The Tragically Hip

I only quasi-remembered I LOVE YOU, ALICE B. TOKLAS — which was to have been Paul Mazursky’s first film as director until Peter Sellers became paranoid-jealous about Mazursky and his wife Britt Ekland. This makes for a funny and eye-popping chapter in the Mazursky memoirs. Mazursky never makes the obvious point that in no universe known to man would a humble screenwriter who looked like Paul Mazursky have much of a chance with Britt Ekland. Maybe that never occurred to him as a defence. But he’s eloquent on the weird guilt feelings that accompany honest denials of something one genuinely didn’t do. Funny running gag of all his associates asking him, perfectly seriously, “WHY DID YOU DO IT, PAUL?”

Sellers’ demented antipathy dimmed enough for PM to be allowed on set and so he was able to contribute his thoughts and help Hy Averback, a TV director acting as traffic cop on this. Mazursky and Averback only got their shots after Sellers’ first choices, Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, turned it down.

The movie depicts Harold Fine, a Jewish lawyer due to marry a rather annoying woman he doesn’t love out of sheer inertia, who is seduced into the counterculture by hippy chick Leigh Taylor-Young (Mazursky for some strange reason displaces her hyphen to between Leigh and Taylor, but apparently that’s not where she likes it). Fiona expressed revulsion at this doe-eyed moron character, and started to feel sorry for the shrewish fiancée, played by Joyce Van Patten with a lot of grating verve. Surprisingly, the film is shrewd enough to anticipate this so that when Sellers ditches her at the altar, he says that although this is unforgivable, going through with it and ruining her life would be far worse. “Okay, that’s fair enough,” said Fiona.

As in WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT, Sellers’ hippy wig seems to be making minimal effort to convince.

Then we get the film’s funniest business — Sellers attempts to drop out be a successful hippy., opening his apartment to anyone who wants a place to crash. Mazursky had to step in and advise the star that he was playing it too sweetly — influenced by the huge crush he’d developed on “Leigh-Taylor.” Sellers blew up and banished Mazursky from the set, but he DID adjust his performance and it’s very amusing indeed to see him lose his cool and become unhip again. The oppressive nightmare of the house full of hippies, like Groucho’s stateroom only with a palpable reek of patchouli and weed, is really funny-but-horrible, and does indeed turn out to be a nightmare —

Sellers awakens back at the altar — it’s all been THE LAST TEMPTATION OF HAROLD. But he runs out again, searching for the elusive Third Way between middle-class self-abnegation and irresponsible self-indulgence.

It’s ALMOST a satisfying ending, and surprisingly the harsh view of hippiedom is kind of refreshing now, but since the film never looks at issues like Vietnam, its swipes at straight society are pretty toothless and the choice between sides comes down to castrating Jewish mother & wife, consumer goods, and booze on the one side, and flakey dimwit girlfriend, poverty and hash on the other. The wit of much of the writing and acting stops this from ringing hollow until the end, at which point there’s suddenly a delayed crashing chime that drowns out Elmer Bernstein’s infuriating earworm of a theme tune.

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7 Responses to “The Tragically Hip”

  1. Leigh Taylor-Young’s career came to a screeching halt with “Can’t Stop the Music” Have you ever seen that thing Fiona? It was Allan Carr’s attempt to turn The Village People into Up With People starring Bruce (now Caitlin) Jenner, Valerie Perrine, Steve Guttenberg, June Havoc, Altovise Davis, Barbara Rush and little Miss Doe-Eyes.

    (Brace yourself)

  2. I have a vague feeling Fiona saw that atrocity at the cinema when it came out…

    Was just reading about Carr’s Oscars debacle. There’s footage online but I’m afraid to look.

  3. That was fun! I don’t really see why anyone going to see a Village People movie would think that wasn’t what they had asked for. The Leni Riefenstahl reference is particularly nice.

    I guess this was the old A certificate, so Fiona was able to see all that flesh as a kid.

  4. Hello David. I saw this on release but I don’t recall seeing all that tits and ass, and if my eyes don’t deceive me, cock! In fact immediately after I saw it (I was 13/14) I forgot everything about it, which would appear to have been a mistake on my part. Dear God. I’ve insisted on a complete screening of this, stat!

  5. Carr’s Oscar debacle is the stuff of Hollywood Legend. The poor girl who played Snow White never worked again. Because of this one performance she was forced to leave show business! And so did Allan Carr. There’s a new book out about him. A strange sad character. Everyone wanted to come to his parties but outside of Lorna Luft he had no friends.

  6. Jeff Gee Says:

    The Leni Riefenstahl nod is perfect– if any clip was made to be intercut with the reaction shots of the opening night audience for “Springtime for Hitler,” it’s this one.

  7. I *dream* of making a film that gets a reaction like that. Clearly, I should have been born as Rhoda’s mom.

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