Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tarantino's March Madness Pt.6

Over the course of March the New Beverly Cinema is housing Quentin Tarantino's March Madness. The whole month is in celebration of Quentin Tarantino's birthday and will feature 37 movies selected by the master himself. Most of the films that are playing come from Tarantino's personal collection and a number of them are not available on DVD. The month long programming will feature plenty of grindhouse movies that have been influential to Tarantino and plenty of others as well. Tarantino's March Madness will also be capped off with a seven day run of the uncut version to "Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair." I will be attending thirteen nights of programming at the New Beverly Cinema and in an effort to give my readers the most in-depth experience I can I've planned to breakdown each of the events. Hope you enjoy and here's Part Six...

Note: Technically this is the 9th event of Tarantino's March Madness however it is only the 6th event I've attended. I missed the "Crack House" and "Redneck Miller" double bill, the night of Ralph Bakshi with "Coonskin" and "Hey Good Lookin'," as well as the first midnight feature of March Madness, "Shame of the Jungle."
The evening's programming was a tribute to actor/writer/director Paul Mazursky. A man who has spent a majority of his career peering into the labor of love. Both films I'd not seen previously but had heard they were films not to be missed. I went to the second night of this double feature because Paul Mazursky himself would be there in between the double feature to talk about the movies and his career. Not only was Mazursky there, but so too was Tarantino to interview Mazursky. They spoke to the crowd for just over 20 minutes and gave the crowd some great insight into Mazursky and his process of making movies. I'll get back to the Q&A in a little bit, thought I'd take you through the night as it played out.

Being a Paul Mazursky night Quentin Tarantino setup a number of other Mazursky films he'd either directed, written or starred in over the years. Ahead of "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" was "Moscow on the Hudson," "Willie & Phil" and "An Unmarried Woman." Ahead of "Blume in Love" were "Blackboard Jungle," "I Love You Alice B. Tolkas," "Next Stop, Greenwich Village" and "Alex in Wonderland." Out of the trailers shown I'd only seen Moscow on the Hudson. The rest of them were brand new to me. Most of the Mazursky films I am familiar with came in the 1980's or later while most of the trailers shown were from before the 80's. The first movie I saw of his was "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" a film that I didn't find all that funny because it was mainly adult humor and I was 9 years old when it released and my father brought me along to see it. As a kid, my favorite movie Mazursky directed was "Moon Over Parador" with Richard Dreyfuss. Back then though, I didn't think this is a Paul Mazursky film, instead I was thinking its the guy from "Jaws" or the dad in "Stand by Me." That film appealed to my younger mindset and wasn't stuffed full with adult situations that flew over my head. Back to the trailers shown, Moscow on the Hudson I saw on home video when my mom rented it. I specifically remember asking my mom if I could watch it with her because Mork (Robin Williams) was in it. She warned me it would not be what I was expecting but allowed me to watch anyways. I'm thankful she did, because to this day that is still one of my favorite Paul Mazursky movies. While being a drama that mainly played to adult situations, it has some great humor in it. Stuff that worked for the kid in me. Probably a movie most kids would not like, but something about the immigrant Russian defecting because of his fascination with New York jumped out at me. Not to mention the sultry Maria Conchita Alonso. I haven't seen the movie since the early 90's but re-seeing the trailer reminded me how much I enjoy the film. Willie & Phil is a remake of a French film about two friends who fall in love with the same woman. That woman is Margot Kidder. While the film covers a number of tropes we've seen done plenty, the trailer reminded me of a time when Margot Kidder was absolutely stunning. Sadly Kidder has not aged well and has had something of a checkered past, but the point is that this trailer did a polished job of setting up the believability of two friends falling in love with the same woman. The last trailer before the first feature was An Unmarried Woman which introduces a woman who gets a divorce after 16 years of marriage and begins to re-experience the single life. Now I'm not dying to see this movie by any means, but it does feel like another solid piece to Mazursky's career of peering into romantic relationships and matters of the heart.

How do I even begin to cover "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" when there is so much to dig into. Let's start at the beginning, I went into this night of programming not knowing what really to expect. I mean every other night of programming felt far more like stuff Tarantino would have his hands all over. The programming for Paul Mazursky night however made me scratch my head. It also made me think Tarantino must really love these two films and I just had to see why. After watching, it is clear my presumptions were invalid. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is very much something Tarantino would have his hands all over. The dialogue specifically. Mazursky is a very talented writer and the man knows how to nail honest, believable, hilarious dialogue and situations. Dialogue that any Tarantino fan would appreciate and see the similarities in tone.

"Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" is a brilliant film that takes a realistic and humorist look into relationships. The backdrop is the 1960's, a time when America was wrapping its head around the amorality of a changing American society. From the poster and the trailer you'd think this movie is about wife swapping or swinging, when's is not. Sure the film skims over the idea, but it is far more grounded in the topic of expressing feelings rather than delving into a sexual escapades. It opens up the idea of sharing and truth between not just a husband and wife but amongst friends. Simply put, complete honesty with everyone. The film opens with Bob and Carol attending a institute that takes them through an emotional marathon. Bob and Carol return from the Esalen-style retreat determined to be completely open with everyone they encounter. We see this illustrated hilariously over dinner. Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice have dinner and then Carol proceeds to start asking the waiter questions out of the norm. The waiter asks the group if dinner was satisfactory and in turn, Carol begins to ask him invasive questions about how he felt while serving them. She goes as far as to follow the waiter into the kitchen to hammer home her emotions, imploring the waiter on how he feels. Mazursky goes overboard on purpose in this scene and it works flawlessly. He illustrates the extremes Carol will go to show her willingness to share her feelings. It also shows how she doesn't realize her feelings can make others around her uncomfortable.

Discomfort is another angle that the film is really good at dealing with. Bob has an affair and is open with Carol about it. Together they deal with the ramifications of his actions, but when Carol tells Alice and Ted during a get together, Alice becomes very uncomfortable with the realization her friend has disclosed. She cannot fathom why Carol is so open and forgiving about the situation, furthermore why she so openly told them. This creates both hilarious dialogue and a honest depiction of one person's struggle to cope with her friends' new found openness. We also see discomfort from the character Ted, who doesn't know how to deal with his wife's frustrations. While he understands that his wife is upset, he doesn't understand the degree to which she is upset. This is played out perfectly from the moment Ted and Alice leave Bob and Carol's house on their drive home and into their bedroom as they prepare for bed. The bedroom sequence is one of the most honest and laugh-out-loud marital scenes I've seen on screen. Its a scene that every married or long-term relationship couple has gone through.

The entire cast is exceptional. I don't think there is one actor that shines above the other because the whole group just plays fabulously off one another. They hit all the serious notes and comic relief moments just the same. Never does any joke or situation feel forced becoming a farce. All of it plays as naturally and realistically as possible. Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon are polished as Ted and Alice, the married couple who is unsure of their friends newfound openness. Robert Culp and Natalie Wood play the newly changed Bob and Carol and are also just as memorable in their performances. I can't say it enough, but this film and its characters do not feel acted, but real. That is one big aspect to why this film is such a classic and still hits home after so many years. It is not afraid to be honest. It is not afraid to be awkward when necessary and its not afraid to be psychological. While it plays comedic values off of the "How do you feel?" question, it also strikes a chord with authenticity. Its not pulling any punches.

In between the double feature as I previously said Quentin Tarantino did a Q&A with Paul Mazursky. As the crowd gave both Tarantino and Mazursky a hardy round of applause QT reminded the crowd how funny Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is. Mazursky said that the film has received warm praise and strong laughs around the world. "Even in Czechoslovakia," he said crowds had laughed loud and hard throughout. Mazursky told us that the first person to read the script said it was, "too dirty." That it was "filthy." Mazursky joked, "what if I got Paul Newman to star," then the reader said it be okay. Tarantino said he felt Natalie Wood was "the driving force of the comedy" in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice a statement Paul Mazursky agreed with. Mazursky then told the crowd how he cast her. Mazursky actually revealed he wasn't sure Natalie had the chops to pull off the role but after meeting and talking with her in London he knew she would do fine (that or he was just infatuated with her undeniable sex appeal). Mazursky addressed the fact that when Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice released he was criticized. People told him, "he chickened out" with the ending. While I won't spoil the ending of the film for those who haven't seen it, the crowd agreed with Mazursky and Tarantino that he certainly did not chicken out at all. The ending makes all kinds of sense and is perfectly natural. I think its a huge factor in what makes the film so classic and doesn't date the film. For a film that was made in such a specific era and based around a trendy topic of the time, it is astonishing that the film doesn't feel dated. Outside of the clothing (which Mazursky told the crowd was mainly the actors personal wardrobes) the film could release in theaters today and not feel dated.

The second batch of trailers before the final feature of the Paul Mazursky double bill were even more dated than the first set. We were treated to Paul Mazursky's first acting role in Blackboard Jungle, a film that reminded me of the 1996 film "The Substitute" starring Tom Berenger only set in the 1950's. A very dated film but nonetheless looked highly watchable. The second trailer started off like a TV commercial on how to make pot brownies. A Peter Sellers vehicle written by Mazursky titled I Love You, Alice B. Tolkas, sadly this looked like one of those films that is terribly dated and despite being racy for the time, falls flat now. I haven't seen it of course, but the trailer did not sell me on changing that. The next trailer of the evening was Next Stop, Greenwich Village. I gotta see this movie. An illustrious and young cast in a film about a young man who moves to Greenwich Village and falls in love with Ellen Greene no less. The final trailer of the evening was a dud for me. A film called Alex in Wonderland starring Donald Sutherland as a director in over his head. I'm sure the film is very personal to Mazursky as a director, but the trailer did nothing good for the film and more or less made me not want to see it.

"Blume in Love" is Quentin Tarantino's personal favorite Paul Mazursky film. It may be Tarantino's but it is not mine. While I enjoyed the movie for what it is and the story it tells, it takes entirely too long to reach a resolution. The film has four dynamic performances by George Segal, Susan Anspach, Kris Kristofferson and Marsha Mason as well as another honest script by Paul Mazursky. Mazursky wrote the script in six months and it was based on a real actress who divorced her husband after finding him in bed with a secretary. The film follows Stephen Blume (George Segal), a divorce lawyer who is caught cheating by his wife (Susan Anspach). After a quick divorce, Stephen continues to love his ex-wife. Stephen spends the rest of the story trying to win back his ex-wife who is now dating a rambling musician named Elmo (Kris Kristofferson). Much like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Blume in Love is earnest and honest. It is one man's struggle to win back his ex-wife. It is clear that Mazursky poured his heart into the script as did the actors within the drama.

The best scenes in this movie do not come from Blume trying to win back his ex-wife, instead they come from the relationship Blume develops with his ex-wife's new boyfriend Elmo. Kristofferson and Segal play off each other with precision. They seem like old friends. Credit must be awarded to Kristofferson who bleeds cool in this movie as Elmo. Blume may befriend him at first to get closer to his ex-wife, but its Elmo's creativity and persona that end up making Blume basically fall for him as well as his ex-wife. Another relationship Blume has that helps to carry the sluggish tale is Arlene, a old flame that has remained in love with Blume. Arlene and Blume begin having a sexual relationship. Both using the other for various reasons to cope. While the relationship isn't easy, the scenes between George Segal and Marsha Mason are riveting. Mason is also quite the vixen in this film. I found myself more psychically attracted to her than I did Blume's ex-wife. The relationships that Blume forms outside of trying to win back his ex-wife were what gave the film real heart. It is evident from a quarter of the way through the film that Blume still loves his wife and regrets ever cheating on her, so much of the plot development focusing on that message felt over-long or extended.

The ex-wife's character is a big aspect of what doesn't work in Blume in Love for me. She holds a ton of resentment towards her ex-husband but we are never told why. Sure he cheated on her, but that doesn't mean he doesn't love her or vice versa. It was an act of lust not love. I had a rough time understanding why a woman could so easily and so quickly divorce her husband. There is no fight, no separation, no counseling, just divorce. The separation almost felt like a cop out, like she had been stewing for years and this was the final straw, but if that is the case the audience is never made  privy to that information. What bothered me even further about her character is after the divorce she begins to see a shrink. Wait a second, after the divorce? Why not before the divorce? Why not try to work things out? The split just seemed so matter of fact and too quick. Maybe that is Blume's fault for not trying to fight and just leaving but still, I just couldn't get passed that Nina Blume just ended things so quickly without thinking it through. This argument can be pushed even further once the resolution comes about. The ending I wished the film did not reach just hammered home my opinion that Nina over-reacted. Her over-reaction is of course the entire sub-plot of the film and what keeps the film from finishing before it should have.

Overall I really enjoyed the double bill of Mazursky. Why I wasn't head over heels about "Blume in Love" I didn't hate it or wish I hadn't seen it. It was a emotional script with rich performances. "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" on the other hand is a masterpiece. It is a true classic. Something I've got to get for my home collection. Absolutely hilarious film filled with lots of heart and all kinds of awkward honesty.

Quentin Tarantino's March Madness continues throughout the rest of the month. Check the New Beverly's website for full details and times. Also stay tuned for more coverage of March Madness as I will be continuing to do write-up's on the rest of the events scheduled. You can also check out my previous coverage to March Madness with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.