“Get your hands off them guns. I’m Orvis Goodnight! Record producer, you understand?! I live right across the street from here. Well, I don’t get this kind of service. No sir.! Two weeks ago a thief tried to break into my house. I called the police. Good God Almighty! It took twenty minutes for the police to arrive. No dogs, no chopper.”
The night of the Inauguration when I got a chance to sigh, instinctually I gravitated towards Paul Mazursky’s “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986) – and I couldn’t have made a better choice. The scene quoted above alone made me laugh so hard that I must have hurt my vocal chords. Little Richard is perfectly cast in a supporting role as a former 50s rock star – now a rich record producer – who throws a temper tantrum in front of the police because of the swiftness in which a white man’s mansion’s false alarm is answered with swirling helicopters, a slew of armed patrolmen and dogs ready to pounce. His mesmeric outrage is real, and it compounds the entitlement of the rich and the brokenness of the system. It’s great satire.
Mazursky and co-writer Leon Capetanos based their screenplay on Jean Renoir’s “Boudu Saved from Drowning” (1932). They loosely follow the original plot transporting it from Paris, France to Beverly Hills. They create the Whitemans – a self-absorbed, navel-gazing, rich family in Beverly Hills that are confronting some form of communal life crisis triggered by the fact that they’re living in a bubble. Dan is the self-made entrepreneur who’s banked millions with his wire hanger factory – Dave-Bar. His wife Barbara is living in a constant state of neurosis and anxiety and has her daily agenda filled up with appointments with gurus, yogis and therapists. “I’m changing,” she exhalts, “That causes stress!” Even the mansion’s dog – Matisse – has his own therapist (he’s refusing to eat all the fancy foods they serve him). Their oldest daughter Jenny is anorexic and making wrong choices in life. And then there’s Max – their teenage son – who refuses to communicate with his parents – instead, he carries with him a video camera at all times and delivers missiles in form of short tapes to express to them his state of mind. They’re hysterical nihilistic montages that would make Sergei Eisenstein proud. They have an illegal alien maid – Carmen – who was hired by Barbara to deal with her husband’s sexual desires. This motley crew is a side-splitting picture of modern dysfunction. They’re all like tropical fishes living in their salmon-colored sheltered, gated and hedge-rowed universe. One thing I should point out, and it’s worth noting, that Mazursky is not maliciously caricaturing his characters. He is sending them up while obviously cherishing them. For every aspect of absurdity there’s the opposite extreme at play: acute observation. And there lies the depths of our sympathies for them.
In walks Jerry Baskin, a homeless man who has been living on the streets around Rodeo Drive – and whose only cherished friend, his dog, has left him for someone who will give him a steadier source of nourishment. He stumbles into the backyard of the Whitemans and sees in their vast pool the ideal place where he can fill the pockets of his trench-coat and end it all. Alas, Dan steps in – saves Jerry from drowning. Dan immediately sees something in Jerry and decides to have him stay in the house.
Jerry becomes a stimulus to every member of the household. He has a nonsensical way of communicating with their scene-stealing dog and teaches him how to eat. Dan takes off from work to spend a day bumming around with Jerry and feels liberated by Jerry’s approach to living. He starts to understand the way his wealth has entrapped him. Richard Dreyfus’ nervous energy befits Dan’s foibles and Nick Nolte as the enigmatic Jerry is a terrifically calibrated performance. He never allows Jerry to be fully changed, even as he transforms everyone around him. Even when he’s forced into a makeover – you can see the rough edges around him.
Barbara – played by a delectably extreme Bette Midler – is a bundle of neurosis and uptightness – and Jerry’s knowledge of the human body releases her. “Something strange is happening to me,” she confesses. “I’m scared…” Carmen starts to read Karl Marx and to realize she’s been abused. Their son starts to embrace his sexual fluidity and self-expression.
It’s a great comedy of manners that feels timeless. The soundtrack – which includes a perfect usage of the Talking Heads’ classic “Once in A Lifetime” — is a kick. It includes an original song performed by Little Richard, which became his last hit.
Jerry: “Survival is my talent.”
Available to stream on HBO, HBO Max, HBO NOW and DIRECTV. Available to rent on Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Microsoft and DIRECTV.
Screenplay by Paul Mazursky and Leon Capetanos.
Based on the Play by René Fauchois
Directed by Paul Mazursky
Starring Nick Nolte, Bette Midler, Richard Dreyfuss, Little Richard, Tracy Nelson, Elizabeth Peña and Evan Richards
Bringing “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” to the Screen
The fate of ”Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” which stars Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler and Nick Nolte, was psychologically important to Disney. The new management team was trying to bring Disney into the Hollywood mainstream for the first time, knowing that the sometimes brutal spotlight would be focused on each of its early films. ”One Magic Christmas,” the first movie made and released by the new team, had fumbled its way in and out of theaters in December. In addition, ”Down and Out” was an unusually sophisticated comedy and Disney’s first R-rated movie. Although the film was ready for release at Christmas, the studio decided to hold it back.
There was no need to force the movie to compete in the crowded Christmas field, according to Bob Levin, the studio’s senior vice president for marketing, especially since there appeared to be a ”window of opportunity” at the end of January. Although a lot of movies would pour into theaters in February, only one -”Wildcats,” starring Goldie Hawn -seemed to be directly competitive with ”Down and Out.” By opening on Jan. 31, ”Down and Out” would have a two-week jump over that film. The thrust was ”to key everything to opening this movie as an event,” said Mr. Levin. On New Year’s Eve, Disney previewed ”Down and Out” in 36 theaters in 36 cities. The sneak previews were not without risk. ”Maybe they wouldn’t like the movie and the word of mouth would be sour,” said Mr. Levin. ”But we didn’t really believe that. The bigger risk was that we were drawing attention to a party-like event. If there were a lack of interest, there would suddenly be a taint on the picture. It would seem a big yawn.” The sneak previews drew good crowds everywhere; theaters in over half the cities sold out. An R Rating ”Down and Out” was released under Disney’s adult label, Touchstone. Although the studio would have preferred a PG-13 rating, it decided not to fight the R rating it received (No one under 17 admitted without a parent or adult guardian). ”This was the way Paul Mazursky wanted to present his film,” said Mr. Levin. (nytimes.com)
Meet the Man Behind the Music: Andy Summers
Andy Summers rose to fame in the early 1980’s as the guitarist with the multi-million record selling rock band The Police. The Police were the number one band of the time and dominated the music scene and the media in the eighties with several number albums and singles including “Every Breath You Take,” “Roxanne,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” “Invisible Sun,” and “Message in a Bottle.” The band was the recipient of several Grammys and awards too numerous to mention. Andy Summers innovative guitar playing created a new paradigm for guitarists in this period and has been widely imitated ever since. Prior to the Police Andy Summers played with various bands in the London scene including the Soft Machine, Kevin Coyne and also Kevin Ayers. Post Police Andy has made thirteen solo records, collaborated with many other musicians and toured the world as a solo artist. In addition he has composed film scores, and along with many photo gallery exhibitions published books of his photography. In 2006 his autobiography “One Train Later” was released to great success and was voted the number one music book of the year in the UK. The film “Can’t Stand Losing You” based on the book saw it’s theatrical release in the US by Cinema Libre in March 2015. The DVD of the film will be released on July 14th 2015, along with Andy’s latest CD – “Metal Dog.” Recent projects include the record Circus Hero from his new band Circa Zero released in April 2014, touring in Brazil with Rodrigo Santos and scoring music for the Turkish film “And the Circus Leaves Town.” Current photo exhibitions have been at the Leica gallery in Los Angeles, Paris/LA Independent Photo Show, Kunst, Licht gallery in Shanghai, CCC Gallery in Beijing and Photokina in Cologne, Germany. Upcoming photography exhibitions are scheduled for August in Sao Paulo Brazil and Rio de Janeiro with Globo newspaper. Andy is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Guitar Player Hall of Fame, has the keys to New York City! He has been awarded the Chevalier De L’Ordre Des Arts et Des Lettres by the Ministry of Culture in France. (andysummers.com)
About Co-Screenwriter Leon Capetanos
In 1965, Leon Capetanos, a UNC graduate from Raleigh with a poetry degree, answered a call to make a difference in the world. He embarked on a year of building welfare, education, and health programs in poor, rural North Carolina communities. When the organization he was working with posted him outside New Bern, racial tensions were high and locals, he says, tried to shoot some of his black colleagues. Appalled by the turmoil, then-20-something Capetanos jumped at the chance to answer a very different kind of call, this one from Universal Studios. The studio, where he had interned as a graduate student, wanted to hire him in the screenwriting department. “It was an answer from heaven. I said I’d be there as soon as I could pack up my car and drive to California. And that’s how I got to Hollywood.” Decades later, with a screenplay resume that includes “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Fletch Lives,” “Greased Lightning,” and “Moscow on the Hudson,” Capetanos’ name is familiar to movie buffs. Now, the Raleigh native has returned home to add another feather to his writers’ cap: novelist. His young adult novel, “The Time Box,” was published last year, and he’s at work on another. In some ways, Capetanos’ path has taken him far from his poetic beginnings; in other ways, it hasn’t at all. He recalls the story of his unlikely move from North Carolina to Hollywood amiably, complete with a reenactment of the archetypal small-town sheriff who investigated the shooting incident…He wasn’t there to realize a boyhood dream of success, he says, he wanted more interesting human experiences, and hoped the creative route might help him make an impact. Screenwriting’s rhythms came to him naturally. “I didn’t want to write prose; I was only interested in poetry. But a good movie, to me, is a poem. It’s a series of images that are connected.” At first, Capetanos considered the job at Universal Studios just another fun voyage. “I never thought I was going to go out there for very long. I thought I’d go, work on this contract I had, and see how it worked. Then I’d leave … Nobody unpacks there,” he says. “You’re always ready to go somewhere else.” When he inherited his childhood home in Five Points, he’d “come back to write,” he says. “I always had a life here. I kept escaping and coming back.”
He also regularly visited Munich and Paris and New York – sometimes for projects or small-budget films, and often for romance, which he calls his “total weakness.” And he never unpacked at any of those places, either. Buoyed by travels and girlfriends, he learned the ropes of filmmaking in the lavish and “surreal” atmosphere of 1970s Hollywood. He remembers comedian Jack Benny arriving to the studio in a Rolls-Royce every day, and once heard Don Knotts singing “Ava Maria” in the office bathroom. “Two years went by; three years went by; four years went by – eventually you’re just there. You’re a fixture.” He was lucky, sure. But poetics and romantics aside, Capetanos says he found success through hard work and compromise. “If you have talent, that helps. But a lot of people have talent. If you’re not there driving all the time, then you don’t have much of a chance.” He learned that screenwriting is a constant give-and-take. On a good day, it’s a collaborative effort between a director and a writer; on a bad day, it’s the role of patchwork/repairman/wordsmith. “I understand editing in the sense of making something better,” Capetanos says, “but when somebody tells you, ‘Let’s not say that in a scene, just because I don’t want to?’ That wears on you. Either you bend or you get fired.” For a time, he bent, and he found the right collaborators. Chief among them was director Paul Mazursky, with whom Capetanos co-wrote a series of quirky ’80s blockbusters, including “Moon Over Parador,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” and “Moscow on the Hudson.” Together, the duo had “a way of making comedies that are more intelligent and relevant than most of the serious films around,” said Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, when “Beverly Hills” came out in 1986. Capetanos’ smart, offbeat humor reflected his own keen awareness of the world. “I mean, the only thing that kills you in Hollywood is hope,” he says, “But the weather is great. There’s a tremendous allure to the place, and there are so many days that life is good and easy. The impermanence – the constant transient element to it – fascinates me.” Fascination and the right amount of success kept him there, riding the wave, for the better part of four decades. Finally, he met and married his wife, Lisa, and then, in 2004, Capetanos hit Hollywood overload. “I was at the point where to make a living, I’d have to write crap. And I was tired.” It was time to return home…Capetanos has been happily settled in Cary…When he set out to write “The Time Box,” he didn’t intend to write a young adult book, he says, but realized it was the right genre for his story. “I think most writers have one or two stories that they need to tell, no matter what, and they tell them different ways,” he says… (waltermagazine.com)
About Director Paul Mazursky
Born Irwin Mazursky in New York City on April 25, 1930, he was the only child of David, a laborer, and his wife, Jean, a movie lover who let her son skip school so they could watch two double features in one day. “By the time I was 12,” Mazursky told People magazine in 1986, “I was already dreaming of being an actor. I’d go into the bathroom in our house, the only place you could be alone, and do imitations of Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart.” While a student at Brooklyn College he was cast as a psychopath in “Fear and Desire,” the 1953 film that marked Stanley Kubrick’s directorial debut. He changed his first name to Paul. That year he also married Betsy Purdy, with whom he had two children…Mazursky wrote and directed most of his 17 films and acted in nearly all of them. His acting credits spanned six decades, from a leading role in Stanley Kubrick’s first feature in 1953 to voicing a musical bunny in “Kung Fu Panda 2″ in 2011. He also appeared in the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Sopranos.” His experiences in front of the camera gave him a special affinity for actors’ rhythms and a preference for long takes that allowed them room to develop their characters. Critic Molly Haskell compared Mazursky to Ingmar Bergman in the caliber of performances he coaxed out of his leading women in particular. “They allow his camera to seek out and find subtleties of expression and echoes of a complex, sensual intelligence that never surface in their work for other directors,” Haskell wrote in New York magazine in 1978…He also made a documentary called “Yippee” (2006), about Hasidic Jews in Ukraine. “His specialty is to take a core of sentimental goo and coat it with either bittersweet nostalgia or crude jokes — preferably both,” critic John Simon wrote in the National Review in 1986. But Mazursky dismissed the barbs, arguing, as he did in the Atlantic in 1980, that “my movies aren’t sentimental, they just have sentiment.” He received his last critical raves for “Enemies: A Love Story” (1989), adapted with Roger L. Simon from an Isaac Bashevis Singer story about a Holocaust survivor who winds up in America with three wives. It brought Mazursky his fourth screenwriting nomination, after “An Unmarried Woman,” “Harry and Tonto” and “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.” (latimes.com) Mazursky passed away in 2014.