I was in London last week and so missed the news of the death of film director Paul Mazursky. The main talent behind such movies as “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” “An Unmarried Woman” and “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” Mazursky was a multifaceted filmmaker with a penchant for examining and often satirizing contemporary American mores. I had the opportunity to interview Mazursky in 1996 in connection with one of his later efforts, the now largely forgotten “Faithful.”
The Hollywood story in the mid-‘90s is spending run wild — budgets bloated to
“Waterworld” proportions, actors' salaries topping $20 million.
But follow the figures and you risk losing sight of the primary fact of movie life: Hollywood money is hard to come by. That holds particularly true when it comes to financing personal films that fall outside the industry’s easily recognizable genres.
That would seem not to be an issue this time out for veteran director Paul Mazursky. His new movie, “Faithful,” is noteworthy for his lack of personal involvement in two key areas.
The picture is the first in Mazursky’s 27-year directing career he did not have a hand in scripting. Chazz Palminteri — who co-stars with Cher and Ryan O’Neal — adapted the screenplay from his own stage comedy. “Faithful” is also one of only a handful of his films Mazursky did not produce; that task fell to Robert De Niro’s Tribeca company.
“The people at Tribeca, that's Bob De Niro, they sent me the script, and I liked it,” Mazursky recalled in an interview from his Southern California offices. “I met with Chazz and later with Bob. He had some notions on a couple of things.
“I don’t think I ever would have written ‘Faithful,’” he added. “I don’t think my head would have imagined that.”
Journalists tread uncertain ground in labeling “Faithful” a commercial Mazursky film, as opposed to his more personal works. It is a tempting distinction to make so marked have been Mazursky’s moves between broad social comedies and quieter, insightful dramas.
* Commercial -- “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1969), a satire on the eras middle-class sexual mores; “Moscow On the Hudson” (1984), which established Robin Williams acting credentials; “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1985), a lighthearted spoof in the mid-decade Touchstone manner, complete with Bette Midler; and “Moon Over Parador” (1988), a parody of politics and actors.
* Personal -- “Alex in Wonderland” (1970), Mazursky’s “8 1/2,” a look at the new Hollywood; “Harry and Tonto" (1974), which turned “Easy Rider” upside down, with Art Carney as an old man in search of America; “Next Stop, Greenwich Village” (1976), which explores the filmmakers roots as a stand-up comedian; “An Unmarried Woman” (1978), a watershed domestic drama at the height of the women’s movement; and “Enemies, A Love Story” (1989), a look back at New York in the 1940s in the shadow of the Holocaust.
But to speak with Mazursky -- who turns 66 this month -- is to realize he rejects such distinctions, just as he enjoys blurring the lines between producer, writer and actor.
“Making a commercial picture,” Mazursky said, “doesn’t mean they’re not personal. ‘Down and Out’ comes from a pretty personal bit of self-satirization about the nouveau riche.” Likewise, “Moon Over Parador” had something personal to impart concerning his feelings toward actors.
There’s all kinds of movies, Mazursky said, and they are all difficult to finance. In preparing “An Unmarried Woman,” he was told money would be easier to come by if Jill Clayburgh’s titular character wound up with a man.
“When I went to get ‘Harry and Tonto' made, it was very difficult,” he added. “It got turned down about 20 times.”
In “Faithful,” Palminteri plays Tony, a contract killer hired by husband ONeal to kill wife Cher on their 20th anniversary. She manages to turn the tables on both men, however, gaining self-respect and even enabling Tony to confront his personal demons.
Mazursky appears as the hit man’s therapist. To ask why the director acts is to be told bluntly, “I started as an actor.”
The Brooklyn-born Mazursky made his film debut in Stanley Kubrick’s 1953 drama “Fear and Desire,” but is remembered more for portraying one of Glenn Ford’s recalcitrant pupils two years later in “The Blackboard Jungle.” He later wrote for television’s “Danny Kaye Show” and “The Monkees" before graduating to features.
“We make too much of this kind of, ‘Well, just do one thing’ in this country,” Mazursky said. “It’s fun to act. I like to act; I like the challenge. It reminds me how difficult it is for actors. And you get your medical coverage.”
“Faithful,” which opened Wednesday to mixed reviews, marks Cher’s first screen role since 1990’s “Mermaids.” If she was absent too long, Mazursky said, it was that she was secure in the knowledge that her career has proven oddly resilient.
“I don’t really know why she did it; I think she just got off and started doing some musical things, doing infomercials,” he said. “But look at how many careers she’s had. She does so much stuff.
“She’s a big talent. She was brilliant in ‘Moonstruck’; she was great in ‘Mask.’ And she still has a lot of the street in her, which endears her.”
Mazursky will find out today what that means for “Faithful” when the film’s opening-weekend take is released. The figure will greatly determine which of Mazursky’s three or four pending projects gets produced.
“There’s no question that its important,” the director said. “You can kid yourself about it, but (producers) go with what happened yesterday. They have selective memories.”
Among the aforementioned projects is a sequel to the $150-million hit “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” As for where it would fit, personal or commercial, forget it.
“When you make money,” Mazursky said, “you don’t stop to think, ‘Does this fit into my oeuvre?’"
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