[Originally published in Movietone News 26, October 1973]
During one phase of their rising-and-falling marriage Susan Anspach says to George Segal, “We’re always putting somebody down.” One of the conspicuously consistent things about Paul Mazursky’s three films as a director—Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Alex in Wonderland, Blume in Love—is that he doesn’t put anybody down. The frantic chicness of the assumed lifestyles in B&C&T&A was the source of many laughs, but there was a winning innocence about the whole enterprise, on the characters’ part and on Mazursky’s, that saved the film from the sterile socioaesthetic oneupmanship that claims most endeavors in that risky genre. It was the director’s innocence that sustained Alex in Wonderland even amid the protracted, slavish, unimaginative gaucherie of those sub-Fellini pastiches and stillborn “Hooray for Hollywood” highjinks. And the colors of innocence and naïveté continue to fly in his latest film, and they help make Blume in Love a distinct pleasure to behold and share.
Not, I belatedly mention, that talent isn’t involved in this or any other Mazursky picture. Himself an actor (on view here as Blume’s divorce-lawyer colleague), Mazursky has achieved near- and complete miracles with such unlikely material as Dyan Cannon, Natalie Wood, and his own psychiatrist Donald F. Muhich (again, as in B&C&T&A, a psychiatrist), and guided certifiably capable players like Elliott Gould, Ellen Burstyn, and Segal to new plateaus of behavioral beauty; and Shelley Winters, in a role more tangential than her billing would indicate, registers amusingly on a humane level of grotesquerie. Outside the long, revue-style take his directorial hand is less than certain. In an improvisatory song session involving Blume, his divorced wife, and her new housemate (Kris Kristofferson), the camera is here, there, and everywhere around the room, the editing going chop chop chop with a timing having nothing to do with normal communicative logic. The idea was probably to evoke, through disjunctive cutting, an underlying sense of dis-ease and separateness in the face of feigned community, but the angles are ineffective and the rhythm just never adds up. Likewise, a scarily conceived familial rape scene gets across on the level of intention only because most viewers have heard that the film is about a guy who rapes his (ex-)wife; Mazursky’s efforts to build a bizarre and almost zany desperation into the sequence are conspicuous—but only as efforts.
Effort shows up fairly often. The film opens with a laborious but essentially trite camera movement that attempts to link the immutable architecture of ever-sinking Venice with the mortal landscapes of lovers’ faces; the movement is reprised at the end and invoked in-between during Segal’s and Anspach’s honeymoon there. Similarly, Mazursky is given to impulsive overviews of his personae moving dotlike through Venice or L.A. (a single, roving set of headlights climbing up against the multitudinously anonymous backdrop of L.A. at night) as though he could that simply suggest a rightness about their peregrinations, an ultimate justification for all their bumbling, shambling, comic sorrow shaping itself out of the inchoate distance of time and space. The classical formality he borrows here amounts to so much wishful thinking. He hasn’t really got a world-view yet, nothing that can’t be adequately summed up by the godawful finale of his first film, with Bob and Carol et al. (and Mazursky and his then-partner Larry Tucker) moving in a Fellinien caravan of romantic tourists with “What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love” oozing down over them all.
Blume in Love is unsatisfying if one gets hung up on the summations Mazursky is all too willing to pitch our way. And it’s resolutely minor because—and Mazursky’s art will remain so as long as—he fails to pry himself away from his male protagonist to try investigating his bewildering women from the inside out. George Segal’s Blume remains obsessively in love with, and dependent upon every move of, Susan Anspach. And why Susan Anspach does the things she does when she does remain mysteries throughout the film. And ultimately there can be no particular caring-about or believing-in the conclusion she and Blume walk through for Mazursky’s form-craving camera. But if his characters’ scenes and actions add up to redundancies in the long run, still virtually every scene and action is lovingly, tenderly, and generously observed as it happens. Mazursky may never lick the problem of form in his films or (dare we assume) his life, but his groping toward a solution and his veneration of human frailty make his movies worth watching—and, if you will, worth cheering.
BLUME IN LOVE
Screenplay and Direction: Paul Mazursky. Cinematography: Bruce Surtees. Music: Kris Kristofferson, Beethoven, Wagner, et al.
The Players: George Segal, Susan Anspach, Kris Kristofferson, Marsha Mason, Paul Mazursky, Donald F. Muhich, Shelley Winters.
Copyright © 1973 by Richard T. Jameson