Over the past two days I’ve had to “re-vist” two films from my childhood. In addition, I’m also in the process of working through the challenges of PTSD. Up until 2008, I was a highly-functioning and successful person. But as of 2009 I’ve been required to go on Disability. Just as I think things are getting better it seems I get knocked 50 paces back. It is a tiring process and one I’m unlikely to “beat” well enough to ever be able to return to a professional job.
Luckily for me, I’ve had even more free time to devote to my pleasure of Film Art. There is no money to be found and no real pressures. Just interesting interactions and an ability to voice my thoughts. It has also led me back to “blogging.” I had pretty much decided that I was done with blogging, but I’ve returned to it for a number of reasons. One of which is to “re-assemble” my own identity and empowerment.
I’m not sure if it is because many of my posts have been requested or if it is due to the request that I get myself on Twitter, but more people are stopping by my sight right now than even back in the early 2000’s. My last post seemed to distress more than a few people. The distress is related to my childhood. Just for the record, I’m OK. I’m not great, but I’m working on it. I enjoy encaging with people who logically disagree with me. I do not encage with people who appear to be angry at my opinion(s). But after several caring people reached out to me via e-mail, I’ve decided to “alter” my childhood a bit. I also do not want to cause my family any more sadness than my father caused. With this stated, when you now read my account of something from my childhood, it is true. But for those of you who know me, you’re likely to think I’m trying to “soften” my life. I’m not. I just don’t want to cause worry or concern.
This brings me to the two movies I have been asked to re-visit, summarize and provide my opinion(s) regarding possible Film Festival interests, the worthiness of pursuing licensing challenges, restoration and re-distribution to current HD/Blu-Ray formats.
I really only fully understand a few things in life:
Corporate Operations, Office Management, Human Resource Management, Hiring, Terminations, Salary Assessments and Movies. I know a lot about movies. And surprisingly, I’ve developed some rewarding friendships and connections related to the world of film.
Prior to PTSD / DID challenges, the money I earned was from within the realm of Corporate America. Film Festivals and Film Theory were hobbies. Making money in the world of film is challenging and far too “cut throat” for me. I’m happy doing what I can here and there in my own ways. And I do these things for free.
The two films I “re-visited” are Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Both of these films are most certainly reflections of their eras. They are dated, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Truth be told, it is often a major positive for Cinematic Reconsideration. After I finished watching both films, it struck me how deeply both are connected to the concept and idea of “identity.” Which is something I spend a good deal working through in therapy.
I have never viewed myself as a “intimidating” or “threatening” person. Considering that I’m just under 5’10” and weigh somewhere between 155 to 165 pounds, I’ve always felt like I was the opposite of “intimidating” or “threatening.” From the time I entered college through to my last well-paid position within the corporate sphere, I was always surprised to discover that my fellow-students, my staff, colleagues and superiors found me to be intimidating. But they always did. I would try to “refine” my “approach” but this opinion never seemed to really fade.
It was never that I was disliked or viewed as unfair, but I seemed to instill some feeling that there were certain expectations and professional boundaries that could not be failed or crossed when it came to interacting with me. When I first returned to San Francisco in 2005, I landed a solid job at a law firm as Operations/HR Manager. It was the most difficult and unpleasant position and firm within which I found myself.
Eventually it boiled down a merger of two different small offices into one space that I had to put my foot down firmly to ensure that the transition to a new and integrated space was handled fairly and logically. This resulted in individual and group meetings with every lawyer at the firm. It sucked, but the transition was completed without any incident. Partners were adjusting to smaller offices and staff to the fun world of cubical spaces. I was quite pleased.
Then I was called into meet with the Partner to whom I officially directly reported. It was an odd meeting. He thanked me for getting everyone to agree and moved successfully. Then he passively observed that my “intimidating manner” served me well in “negotiating” and “persuading” stubborn“old men” to adapt to change. I quit the next day.
Fast forward ten years to this morning as I began to watch An Unmarried Woman. The movie was just starting when I realized I needed to take my dog for a walk. I “paused” the inferior DVD and took my crazy little dog for a walk. Or, rather, she walked me. I was just keeping up with the mass of white fur that forms my tiny dog when she finally stopped to smell a bush on the side of the street.
I stood there lost in my own thoughts of when I had first seen An Unmarried Woman. I was thinking about how inappropriate it was that I had been taken to a cinema to see that film when it first came out. I was just barely 12 years old. Then I began to calculate that year with my date of birth to be sure I wasn’t incorrect — when a very quiet but very big jogger-dude ran past me at an alarmingly close range.
My response was not “planned.” It was truly an “auto-instinctive” reaction. Just before this “creeper” jogger wisk’d by me, my right hand was on the leash close to my dog. My left hand was hanging free. Maybe a second before I was fully aware that a person was running directly at my back with only a couple of inches between us — my left arm shot out in a fist and my voice ordered out a warning:
“Mother F#*@! BACK OFF!” My arm and fist smashed into his chest. I didn’t mean it! He stumbled back.
And this huge buffed-out man said, “Dude! I want no trouble! Ok?” He had his hands up in the air as if I was holding a gun on him or something.
I immediately started apologizing, “I’m so sorry! I just didn’t know you were there and so close! I just automatically went into self-defense mode. I am so very sorry.”
“Yeah. Ok. I’m just going to keep jogging. Ok? I didn’t mean to run by so close. Ok? I’m not looking for any trouble, man.”
“No, it’s OK. It was my fault. Seriously, I’m sorry. I was just standing here. Are you OK?” He didn’t answer – he just ran off away at a very fast pace. So I scared him. Me. A man twice my size and far younger had been frightened of me. Holding a leash to tiny shih tzu.
What does it take for us to gain a true understanding of who we are and how we appear to others? Why do we even care what others think?
“How the hell am I gonna get it home?”
“Take a taxi.”
These are the closing lines of Paul Mazursky’s most accomplished film. I saw movie upon it’s initial release when I was a kid. My parents were in process of divorcing at that time. I was aware that a lot of women were looking toward this movie for guidance and comfort. I suspect that is why we were there. There was nothing in the film that seemed relatable to my reality. Thee people were rich. They lived in a cool, big city. They were really cool clothes. At it’s time, this film that was far too mature for me to fully understand. It was an interesting opportunity to view a film I had not seen for close to 36 years.
First and foremost, An Unmarried Woman provided an ideal role for the late Jill Clayburgh. She was beautiful, but not imposingly like that of a movie star. She looked “real” and she was brilliant at playing “real.” Even when offered the chance to “show-off” her considerable skills, she seems to have always opted for nuance and subtlety than many actors of her age. She was charmingly goofy but not in that unique Diane Keaton kind of way.
Clayburgh’s “Erica” isn’t comical. She is simply real.
As she scrambles to pull her life together she realizes that her entire identity has been formed by her marriage, her husband and their daughter. She has lost a clear idea of who she is without those three important people serving as her main concern. It is an interesting journey to self-realization for this late 1970’s character. It is particularly interesting to me that this character and the film which contains her was written by a man.
This journey is amplified by the cultural and political self-absorption of the late 1970’s. This does not damage the film’s realism, it actually adds greater import looking back at it from the 21st Century perspective. Paul Mazursky’s film serves as a truly fascinating full-on glimpse into the sexual and political confusion of the 1970’s.
Several emotionally encaging sessions with Erica’s therapist manage to be simultaneously honest and comical. This “comedy” is not intentional. It is funny because the viewpoints and the way the therapist communicates them seemed mired in some sort of post-hippie liberal turned Feminist.
It is difficult to tell if the therapist is truly vested in Erica as a person who must pull it together or as a “victim” who must be “un-victimized.” It feels as if the therapist has no interest in considering that Erica must also find a way to remain an effective mother as she works toward her independence. Though not clearly articulated, the therapists seems to only view Erica as a pitifully example of a Baby-Boomer who has “settled” and “compromised” her life for the needs of others. Pushing Erica to be a full-fledged empowered and sexually-free independent woman appears to be her only therapeutic concern.
Erica’s therapist’s concern is only slightly more grounded than those of her friends. All of whom have either suffered through or are about to plunge into divorce. They are sympathetic and empathetic, but their advice is limited to selecting a movie star as a role model, drug use and lots of gratifying sex. This advice is given in front of Erica’s daughter. A daughter who is as lost and as angry as her mother.
There is sense of rushed need for Erica to explore her sexuality and dreams without any sense of responsibility as a mother or the cold fact that she needs to find a profitable way to function in the world. The focus is on her damaged “identity” relating to the freedom of sex and political empowerment. This concept of the film is very well articulated. It is fascinating that this film was once viewed as an expression Feminist Empowerment has aged into a cultural commentary regarding the confusion that the 1970’s Sexual Revolution and The Me Generation. The logic we see being tossed at Erica is about as valid as a Pet Rock.
To Mazursky’s credit, wether or not he was aware of it, he holds back. He keeps the focus just far enough to prevent the movie from falling into dated philosophical flaws, but close enough to capture the simply complex challenges of Erica’s situation. We can see she is struggling to assert her sexuality and pursue an independent life. She is also trying to figure out why her daughter seems to be so rebellious within the context of her own pending adulthood. Erica may not be able to gain understanding or articulate the real problems facing her and her daughter. But this is a point that remains valid to human psychology.
This is pre-AIDS 1970’s and the pre-Disneyfication of Manhattan. This is a culture ripe with easy/casual sex and a city on the verge of collapse. Danger feels like it lurking around every corner. Erica forces her way through this mess without ever sacrificing her dignity. In a conclusion that Goldie Hawn’s Private Benjamin would later cause her character to find her own independence and empowerment — Erica is offered not only a “safe” solution but one that will prevent her from having to face life “alone.” Alan Bates’ performance is brilliant as it is erotic. In the end, Erica opts to literally walk away the easy solution. She turns her back on the notion of clinging to a successful man and plunges into the madness of her surroundings. She still is a bit clueless. Confused about how to get home wrangling a huge painting, the freshly-dumped Alan Bates has to tell her to take a cab.
In the end, this film’s failings are actually amazing strengths. The 1970’s created more problems than it resolved. But is was an era that encourage the marginalized to stand back and “re-think” societal and cultural rules. It created an awareness based in the “selfish” while pointing toward emotional intelligence that would pave the way for many to be better and more fulfilled people. As the credits roll, it feels like Eric is one of the emotionally intelligent on her way. There would be major casualties, but the life promised by the 1950’s was a false ideal. The 1970’s was a gut-punch into reality.
An Unmarried Woman is a deeply profound Feminist examination during one of our culture’s most confused eras. This is a Cinematic Masterpiece. Fingers-crossed that this film finds it way to a decent restoration and back into our collective consciousness.
When you watch a Paul Mazursky movie it can only go one of two ways: bad or very good. There seemed to be no “in-between” for him. Considering that Paul Mazursky made Down and Out in Beverly Hills in the mid-1980’s it has aged very well.
I hadn’t seen it since it came out. It is interesting to note that Down and Out in Beverly Hills is a re-adaptation of a French play that Jean Renoir had already turned into a film in the early 1930’s. This speaks a great deal about the times of the productions as well as the films themselves.
Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midlers’ marriage is very much on the rocks. Both are miserable. They have achieved financial success but has come at a price. Life offers no real challenges. They have neglected the needs of their children. The wife has fallen into the meaningless life of wealth. Her husband is busy screwing their immigrant maid. It would appear that Dave and Barbara truly hate each other.
Enter Nick Nolte as the homeless and damaged vagabond who decides to attempt to suicide in their swimming pool. They save him more out of fear of being judged than any moral or ethical drive. Initially they are disgusted by not only him, but his sad predicament. Wealth has not helped this family with “kindness” or “empathy.”
But for various reasons the family feels a misplaced sense of duty in trying to help him.
And so begins Mazursky’s comical satire. Bette Midler was already stuck in her “eat the scenery” phase of her film career that has never really gone away. However, Mazursky utilizes this to great effect. Later in the film when required, Midler breaks away from her comic-diva persona. The sudden shift and slip of her mask allows a painful glimpse a middle-aged woman who is all too aware of the challenges life is presenting for her children, husband and herself. It is a brief but surprisingly powerful moment. Dreyfuss, an always solid actor, transforms himself from the conflicted mid-life cliche he has become to an aging man forced to take a realistic look at not only “his” success but the reality of the life he and his wife have co-created. Both Barbara and Dave appear to have gained a stronger sense of “self” and “purpose.” Yet somehow they both seem somehow even more lost.
Their children become sort of sexual pawns, but through it they come out with hope. We sense that these two young people might have been changed for the better. Or maybe not. As Nolte’s character appears more than happy to return to his life as a damaged homeless drifter. As he shares food with Dave and Barbaras’ dog he discovers that this decadent family is laughing at him. Suddenly we realize that we truly have no idea about him. We have always known his stories are untrue. Nick Nolte’s Jerry seems mentally damaged. Or is he? Like a dog with his tail between his legs, he returns to the comfort of the delusion of a family. The character who appears to have gained some oddly skewed sense of “awareness” is more lost than the family he has charmed, robbed and seduced. It is ultimately he who has been charmed, robbed and seduced. Nothing has changed. If anything, it has taken a sharper and more compromised turn. And here we have a tragic metaphor of 1980’s American Culture.
Though it would be a more challenging case to defend Down and Out in Beverly Hills as a Cinematic Masterpiece, but it is an important film that should not be forgotten. It is most certainly not the twee little comedy Disney’s marketing campaign advertised.
Paul Mazursky was an interesting artist. He worked on both sides of the camera to varying levels of success. When one stands back from his small body of work, he was very much an artist of his day.
But he clearly had a very pure view of himself, his world and reality.
These films deserve our attention.
Matty Stanfield, 7.31.2015