Paul Mazursky – Actor, Screenwriter and Director
Mazursky began his career with smaller roles, and during his entire career starred in more than seventy films and TV series, mostly in supporting roles. He made his acting debut in Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (1953) for shoes opening credits he changed his original name Irwin Lawrence to Paul. He was more successful as a screenwriter (especially on films that he directed himself and for those he won most of his many awards and four nominations for an Oscar – from his directing debut Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) to Enemies: A Love Story (1989) based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel. As a director, he made his best films in the 1970’s when he was regarded as one of the most interesting new American authors. Nevertheless, unlike many other of his colleague directors, who focused on social criticism, Mazursky was more interested in the destiny of individuals who were guided more by emotions than life conditions.
His fourth film Harry and Tonto (1974) was the first one to play in our theatres. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay, and the golden statue went to Art Carney as Best Actor in the role of an old widower who loses his apartment in New York and travels around the US visiting his relatives with his beloved cat (that is not allowed on the plane). That unusual journey describes different aspects of the American everyday life as well as the complexity of the protagonist’s character. Afterwards he directed his semi-autobiographical film Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976). In one of the sequences the protagonist dreams about his future fame as a successful actor and starts to recite out oud on an empty station deck. Suddenly a policeman appears and the actor’s talent is not sufficient for him to be able to recognize either a budding actor neither a drunk who is simply disturbing the public peace. This scene reveals one of the author’s most pronounced qualities – presentation of dramatic situation in an original and often comic manner that helps create an unique atmosphere in which we unexpectedly discover very nuanced characteristics of heroes as well the environment in which Mazursky investigated rather the mentality of people and their habits then social problems. In doing so he does not reach for special effects used by some directors, but rather uses a primarily functional firm directorial hand that relies on his own quality screenplays and endeavor to gain from his actors (whom he understands well thanks to his own acting experiences) both persuasiveness and a powerful emotional charge that touches the senses of the audience. In Next Stop, Greenwich Village these qualities brought nominations for the Golden Globe to the young protagonist Lenny Baker as Best Debutant and Shelley Winters as Best Supporting Actress.
This important characteristic of his directing style confirms the fact that, besides Art Carney who won an Oscar for Harry and Tonto, five more actors were nominated for the most prestigious film award - Dyan Cannon, Elliott Gould, Lena Olin, Anjelica Huston and Jill Clayburgh who was nominated as Best Actress for her role in the film An Unmarried Woman (1978), one of the most respected films from the 1970’s and the only film by Mazursky that was nominated as Best Film. In the 1980’s he held on to his prestige but from the 1990’s his films seized to be so successful and he slowly became forgotten. Two of his very good films that Film Programs is screening within this year’s In Memoriam program and as a reminder on this valuable filmmaker, show that undoubtedly Paul Mazursky holds an important place in the history of American film. (Tomislav Kurelec)