Paul Mazursky, who died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 84, was one of a key handful of distinctive 1970s filmmakers who revealed a wider world to many of us during our vulnerable moviegoing adolescence. When we're young, our impressionable hearts and minds are at the mercy of writers and directors who either have something to say, and a way to say it, or they don't. Mazursky had his ways. He believed in love, the ridiculous misery of it and the value. The whole human comedy.
While his adoration of so many other filmmakers working in so many other languages sometimes led him down the narrow paths of pastiche and imitation, his best work cries out for reexamination. There's a lot of it, from "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" (1969) to "Enemies: A Love Story" 20 years later. Thanks to the commercial success of his wife-swapping comedy, longtime actor and writer Mazursky had the cache (quickly tarnished by his follow-up, "Alex in Wonderland," though quickly regained thereafter, at least for a few years) to make a variety of movies in his own sidewinding style, with a killer array of actors.
In 2009 Mazursky introduced a beautiful print of "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" at the Traverse City (Michigan) Film Festival, and told hilarious stories about nervous studio executives, and a sneak preview audience in Denver that saved Mazursky's bacon. A crucial laugh line in an early scene, detonated by Elliott Gould just so, exploded the place. The executives heard it and knew they had a winner. Mazursky had a hunch the same laugh would work wherever the movie played. In 2009 in Traverse City it worked all over again, with 1,000 people in attendance.
In Anne Thompson's Indiewire column earlier this week, the industry analyst referenced Howard Rodman of the
"Paul Mazursky's talents as an actor (he was in