Friday, April 8, 2016

The Films of Elaine May: An Introduction

How sad is it that it’s been nearly 50 years since Elaine May made her directing debut in A New Leaf, and women are still grossly under-represented as directors. How sad is it that in all that time, May herself has only directed three other features -  and nothing in nearly 30 years. May rose to prominence her start as one half of a comedy team with Mike Nichols – who would, of course, go onto to be a far more prolific filmmaker than May (including directing the last two screenplays May herself wrote – The Birdcage and Primary Colors more than 30 years after their comedy team broke up). Since then, she has done a little bit of everything – a playwright, a screenwriter, an actress and a director, and while I haven’t seen her plays, she was great at the rest of it. But her directing career never quite took off – she had conflicts with the studios on three of films, and never received the credit she deserved while she has making them. Probably because there are only four films, she doesn’t come up often when discussing great filmmakers.
I am as guilty of this as anyone. I only saw her 1972 film The Heartbreak Kid back in 2007, while preparing for that god awful remake starring Ben Stiller. And although her debut, A New Leaf, has been on my to see list for years, I have never gotten around to it – let alone her other two films, Mikey and Nicky and the infamous failure turned cult hit Ishtar – that was such a colossal bomb, it meant that she never got to direct another film (male directors seem to be able to make a dismal failure on that scale and get another chance – female filmmakers, not so much).
So this short series will be looking back at the four features she directed - on each of the next four Fridays – and I’m quite looking forward to it. For the record, I did start this before the Podcast Filmspotting’s Elaine May Marathon – although I’m publishing after. And, yes, I know May now has a fifth directing credit – a documentary about Mike Nichols for PBS, but I cannot see it (being Canadian has its disadvantages – one of them being that lots of things don’t become available here at the same time as they are in America).

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