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Remembering Paul Mazursky, A Filmmaker With An Ear For His Era


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Filmmaker Paul Mazursky has died. The writer and director captured the spirit of his times in such comedies as "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" and "An Unmarried Woman." Mazursky died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 84. And joining us now to talk about him is our film critic, Bob Mondello. Hi, Bob.


SIEGEL: Mazursky had a very extensive career. Tell us about it.

MONDELLO: Well, the easiest way to see how extensive it was is to look at what he started with. He helped create the pilot for "The Monkees" on TV. The - it's sort of a riff on the Beatles back in the 1960s. And his most recent acting jobs were on things like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" just a couple of years ago. So he extends that whole period. In between, he got five Oscar nominations and made some of the most interesting comedies of several decades.

SIEGEL: In his earliest days he even acted in "Blackboard Jungle," the movie that gave us "Rock Around The Clock." He was very much a filmmaker though of the late '60s and '70s. And his movies were very much about that time. How did he capture that era, do you think?

MONDELLO: Well, think about the things that people were talking about back then. If you were talking about - I don't know, hash brownies or something like that, that was "Alice B. Toklas." If you were talking about swinging singles, that would be something - maybe, I don't know, probably "Bob & Carol," Actually, though, they were married.

SIEGEL: They were swinging marriages.

MONDELLO: Right, swinging marries. Old age issues came up in "Harry and Tonto." He made a picture called "Down And Out In Beverly Hills" that was about a homeless guy who came into the lives of some very superficial people.

SIEGEL: Nick Nolte.

MONDELLO: Right. So a lot of these pictures - they're usually about something. And let's just take as an example the "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" - let me try that again, "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," which was about the confusion around the sexual liberation era and so-called open relationships of that time. Robert Culp and Natalie Wood played Bob and Carol who chastised their more uptight friends, played by Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon for not being more in touch with their feelings in this scene - even about superficial stuff like Bob's hair.


ROBERT CULP: (As Bob) How do you feel about it?

ELLIOTT GOULD: (As Ted) OK, I feel it's a little long.

NATALIE WOOD: (As Carol) That's beautiful, Ted.

CULP: (As Bob) That's great. You see this? You're starting to open up right away. As soon as you begin to deal with things - what you really feel is that my hair is ridiculously long, and that I'm a middle-aged guy trying to look like a young hippie or something.

GOULD: (As Ted) OK, OK, I think your hair looks ridiculous, it's silly.

CULP: (As Bob) That's gorgeous, man. The truth is always beautiful.

MONDELLO: Now do you remember that era?

SIEGEL: Yeah, it's all coming back to me.

MONDELLO: Yeah, I know. It comes flooding back when you hear his stuff. It was very much of the time and very specifically about the kinds of people that were then.

SIEGEL: Do think that because Mazursky began his career as an actor that he - that helped him get better performances out of his actors?

MONDELLO: Absolutely. In fact, he got - Art Carney got an Oscar for his performance in "Harry and Tonto," playing an older guy than he actually was at the time. It was - he got beautiful performances out of people precisely because he knew how to draw them out, how to draw out feelings.

SIEGEL: Bob, thanks for talking with us.

MONDELLO: Always a pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's our film critic, Bob Mondello remembering Paul Mazursky who died yesterday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.