Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

20 May 2006

Overdue Paul Mazursky Post

I find Paul Mazursky's films fascinating. This is due, I think, mostly to the fact that I have no idea what he's quite getting at. His films are meandering, multi-character dramatic comedies full of miscellania and charm. They possess a committed liberalism and explore the new freedoms of the 1960's and 1970's (not uniformly, of course, but I've seen three of these movies recently and he seems to be interested in this topic.) About a year ago, I finally saw his 1969 breakout Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which I really admired (though this film confused me as much as anything), and this month I decided to watch two more of his movies. So a couple weeks ago, I rented An Unmarried Woman from 1978 and this morning I saw Harry and Tonto from 1974. The films are so hard to categorize. I'm not even sure what they're about, even. They're not what I would call experimental films in any way, really, but they seem to grasp something about everyday life in the 1970's that I just don't know about (being younger than that decade.) I find this fascinating, not to mention educational. He seems to really understand the loss and restlessness that came with the (partial) abandonment of the rigidity of the (phoney) moralism of the 1950's in this country. I mean, I truly think that these films are a schooling of sorts: like some kind of time capsule into the life and times of the generation before me.

An Unmarried Woman stars Jill Clayburgh (the poor man's Diane Keaton) as a woman a happily married woman who becomes a divorcée over the course of the film, is thrown off-balance by this (naturally) and finds herself adrift and wandering in New York City, searching for happiness and trying very, very hard not to be angry at everybody and everything (and not usually succeeding). It's a very interesting exploration of womanhood and singlehood and the trials of the recently divorced. "Interesting" seems like faint praise, but the thing is, this is a really good film with some excellent performances and a wonderful script. The trouble is that it is not about me at all: it's about my parents' generation and though it's about something many of that generation experienced, I can't relate emotionally.

I feel the same way about Harry and Tonto (for which its star, Art Carney, received a Best Actor Oscar): it isn't something to which I can really relate. Harry and Tonto (and An Unmarried Woman—and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice for that matter) has the same effect on me. These Paul Mazursky films are—I don't want to say "stuck" or "trapped" because I don't want to sound negative—specific to the 1970's in a way that, say, Woody Allen's 1970's films aren't for me. Mazursky's explorations are smaller or more decade-specific than Allen's, I guess. I'm confusing myself. Mazursky confuses me. I feel confounded by his abilities, which are numerous, and his choice of topics, which seem to me to be a variation on the idea of drawing-room dramas from the early part of the century: dealing with contemporary problems with contemporaneous solutions or not offering solutions at all (a favorite artistic solution of the 1970's.)

I don't know where this post is headed really, but a lot is running through my head about Paul Mazursky.

I should also say that nothing in this post relates to my favorite of Mazursky's films: Enemies: a Love Story from 1989.

Hm. OK. I'm going to go do something else now.