Friday, July 13, 2007

Classic Paul Mazursky

By Lars Trodson

I had always thought of Paul Mazursky as our modern day Billy Wilder. He seemed, in his prime, to careen from high comedy to serious drama, adept and sensitive at both and, on occasion, capable of the real clunker. This was just like Wilder. Today Mazursky has apparently returned to his roots, which is acting, and when I recently looked on there didn’t seem to be any directorial projects in the pipeline.

There is one movie on his resume that seems particularly due for some recognition, and that is “Tempest”, released in 1982, and which I have not seen in years, but was for some odd reason reminded of just recently. Perhaps it was because I was thinking of John Cassavetes, who stars along with Gena Rowlands, or maybe I had seen a picture of Greece, which is the setting for most of the film.

It doesn’t matter. Remembrances of movies, both those adored and those reviled, come floating back to us for unknown reasons, they are lodged somewhere within us. It could be anything from the late afternoon sunlight on the side of a building, a weed between the cracks in the sidewalk, an overheard comment in a restaurant, or the simple sound of a flag snapping in the wind, that brings images, and thoughts, and, in the end, movies back to us.

I was in the bubble of such nostalgia when I thought of “Tempest” -- there is no ‘the’ in the title even though it is based on Shakespeare’s play -- and it is one of those odd movies from my own past that glows like a good memory; just the thought of it, that it got made, and that it got made the way it did, makes me appreciate those small moments of cinematic magic.

It’s got the drama, the serious and the quiet and the overdone (the scene when the Cassavetes character comes home in the middle of a dinner party drunk), and the comedy, both high (Vittorio Gassman complaining about his aging body) and low (Raul Julia mistaking shaving cream for whipped cream, and the jokes of Jackie Gayle) and insightful (the father and son relationship between Cassavetes and his father, played by the great Paul Stewart, and the delicate comedy of Susan Sarandon in this film), that Masursky has been so good at. “Tempest” is also lovely and warm, and beautifully filmed (by Donald McAlpine).

I remember the film ending with a dance, and all the characters had gathered on the rocky coast of Greece, and there had been a lot of pain and misery that had originally separated these characters, and then there was magic and compassion and forgiveness that brought them all together again. The closing credit sequence, when all the actors come out and bow to the camera as they would on stage, all to Dinah Washington’s singing, is flat out gorgeous.

Please check this out if you can. It’s available on DVD from Sony Pictures.

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