Paul Mazursky Blazes Trails With Compassion

WGA Screen Laurel honoree gives respect to flawed characters

When a young Paul Mazursky blazed onto the screen playing a vicious delinquent in the revolutionary “Blackboard Jungle,” no one could have anticipated he would carve further trails during a distinguished screenwriting career.

“Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” and “Blume in Love” raised early clarion calls for onscreen sexual frankness. Then, while Hollywood was going youth crazy, the exquisite “Harry and Tonto” eloquently argued for the essential worth of the senior citizen. Millions of women of a certain age still cite “An Unmarried Woman” as the ’70s seminal cinematic report on their struggle for personhood. And no film has better dramatized the effect of the Holocaust on its survivors than the beautiful “Enemies, a Love Story.”

A classical humanist in the Jean Renoir tradition, Mazursky even adapted the French genius’s “Boudu Saved From Drowning” into “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” still arguably the finest portrait of industryites in extremis. Mazursky’s satire stings but never sears thanks to its boundless compassion. Whatever their follies, his characters always retain every measure of dignity. Cherishing his flawed human beings, Mazursky grants them the fundamental respect everyone seeks, which is how we know he cherishes us as well.

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