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RIP Paul Mazursky

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by Sam Adams
July 1, 2014 5:00 PM
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The director and actor Paul Mazursky has died at age 84 after a long illness. He was nominated for four Academy Awards for screenwriting — for "Bob & Carol & Ted and Alice," "Harry and Tonto," "An Unmarried Woman," and "Enemies: A Love Story" — and one for Best Picture, as a producer of "An Unmarried Woman." It had been more than 20 years since his last movie as both writer and director, 1993's "The Pickle," and he directed his final film, "Yippee," in 2006,  but he had a role on "The Sopranos" as the poker dealer called Sunshine, and appeared in several episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as Mel Brooks' friend, Norm. 

Carrie Rickey

With "The Monkees" and his early films "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas" and "Bob & Carl & Ted & Alice," Mazursky introduced the mainstream to the counterculture — and vice versa. Not only did he have a keen eye for generational fault lines but also a curator’s sense of the defining articles of pop culture of the moment,  Mazursky’s comedies are time capsules, inventories of what upwardly mobile Americans wore and ate at a given moment (miniskirts and gazpacho in "Bob & Carol," capes and quiche in "An Unmarried Woman," silk shirts and sushi in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"). His best films, "Harry and Tonto" (1974), a geriatric King Lear, and "Enemies: A Love Story," a Holocaust romance, are comedies about survival and survivors.

Richard Natale, Variety

Mazursky captured the spirit of the late ’60s and the ’70s, when the American moral climate was turned on its head. His films entertainingly and humanistically explored such weighty issues as marital fidelity, the merits of psychological therapy and modern divorce: “Bob and Ted,” starring Robert Culp and Natalie Wood as a “liberated” married couple; “Blume in Love,” starring George Segal and Susan Anspach and focusing on the nature of romantic commitment; “Harry and Tonto,” starring Art Carney and focusing on the modern family and approaching old age; the more personal “Next Stop, Greenwich Village”; and his most popular film, “An Unmarried Woman,” with Jill Clayburgh and Alan Bates, about divorce in the feminist era.


Richard Brody, New Yorker

A child of the thirties and forties who started out in the fifties, he was a creator of the sixties—a co-writer, with Larry Tucker, of the TV series “The Monkees,” and the movie “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas.” (Tucker, too, is a noteworthy character in the movies of the sixties, not least for his memorable roles in “Blast of Silence” and “Shock Corridor.”) Because Mazursky wasn’t of the sixties, they hit him hard; as a new world opened up and an old one was sloughed off into irrelevance, he saw the dramatic and comic possibilities of radical change on an intimate scale—and saw that the drama and the comedy were inseparable.

Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

A gentle satirist of contemporary society, Mazursky at his best chronicled the social trends of the late 1960s and the '70s, including its touchy-feely self-improvement fads, shifting rules for love and sex, drug experimentation and other excesses. In the process, he created characters memorable for their struggles and vanities: the well-heeled couples in his 1969 directorial debut "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" who believe spouse-swapping is the cure for their hang-ups; the divorce lawyer in "Blume in Love" who thinks sexual freedom is great until his wife wants it; and the divorcee in "An Unmarried Woman" who steps gingerly into the singles scene after 15 years of what she thought had been a happy marriage.


Adam Bernstein, Washington Post

As a director and screenwriter, Mr. Mazursky was an acquired taste whom many critics, including Pauline Kael, acquired. She championed him as “a comic poet” in the tradition of Federico Fellini, and many of his best-known works capture the exhilarating sense of watching a film that defies barriers between drama, satire, romantic comedy and unsettling realism.

Dan Callahan, RogerEbert.com

Because he was an actor first if not foremost (he has 76 credits as an actor on IMDb but only 19 directorial credits), Paul Mazursky's own movies as a director live and breathe and bloom with the air and abandon of human behavior in all its contradiction and all its starry glory. Think of his movies and you immediately think of the people in them and the actors who played them. Mazursky knew how to play to his performer’s strengths, so that Natalie Wood is not outmatched by the more comedically expert Dyan Cannon in his first film “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1969) but brought gently into the fold of the movie’s jokes and warmth and sexual glow.


Kevin Jagernauth, the Playlist

He may not have been as well known as his contemporaries of the American golden age of cinema—Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Bob Rafelson etc. — but Paul Mazursky was just as influential. A writer, director and actor, Mazursky cemented his reputation with relationship films like "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," "An Unmarried Woman," "Blume in Love," and "Enemies: A Love Story" and yet, despite five Oscar nominations, was somewhat underappreciated. He passed away today at the age of 84, and it's probably time to dip into his oeuvre if you haven't.


Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood

The writer-director flourished inside the studio system during the '70s and '80s, at a time when the studios were more permissive than they are today. Movies didn't cost as much. A single exec in charge of production could greenlight a movie. It's hard to imagine any studio head today making a film about an old man and his cat.
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