachs and sweaty brows and – dear God – pans up from a trail of discarded clothes, you draw in all of these wonderful little naturalistic details, and allow room for accidents (like when Woody Harrelson climbs on top of Demi and accidentally turns over a chair), and you never fall for stupid slow motion stuff, or gooey power ballads, or any of the other jive that screams PEOPLE DOING IT IN MOVIE.

You’re interested in your characters enjoying each other. I can’t remember, for instance, the last time I saw two grown-up lovers actually laugh in the middle of a fuck. But in Indecent Proposal you allow it to happen. That kind of observational insight draws us into them being drawn into each other and makes the whole ridiculous arrangement (“One night with your wife for a million dollars…”) seem real. Good move, Adrian. Good move.

Anyhow, we miss you over here.

Love,

Sam

P.S. Even if no one else is saying it, I just wanted to say I know you’re an auteur.

Dear Whit

Dear Whit,

You made three movies, beginning with Metropolitan, twenty years ago. Then you made Barcelona, which was about as good a follow up as we could have asked for. Then you made The Last Days of Disco, which wasn’t. But we didn’t care.

In those days, before Wes Anderson, we, the young and smart and frisky, thought you were going to take us out of the hands of Woody Allen and into the next phase of urban-literate moviegoing. We counted on you.

Now you’ve disappeared. You’ve gone Salinger. You wrote a novel, you escaped to France. You’ve directed commercials, written screenplays (one about a war in China, right?). But why? What happened to movies?

Was it the bad reviews? If so, don’t worry about that; it happens to everyone. Was it the times? Did you feel, as we made our way into the 2000s, that your brand of nostalgia was getting stale? Well, if that was the case, let me assure you, with the current eighties revival, you’d be more prescient than ever. Or did you just get tired of movies? I can understand that. It’s a tough road, I know. Maybe the hardest. But if you need a guy to hold the boom, call me. I’m here.

We’re all here.

Come back, Whit. You can do it. Just pick up a camera (it needn’t be film), find a few tipsy party girls, and throw Chris Eigeman at them. Don’t even worry about the East Side Apartment. I know people. I’ll make the calls. All you have to do is show up.

Love,

Sam

P.S. Hurry. The Avatars are gaining.