Thursday, April 28, 2016

Like Rolling Off A Log

The run of eight films that Preston Sturges wrote and directed at Paramount from 1940-1944 continues to inspire awe in me the older I get and I love every ounce of screwy, optimistic madness that can be found in them. Whatever the reasons were that he couldn’t sustain this streak after he moved on from the studio, the fact that such brilliance was able to spill out so fast is awe-inspiring and I still think of how my mind was blown when I first discovered these films long ago. Some are more venerated than others, of course, and it’s safe to say that THE LADY EVE and SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS are the two which are most enshrined by now. I have little problem with this. One of them I’ve even written about and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t get around to the other eventually. But certain things mean more to you as time goes on for reasons you only partly understand and I’ve reached the point that, maybe against popular opinion, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO might very well be my favorite. I’m not saying it’s the best. I’m not saying I’m right. Even considering this over the combo of Fonda & Stanwyck in THE LADY EVE probably reveals just how screwy I am. But Quentin Tarantino has said that his favorite Sturges is either this one or the later UNFAITHFULLY YOURS so I’ve got him on my side at the very least. Though it wasn’t intended to be, HAIL was the last film made during his Paramount run so it feels like the culmination of all of his themes that had been building up until then. A main character pretending to be what he isn’t, the snowballing nature of the plot as it spins downhill, the incessant use of his mellifluous display of language (“He likes those big words,” to steal some dialogue), the manic portrayal of his many beloved character actors in the frame reaching a sort of crescendo here as if he’s trying to cram more of them into the shot than ever before. At the very least, the recent screening at Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema paired with the unknown Eddie Bracken-Veronica Lake vehicle HOLD THAT BLONDE (never released on video, but pretty good) was a chance to remember why I feel this way about it in the first place and confirm that it does warrant such a defense, even if it may never be the most canonized of his filmography.
With World War II still going strong, Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith (Eddie Bracken) has tried to enlist and left his hometown to join the Marines, the only thing he ever wanted to do. But long since discharged for chronic hay fever he’s merely working in a shipyard, afraid to go home and admit the truth. Until one night he meets a group of Marines on leave and with fifteen cents between them. Honored to buy them each a beer, Woodrow tells them his story and realizes that the group’s leader Sergeant Heffelfinger (William Demarest) actually knew his father “Hinky Dinky” Truesmith who was a hero back in World War I. The shell-shocked Bugsy (Freddie Steele) is furious that Woodrow has lied to his mother and immediately calls her to let her know that Woodrow is on his way home. Before he can explain his way out of it, Heffelfinger comes up with an idea that will let him quietly go back to Oakridge (the town motto: “Business as Usual”) as a hero. But word quickly spreads through the town and a massive hero’s homecoming is what greets him at the train station, along with one-time sweetheart Libby (Ella Raines) afraid to tell him about her new fiancée and the heads of the welcoming committee who come up with an idea to use Woodrow’s status as a hero to their fullest advantage, nominating him as a candidate for the town’s upcoming mayoral race.
HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO achieves a balancing act which is rather awe-inspiring as if Sturges’ goal was to tell the screwiest “Local Boy Makes Good” story imaginable. It’s a satire of Americana and all that implies--small town, apple pie, home, motherhood, the frantic and desperate pleas of the masses to latch onto anything which might promise a better future through whatever means necessary. But it also displays a genuine love for each of these concepts, as if all that’s good in America lies within the frantic, impulsive decisions made by a happy crowd. The recurring song “Home to the Arms of Mother” written by Sturges with exactly the sort of sappy lyrics you’d expect shows how it can be taken both ways, a concept that deserves to be tweaked but also venerated just as strongly. Amid the wartime dialogue (the film was shot in ’43, released in ’44) tinged with subtle propaganda to help make it perfectly acceptable for whoever was keeping tabs on those things, HAIL revels in the glories of the soldiers responsible for finally bringing Woodrow home and even within their craziness is everything the American character should be.
In contrast to the nervous weakling he played in THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK who can barely get through a conversation with Betty Hutton without stammering, Bracken’s Woodrow is actually a pretty regular guy who wants to be one of those Marines, he wants to be a hero, the honest desire to be part of a tradition which is all he’s ever known. He’s just afraid to admit the truth, ashamed that he isn’t really one of them. When first seen he’s all alone in a nightclub, isolating himself as far away from everyone else as possible. It’s as if it takes this madness for him to turn into the expected bumbling Eddie Bracken character, to start sneezing immediately when handed flowers at his homecoming and be surrounded by people in practically every single shot for the rest of the film. HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO is not only about tradition and what it means, it’s about what it needs to be for us sometimes, whether the glory of the Marines or even Libby’s annoyance when new fiancée Forrest (Bill Edwards) discusses the inevitability of the children coming with their impending union as he asks with zero romantic thought, “That’s what marriage is for, isn’t it?” This gives a certain sense of reality to the film when compared with the broader and more slapsticky MORGAN’S CREEK (shot on the same sets at the Paramount Ranch) with a sense of emotion this time around to ground things while keeping the correct manic levels.
What little we see of the big city is filled with people tired of the war and missing wherever their real home is, with a nightclub owner not at all impressed by the Marines who stop by. In comparison they’re treated like gods amidst the small town madness of Oakridge, a sort of place that presumably only ever existed in Hollywood, where we wonder how there are possibly enough houses to fit all the people cramming the streets. Four marching bands play different songs at once as Woodrow arrives creating total chaos, which seems like a perfectly normal occurrence when Franklin Pangborn is in charge. The patriotism is unquestioned only no one in the town knows what to do with it anymore so it’s just left out like that statue of General Zabriski which is there for everyone to see but mainly serves as a place for pigeons to rest and is there because it was purchased at an ironworks going out of business. All anybody knows is he’s a hero and that’s all that matters argues the sergeant, just like Woodrow, about whom the townsfolk repeatedly mention how honest he is—it’s even in the name Truesmith. The laughs in the film escalate as the logic gets more and more twisted but it also knows to calm down for the reminders of the war going on. The picture of Woodrow’s father that hangs in the living room almost seems meant for laughs, with a cockeyed smile given by the uncredited actor playing him, but the movie treats the sight with a genuine respect earned by a fallen soldier.
The town of Oakridge exists unto itself with a white picket fence seemingly in front of every house and everyone knows each other. Even the hapless mayor Everett Noble, President of the Noble Chair Company (motto: “Seats of All Descriptions”) is hardly a Mr. Potter-level villain, instead happy to keep things the way they are, wartime or not. The subtle message seems to be that under his leadership it’s a town that isn’t moving forward towards the future, ignoring the war and whatever sacrifices must be made. Unlike the all-powerful bad guys of Capra it feels like everyone, even the blowhard Everett Noble, is on the same level scrambling for their piece just like anyone else. Sturges doesn’t tweak Capra so much as use the themes of the common man going up against the establishment for his own screwy ideals. Even the speech given by Judge Dennis played by Jimmy Conlin, yet another regular face in these movies, about what is going wrong in the town feels shot in a way to mirror the soda jerk’s endless speech to Gary Cooper in Capra’s MEET JOHN DOE. But it has a goal unlike the vague John Doe campaign in that film—more than anything, action needs to be taken, even in a small town whose only connection to the outside world is the train that comes through a few times a day. As much as Bracken’s Woodrow frantically screams and the deeper he gets into his predicament while doing nothing worse than drinking cooking wine the film points up the gravity of the situation not just from the honest responses, the grateful townsfolk, the former girlfriend who can’t find any time to tell him her secret. Plus there’s the mother he’s come home to, played by Georgia Caine with all the gravity in the world with so many tears from sadness or gratitude like no one told her she was even in a comedy. As rah-rah as the film is about victory along with dialogue about food rations there are the reminders that maybe it’s all more complicated than that like a subtle indication that Woodrow might even be lucky for not having to go off to battle and deal with whatever nightmares that the mother-obsessed Bugsy has to deal with. Maybe becoming a Marine wasn’t needed for Woodrow to finally become a man after all.
Maybe this is bordering on taking the themes of HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO too seriously, ignoring the expected Sturges madness and how joyous it is just to watch this film. It all feels effortless, about as effortless as it can feel to deal with countless people in the frame at once all with screaming dialogue to get out. The plot threads of the characters mixed with the Sturges touches whether Franklin Pangborn yelling at everyone to be quiet, William Demarest coming up with an explanation out of nothing or Al Bridge’s “Political Boss” eating his meal backwards. Plus there’s the infectious nature of that “Win With Woodrow” song the crowds endlessly sing that I still can’t get out of my head. And there’s the Sturges dialogue which could be plugged in to today however you like such as Woodrow’s pleas with the crowd not to vote for him taken as false modesty (“He has a natural flair for politics”) contrasted with how the Mayor overreaches as he prepares the victory speeches he assumes he’ll give. “If they want you, they want you. They don’t need reasons anymore,” goes a key line near the end which is touching in context but of course appropriately screwy still in this day and age.
The behind the scenes problems between Sturges and Paramount during production which led to his departure from the studio ranged from the still unreleased THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK and THE GREAT MOMENT to how he refused to replace female lead Ella Raines when the bosses insisted. Paramount recut the film without him when his contract lapsed and after a disastrous preview Sturges returned even though he was off salary to fix things. Whatever was going on, HAIL features some of the best and most confident pure filmmaking by the director. The opening sequence introducing Woodrow and the Marines gradually takes its time particularly in a lengthy single take as Woodrow tells his story and recites every famous battle the Marines ever had. It’s more than a little jaw-dropping and shows how little Sturges needed to get his point across while also displaying how confident he was to simply let these moments tell the story on their own. It all builds to the freneticism once we hit the town after several long scenes setting everything up we smash into the Oakridge train station in a cut that’s almost modern in how abrupt it is—you imagine them shaving off frames in the cutting room. And it even subtly one-ups the famous long takes in MORGAN’S CREEK that follow Bracken and Betty Hutton—a few similar shots here including one involving Ella Raines and Bill Edwards walking through the manic small town life going on around them feel at least as complicated, only not as pronounced, focusing on the story more than the bravura of the camerawork. “The only amazing thing about my career in Hollywood is that I ever had one at all,” Sturges writes at the end of his association with Paramount in his autobiography which shouldn’t be an understatement but maybe looking back years later at however he pulled off these movies must have seemed like a true miracle.
And while it’s arguable how much we should talk about the seriousness underlining the slapstick in Sturges’ films it possibly came to the forefront more as his Paramount run went on—a recent viewing of his earlier CHRISTMAS IN JULY revealed it to be somewhat slight in plot but possessing more weight than I remembered, becoming genuinely emotional in a way that prefigures this film. Maybe now that I’m older I’m just noticing those things more. The closing gag of MORGAN’S CREEK includes a title card that reminds us of the old Shakespeare “…some have greatness thrust upon them” quote without getting into the consequences of that. HAIL has the greatness thrust upon the main character right up front and in some ways it’s about how all men have it in them to be a hero or display their own greatness even if it is thrust upon them and they deserve that chance to prove they can follow through on the mistake when it happens (as for the women who stand loyally beside those men…well, it was a different time). The film has a heart several of his other films don’t have, even if part of it belongs to several people who are all screaming at once. And even more than THE LADY EVE or SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS it might hold together as his best story. All the parts go together beautifully and everything pays off right down to the very end. And as embarrassing as it is to say, it’s the one Preston Sturges film which when the final line of dialogue is spoken gets me to cry. Maybe not because of the Marine, or homecoming, or love of small towns or any of that but maybe the movie reminds me of the foolish hope that everything can be OK in the end if the right mistakes are ever made.
The familiar Preston Sturges faces are at their best here from Eddie Bracken as the everyman lead to each of the supporting players, all grabbing frantically for their few seconds of dialogue just like you’d imagine Sturges would want them to do. From William Demarest as Sgt. Heffelfinger to Raymond Walburn as the Mayor, it’s some of their best roles. At the very least, it’s my favorite Pangborn performance. And with his recurring “Save your voice, Evvy,” Al Bridge, too. Boxer Freddie Steele walks off with many bits as Bugsy, again walking that tightrope of a character with a comical gimmick to the utmost seriousness. The controversial Ella Raines is continually endearing as Libby--honestly, Ella Raines is a slight favorite of mine (I like her in the noir PHANTOM LADY too) and seems the perfect choice as just the sort of girl you’d want to be waiting for you back home. Sturges even gets something out of the height difference between her and Bill Edwards but she also pops off the screen with enough flavor that you can see why Woodrow is so stuck on her even if she wasn’t so preoccupied by the matter at hand. Maybe there were never towns like Oakridge with girls like Libby waiting for their guy to come home but Ella Raines makes me believe there were.
The first time I ever encountered several of these Sturges films was at a massive Film Forum retrospective in New York long ago, way back in 1990, which felt like it opened up this entire realm of classic film that I never even knew was there. Actually, at the 2015 TCM Film Classic Festival I got to meet Film Forum head programmer Bruce Goldstein and told him how much it, and a similar Billy Wilder retro the following year, had meant to me. He looked taken aback for a moment and then asked, “Why haven’t you been back since?” Well, I have been but eventually I moved out to L.A., what can I tell you. But I’m still grateful and still try to revisit these films every now and then. Come to think of it, there is a study to be made in how Sturges approached the conceit of charade in his films compared with Wilder. But that’s for another time. HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO may not be THE LADY EVE or SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS and the wartime setting does date it, after all. It still just makes me feel good like few other films in how it almost displays the pinnacle of the world as viewed by Preston Sturges but I also find it touching in ways that I can only partly understand. The final image goes back to an earlier plot point that almost seemed minor but turns out to be what the story was headed for all along, as if to explain the off-kilter grin on “Hinky Dinky” Truesmith’s portrait in the first place. A reminder of how sons try to live up to the enigma their fathers always will be. The past, after all, holds the secrets of the future. Life proceeds as it was always meant to.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Here For About Ten Seconds

I was talking with someone recently. Actually, we were texting but of course there’s nothing unusual about that. Some of my best relationships these days seem to happen over texts which is better than nothing, I suppose. I shouldn’t go into details but the conversation skirted on the issue of how we deprive ourselves of certain things in life and what are we waiting for, after all? Lately I think about this, how I was afraid of the mistakes I knew I’d make so now there’s the creeping dread that someday I’ll realize I fucked up one time too many. But let’s face it, I’m still trying to figure all this out. You plan ahead in your mind, you’ve got it all prepared, then when the moment comes you freeze up hoping the few things you actually do say are the right ones. “You’re here for about ten seconds,” Robert Culp tells his friend Elliott Gould in Paul Mazursky’s BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE as a way to chastise his friend for not acting on impulse. That impulse had to do with an affair Gould’s Ted didn’t have, but in the greater context there’s a lot on my mind. Wasted time, what certain events meant, whether I’m just treading water. But enough about all that for now. BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE was the fifth highest grossing film of 1969 and, like some of Mazursky’s best films, is locked into its era as if a few years earlier or later it would have been impossible for the film to exist at all. On the one hand I wonder how much I can identify with the film since so much about it feels far removed from me. And yet as I watch it these days not only do certain trappings begin to wash away, I realize it’s a film about people just trying to figure things out, wondering how much they’re screwing it all up in the process. Something that sounds familiar, after all.
The film is of course about the four title characters, the open-minded Bob (Robert Culp) & Carol (Natalie Wood) whose lives have seemingly been forever altered by a marathon group encounter session and the more straight-laced couple Ted (Elliott Gould) & Alice (Dyan Cannon), their friendship intermingled with their marriages, the affairs they have and what that means for each of them. When Quentin Tarantino reopened the New Beverly Cinema in the fall of 2014 this was the first film screened, in a gorgeous print that Tarantino had made as part of his DJANGO UNCHAINED deal with Columbia—Mazursky himself even supervised the color timing on it. The opening night screening took place only a few months after the director had passed away at the age of 84, serving as a fitting tribute as well as a reminder of the sort of film he specialized in, the kind that isn’t getting made much anymore, just like the concept of a gorgeous new 35mm print is sadly disappearing as well. The context of the film has of course changed, some of the ideas the characters espouse has changed and, yes, the fashions have as well, all of this is true. But instead of feeling dated the film feels free and open in its willingness to delve into these characters along with possessing a comic intelligence that is nearly obsolete today. The structure of only about a dozen or so major sequences (even the building blocks of the narrative feel a little like Tarantino) carefully examines what happens to the foursome as they learn secrets about their spouses and friends, how they relate to each other as well as the outside world. Right from the beginning the details always feel genuine as if we’re watching a satirical tweak of what 1969 was, not a sitcom exaggeration. The laughs come not from the wacky new world that Bob & Carol have discovered but from the newfound honesty it brings out of them and trying to figure out if they’ve really changed at all.
Written by Mazursky and Larry Tucker, BOB & CAROL was Mazursky’s directorial debut, coming roughly a year after their collaboration on the screenplay of the Peter Sellers comedy I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS and while the earlier film went for the broad, comical portrayal of the late 60s hippie zeitgeist with his own film Mazursky satirizes the scene but also keeps things grounded and humane, allowing each of his characters a point of view which, even if it isn’t always valid is at least partly understandable. Or maybe this is simply another case where the satire in the material has been drained away over time into pure naturalism. For Mazursky, there might not be a difference anyway. The encounter group which serves as the catalyst for all this is based on the Esalen Institute up in Big Sur, only called “The Institute” here (it was also the inspiration for where Don Draper found his big eureka in the final episode of MAD MEN), and the film opens with shots from above as a Quincy Jones-ified Hallelujah Chorus plays over images of the place. As Bob & Carol arrive, everyone already seems totally free of inhibitions—all the answers are there, the imagery seems to say, everything has been settled and they need to do nothing more than learn this. Mazursky went to Easlen to research the idea he had for the film, just as Bob says he’s researching a documentary he’s going to make—essentially researching an idea about a character researching an idea and finding the story about himself within that. Interestingly, Bob seems unsure whether that’s why he’s really there, as if to question how committed he’s really going to be to this newfound outlook on life--we never hear about the documentary again anyway. The sequence sets the tone right away, treating characters who would be played as jokes in other films—the old guy, the nympho—with respect and taking its time doing it so we can understand a fraction of what Bob & Carol have been through, why they insist they’ve been forever changed.
Like some of Mazursky’s best work it skirts the satirical edge of the story as the characters take their behavior to its ultimate extreme, viewing them with both sad bemusement and at times total compassion, knowing that they’re wrong more often than not, knowing that they’re trying their best no matter how outwardly odd their behavior is. It’s inevitable that they’re going to screw things up somehow but Mazursky loves them anyway, he loves how they’re trying to figure out what they’re trying to figure out. The film never becomes arch or contemptuous because he can’t, all of the four leads are part of him anyway. You can feel Mazursky as one of this crowd wondering these same things, enamored by Natalie Wood, fascinated by what Dyan Cannon isn’t admitting to those around her, feeling those same pangs of confidence and terror that Robert Culp and Elliott Gould do. Bob and Carol are the glamorous couple, almost too good to be true, and the way they insist how the affairs they’ve had are just physical and nothing beyond that is almost too perfect, there’s no way it can hold up, the all-too predictable whiplash of someone claiming to change who they are so fast. Ted & Alice are slightly supporting as characters—that’s how Gould & Cannon were nominated at the Academy Awards—but also supporting to the flashier movie star-like couple of Bob & Carol as well so when the film focuses on them after learning about Bob’s affair it’s a jolt that shifts things towards them leading to what may be the best scene in the film, a tug of war between their own individual reactions and exactly what that’s going to mean in bed for the rest of the night. Mazursky plays the confrontation perfectly through the laughs and the honesty between the two actors with their characters no longer sure how to behave with each other, ending on a note that resolves the scene and still leaves it totally unanswered as the two can barely understand what’s going on.
There’s a sense of freedom in how willing the film is to continually let these scenes play out but also an intelligence that knows what needs to be focused on. Like the post-party scene where the foursome smoke pot the film is in no rush to focus on what each character react to at any given moment and even the jokes become a normal extension of their reactions to what happens, never simply part of the patter. Instead it’s the little things, Carol’s total confidence in her new worldview, Ted’s discomfort at Bob shooting home movies of him, the tennis pro who Carol’s cheating with hedging on Bob’s offer of a drink until the 12 year-old Ballantine is mentioned. The awkward intimacy the film achieves in its close-ups reaches its peak when Cannon’s Alice visits her therapist (played by Donald F. Muhich, Mazursky’s own therapist) and how she discusses her own confusion, how much she doesn’t want to talk about sex, reaching for possible answers but not getting any beyond more questions. The aesthetic glimpses we do get at 1969 might be secondary to all this (as enticing as it is) but correctly gets across how everyone is feeling this excitement for what’s around them, something Alice simply can’t. Maybe partly because she’s the only one who stops to think about all this for more than a few seconds Alice is also the one who finally gets everyone to take things to the logical extreme—whether because she’s feeling left out by being the only one who hasn’t had an affair or because she can’t take being so afraid about the whole thing anymore it doesn’t really matter. The film wisely doesn’t always spell out the reasoning since it can’t, the tension between them makes it inevitable for things to build to the iconic image of the four of them in bed together. The answers don’t really matter, anyway. It’s just the way it is. The film observes the way things were. Or, more likely, still are.
As his own directing credit appears Mazursky makes a cameo at The Institute as someone is getting him to scream, to let it all out, the perfect entryway to four characters somehow attempting to do the same. The more I watch it the more BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE seems just miraculous, flowing beautifully with an intricate structure to the screenplay that adds to the freedom. Pauline Kael called it ‘a slick, whorey movie and the liveliest American comedy so far this year’ and although her complete review reads as pretty mixed it is lively, continually slick with a late 60s magazine layout feel to the visuals. On the surface the four of them go perfect together and the friends on the sidelines of the gatherings arguing about their kids aren’t with it enough, representing the audience who can only dream of being one of these people who on the surface have it all. With 1973’s BLUME IN LOVE (the second film in that opening night double at the New Beverly—Donald F. Muhich appears again, basically playing the same therapist, which made the pairing even more ideal) Mazursky went deeper making a darker look at infidelity and that film dangles on a tightrope like few others do but BOB & CAROL with its 60s sense of hope and optimism still felt in every scene comes together beautifully. There are no missing parts, each of the characters get their say and the realization they all silently come to at the end feels natural for them to stay who they are.
That’s the ‘What now?’ of the final moments between the four of them in bed together, of Robert Culp’s expression when he seemingly achieves everything he was trying for since the beginning of the film. What are you supposed to do when you get everything you thought you wanted? It’s not that it’s wrong, like Ted fears, it’s just that things are more complicated than that. They have to be for anything to work. Thinking about this film and a few of Mazursky’s others reminds me of the end of his 1980 JULES AND JIM homage WILLIE AND PHIL (not at the level of BOB & CAROL but still interesting—unfortunately, it’s not even on DVD) in which the narration at the end concludes the story and then says about the two leads, “they went on to live very ordinary lives.” The intentional break with reality at the end of this film aside, it’s easy to imagine that this is what happens to Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice as well. The director actually makes a second cameo near the very end, walking along in the crowd with his co-writer/producer Larry Tucker, the two of them looking like the best friends in the world. It’s a sort of bookend to that scream he let out at the start and in some ways his films are sometimes about that scream you have to let out before you retreat to that version of ordinary life you have in front of you, having hopefully figured out a little something. You do sometimes have to let out a scream, yes, but the ending finds the main characters in silence as they redo the encounter from the Institute, finally seeing the other person and embracing what it really means for themselves, for once not hiding their feelings. Mazursky based the film on his own experience and since he’s a part of this narrative of course he doesn’t have all the answers. But he seems to know that all we have in the end is ourselves. And, if we’re lucky, the person in front of us staring back.
Along with all that is the perfection of the performances, both together and separate, always fully lived in, always fully the characters. Robert Culp displays his character’s hollow confidence with the beads and chains, obviously trying to stay with it and a certain ‘Am I really getting away with this?’ air to his actions that prefigures how fast he crumbles when he’s not able to control the situation. Natalie Wood’s own elegant blitheness perfectly matches him in how she looks at her husband with all the love in the world—she introduces herself as “Bob’s wife” as if that’s all that matters—while still being able to hold enough surprises, displaying so much confidence and amazement at the world that she can’t believe everyone else doesn’t feel the same way, amazed that there can be other such emotions. There’s a sense that Bob & Carol as characters are each more comfortable in their own skin so the more conservative Ted & Alice feel more out of place as a result. Since they don’t put on as many airs, the discomfort that they show makes their more relaxed moments that much more genuine. Elliott Gould, the goofiest of them, is maybe the most human in his physicality with the way he dances while getting high and the way he primps before the big orgy, the gears clicking away in his head always apparent as he tries to figure out the difference between Bob’s advice and what’s right. The inner awkwardness makes it Gould’s most endearing performance and the way Dyan Cannon expresses Alice’s own discomfort alongside him makes her an ideal match, displaying the right amount of insecurity as if continually unsure how to behave when any situation doesn’t go exactly her way. Her insistence of her own vulnerability feels totally honest.
We break with reality Fellini-style at the very end of course in a Las Vegas ending which could be about all sorts of things or maybe could mean nothing more than the famous lyrics of “What the World Needs Now”. Regardless, we leave the four of them content with each other, ready to face the 70s which according to Mazursky means BLUME IN LOVE and AN UNMARRIED WOMAN but hopefully Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice had a happier decade. Thinking back to that line about being here for ten seconds the actress who played Carol has been gone for close to 35 years by now. Bob has been gone for six. I hope Ted & Alice stay with us for a long time to come. Joe Swanberg’s recent film DIGGING FOR FIRE (recommended) was dedicated to him and is a valid look at how some of these themes can be expressed in 2016 so hopefully Mazursky’s legacy will continue to make its way out there through the New Beverly or other means. I also suspect certain long ago women in my life tried to apply some of what gets learned at The Institute to me but, of course, I was too young and stupid to get it. That’s the way it goes and, as usual, I forgot that we’re only here for about ten seconds. But here I am, not living anything like this film, just trying to get through this stuff, while I have those late night texting sessions with people who, if I’m being honest, I’d rather be talking to with them right there in front of me. Sometimes you have to scream, yes. But you can’t scream forever. I’m trying to remember that.