Paul Mazursky: Love and Laughter

Paul Mazursky’s films offer a savvy updating of the traditional Hollywood comedy in which absurdism is gently mixed with personal implication.

Most of Mazursky’s films are, to some degree or another, autobiographical. At the very least they are based on Mazursky’s experiences and feelings.

Their characters tend to be people the filmmaker has known, and his approach, while frequently satirical, is also marked by charity and a genuine fondness.

In the words of critic Richard Corliss, Mazursky is “a liberal satirist, closer to an indulgent Horace than to a bitter Juvenal.”

Among his best-known films are Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Moscow on the Hudson, Enemies: A Love Story, Scenes from a Mall and Next Stop, Greenwich Village.

Four of his features are spotlighted in the Library’s film series Paul Mazursky: Love and Laughter screening at 1:30 p.m. Saturdays during April in the Durwood Film Vault of the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Mazursky has several things in common with his fellow filmmakers Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. He grew up in NYC – but not Manhattan, which stood as a beacon of urban sophistication and exoticism across the water from his backwards Brooklyn. He began his career as a comedian. He worked in television as a comedy writer.

But he was also an actor. He played a juvenile delinquent in The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and appeared on numerous TV shows in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

In 1961 he and his partner Larry Tucker were hired to write for the Danny Kaye Show, and during the summer hiatus they wrote movie scripts and created the pilot for the Monkees TV show.

In 1968 their screenplay for I Love You Alice B. Toklas was produced and two years later Mazursky made his directing debut with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

Many of Mazursky’s films are set in sunny California, but critic Diane Jacobs writes of “Mazursky’s perspective as comedian, quasi-tourist in the land of the swingers ... the uprooted New Yorker as bemused spectator in a maybe charmed but certainly strange land.”

Mazursky, who turns 82 on April 25, has received five Academy Award nominations, four for his screenplay writing and one as producer of the best picture-nominated An Unmarried Woman.

Though largely retired from directing (his last outing was the 2006 documentary Yippee), he continues to act. In recent years he has had recurring roles on The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm and in 2011 voiced a character in the animated feature Kung Fu Panda 2.

The four films featured in this series:

April 7: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976:R) – A Brooklyn boy leaves his clinging mother (Shelley Winters) for some grown-up adventures in the bohemian world of early ‘50s Manhattan.

April 14: An Unmarried Woman (1978:R) – When her husband leaves her, a Manhattan woman (Oscar-nominated Jill Clayburgh) goes on a journey of self-discovery. With Michael Murphy, Alan Bates.

April 21: Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986:R) – A suicidal bum (Nick Nolte) becomes the lifestyle guru to a wealthy couple (Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler), turning their lives upside down.

April 28: Scenes from a Mall (1991:R) – California couple Woody Allen and Bette Midler spend a day at the local shopping mall preparing for their wedding anniversary.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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