The great Paul Mazursky has died at the age of 84. For eight or nine years Mazursky’s films seemed to understand the half-comedic, half-bittersweet backwash of the ’60s and ’70s better than any other filmmaker except perhaps Robert Altman. Mazurksy was the reigning Woody Allen figure — the guy whose films were connected with the moods and meanderings and what modern hipster relationships were really about back then — before Allen found his voice and took the crown away from Mazursky with Annie Hall in ’78. Mazursky’s New York roots went into Next Stop, Greenwich Village (’76), An Unmarried Woman (’78) and Moscow on the Hudson (’84) but there was always something more knowing and intimate about his Los Angeles-based films. From ’69 to ’78 Mazursky held mountains in the palm of his hands, or something close to that.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (’69), the hugely successful dramedy about the downside of liberal sexual mores among hip Los Angelenos, started things off. Next was Alex in Wonderland (’70), a vaguely hallucinogenic, Fellini-esque dreamscape deal about an indecisive filmmaker (read: Mazursky), played by Donald Sutherland. Then came Mazurky’s masterpiece — Blume in Love (’73), a dramedy about infidelity, a marital breakup, therapy, post-marital depression and a gradual rapprochement with George Segal, Susan Anspach and Kris Kristofferson. This was followed by the gentle and likable Harry and Tonto (’74) — a modest little road film. It was followed by Next Stop, Greenwich Village, an autobiographical affection piece about Mazursky’s early days as a New York actor (probably his second-best ever). Then came An Unmarried Woman (’78), the first of the Jill Clayburgh emancipated woman films of the ’70s and ’80s and a fine romantic drama in its own right, augmented by an excellent Alan Bates performance.
Woman brought Mazurky’s triples-and-homers period to a close. Willie & Phil (’80) and Tempest (’82) were singles, and Moscow on the Hudson (’84) and Down and Out in Beverly Hills (’86) were cleanly hit ground-rule doubles. His last four were somewhere between whiffs and base-on-balls — Moon Over Parador (’88), the morose Enemies, a Love Story (’89), Scenes From a Mall (’91) and The Pickle (’93). I used to see Mazursky and pallies enjoying lox and bagels at the Farmer’s Market in the ’90s. We all have to go sometime, but Mazursky lived an exceptionally rich and robust life (certainly from a creative standpoint), and for a while there he really ruled the cultural roost.