Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mikey and Nicky

Mike Nichols and Elaine May invented and performed their brand of improvisational comedy together for just four years, 1957-1961. In a 2013 Vanity Fair interview the two of them seemed to believe their creative relationship broke up at the height of success mainly because Elaine May got bored and wanted to move on.

When I was in high school (1966-1970) in the rural Midwest, one of the adults I knew owned a copy of the long-playing vinyl recording seen above (front and back), with several of Nichols & May's most famous sketches. In that media-poor age, I must have listened to it dozens of times. Chunks of preserved Nichols & May dialogue still bang around inside a few of the more remote memory chambers.    

Yet not until recently did I watch the only film Elaine May both wrote and directed Mikey and Nicky, released in 1976. Peter Falk and John Cassavetes seemed able to double each other's significance, working within May's magic zone of freedom. Success that she was with her actors, by all accounts her relationship with the studio was gruesome, scaling up to a lawsuit and then initial release of the movie in the studio's cut rather than the director's. A cut approved by May did not become available until the 1980s. 

The best stills I could find came from Asian sites. I get the impression this product of Elaine May's art is famous among film students, but that few (Western) non-specialists have seen it. Evidently it has mass appeal in Asia.

Over the years I've watched several of the (relatively) improvised, (relatively) low budget, post-Method, New York movies of this era  almost a genre unto itself. Mikey and Nicky is a good one not to miss. Even more than John Cassavetes (the seeming owner of this short-lived, risk-taking school of "body acting" & non-linear, independent movie-making), Elaine May pushed every creative project beyond its apparent boundaries. That is the core reason, I suspect, that she completed so few.