Archive for Alex In Wonderland

One and a Half

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2018 by dcairns

Paul Mazursky could never figure out why his second feature as director, ALEX IN WONDERLAND, was so unpopular. True, it has good things in it. But it has no reason to exist. There’s a kind of hubris to Mazursky, an erratic minor talent (not a knock: I LOVE erratic minor talents, we need more of them), in essentially remaking Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF from the viewpoint of a Hollywood filmmaker with one hit under his belt. Just as he’d later remake JULES ET JIM as WILLIE AND PHIL and BOUDOU SAVED FROM DROWNING as DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS. And isn’t HARRY AND TONTO kind of a spin on UMBERTO D?

AIW seems to be composed almost entirely of gratuitous non-scenes, people hanging out and not progressing anything. Whereas OTTO E MEZZO has this looming set and this looming start date, the urgent knowledge that Guido MUST make a film, even if the film has deserted him. In ALEX, Donald Sutherland wanders about being weirdly surly and doesn’t agree to make anything. Mazursky himself plays a scene which lets us look inside MGM circa 1969/70, which is fascinating to me, but the scene itself has no real dramatic motor or satiric bite. Time and again he surrounds Sutherland with grotesques and weirdos and Sutherland still comes out of the scene seeming like HE’S the one being satirised. It’s strange, whenever I’ve seen Sutherland as a hippy, he’s been the most passive-aggressive and obnoxious guy onscreen. And yet Mazursky loved him. Was it mutual?

Fellini turns up — the result of the most assiduous wooing by Mazursky. He wanted the maestro in his film just to prove that he wasn’t ACCIDENTALLY remaking 8 1/2. And that is literally all the scene does.

Ellen Burstyn plays the director’s wife and reportedly modelled her perf on Betsy Mazursky. Which is worrying, because the marital conversations are all fraught, with Sutherland snippy and Burstyn frowning, confused and browbeaten. And yet Mazursky managed to stay married to the same woman from his early days of obscurity, past his huge first hit, and beyond this, his huge first flop, and on to eventual death decades later. That has to be a successful marriage, and by Hollywood standards a wondrous one. If you die married, it was a success, right?

Mazursky set out to shoot dream sequences as pastiches of other directors’ work, but they all seem like Fellini to me. One, with Jeanne Moreau and a fairy coach, might be Jacques Demy, but confusingly she’s singing tunes from JULES ET JIM.

I have a photo of myself with Jeanne Moreau and it’s a lot like this: she doesn’t look as good as you’d like, and I look really fatuously pleased with myself.

The big Vietnam fantasy is pretty impressive, and could have made a simple point well: by restaging Nam on Hollywood Boulevard, the film could be asking “How would YOU like it?” But Mazursky throws in Sutherland grieving his murdered (in fantasy only) family — a rehearsal for his DON’T LOOK NOW angst-face — men in tuxes dancing on burning cars, some random guy seemingly raping some woman — the camera crane with a Sutherland doppelgänger directing the whole thing — pedestrians going past as if nothing were happening — a gaggle of Hare Krishnas — and Hooray for Hollywood on the soundtrack, and then Jeanne Moreau passes through, still singing…

Mazursky has made the small blunder of thinking her can do what Fellini does (even CANDY has a passable Fellini pastiche) but the far greater mistake of thinking he understands HOW and WHY Fellini does what he does. Which nobody understands.

Still — we get some nice images…

      

 

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