Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Writer-Director Paul Mazursky Dead at 84

By Steve Evans

Five-time Oscar nominee Paul Mazursky, who played a role in Stanley Kubrick's first film, Fear and Desire, died June 30 in Los Angeles. He was 84.

Mazursky's career as an actor, writer, director and producer spanned six decades and almost all genres, although his focus remained primarily on comedy and drama. Always a bridesmaid, he came closest to winning the Academy Award for his work on An Unmarried Woman (1978), starring Jill Clayburgh as a wealthy Manhattanite whose life is shattered when her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Mazursky was up for the Oscar that year as writer, director and producer. Clayburgh also received a nod for Best Actress.

His most popular film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), is a remake of Jean Renoir's classic French satire Boudu Saved From Drowning. Mazursky was reportedly a great admirer of French cinema, Renoir in particular, and this fact alone drew me to Mazurksy's work through the years. Down and Out remains one of my favorite films satirizing the Reagan years.

As an actor, Mazursky played a delinquent tormenting Glenn Ford's high school teacher in the hugely influential Blackboard Jungle (1955). Late in life, he had a recurring role as the poker dealer Sunshine in The Sopranos.

As a writer, Mazursky penned the amusing hippie film I love You Alice B. Toklas (1968) starring Peter Sellers as a square who learns to tune in, turn on, drop out and loosen up with the benefit of a special hash-brownie recipe. Getting it on with Leigh Taylor-Young certainly adds to Sellers' enthusiasm for the role.

A Jewish kid from Brooklyn, Mazursky's work was often compared with Woody Allen, as the two worked similar turf. Mazursky never came completely out of Allen's shadow, but they collaborated through the years and Mazursky's films never failed to entertain.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that Mazursky's comedies "are more intelligent than most of the serious films around."

Always a writer of topical material, much of Mazursky's output may now seem dated as his settings are invariably linked to the social concerns of a specific time and place. You should seek them out, anyway.

He had an acerbic wit that reportedly emerged from a gentle spirit and a fascination with the foibles of average Americans.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

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