Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

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MichaelB
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Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

#1 Post by MichaelB » Thu Nov 20, 2014 8:16 am


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domino harvey
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Re: Passages

#2 Post by domino harvey » Thu Nov 20, 2014 8:28 am

Goddammit

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Re: Passages

#3 Post by pzadvance » Thu Nov 20, 2014 9:08 am

Fuck

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Re: Passages

#4 Post by Roger Ryan » Thu Nov 20, 2014 9:30 am

MichaelB wrote:Mike Nichols.
Nichols was so omnipresent and contributed so much over the last half-century that it feels like he was taken out in his prime. Sigh.

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Re: Passages

#5 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Thu Nov 20, 2014 11:18 am

And he always looked much younger than his age.

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Re: Passages

#6 Post by FrauBlucher » Thu Nov 20, 2014 1:02 pm

Nichols had one of the most stunning feature debut that any director could have.

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Re: Passages

#7 Post by criterion10 » Thu Nov 20, 2014 3:26 pm

Terrible news about Mike Nichols. Ashamed to admit I still have most of his filmography to work through, but The Graduate is one of my all time favorite films, and I've always argued that The Birdcage is not only superior to La Cage Aux Folles, but a downright hysterical film and severely underrated.

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Re: Passages

#8 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Nov 20, 2014 3:39 pm

I often found Nichols to be a variable director, though it was usually more dictated by the material than the director himself : out of the films I've seen I actively disliked Regarding Henry; was lukewarm on Working Girl, Charlie Wilson's War and The Graduate; more positive on Primary Colors, Closer (though it plays like Carnal Knowlegde-lite), Postcards From The Edge and Silkwood; really liked Angels In America, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Catch-22; and outright love the two Jack Nicholson-starring films - the brutally cruel battle of the sexes in Carnal Knowledge (a film in which everyone comes out of a relationship sullied if not entirely broken, and you get to see youthful innocence turn into bitter hatred) and Wolf (Wolf in particular is underrated I feel, although it needs to be approached more as a darkly fantastical romantic drama than the pure horror film it seemed to be marketed as. It's the more mature Twilight!)

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Re: Passages

#9 Post by hearthesilence » Thu Nov 20, 2014 6:34 pm

I haven't seen enough of his plays to rate his theater career, but otherwise for my money, his greatest work is his improv with Elaine May. Get those classic comedy albums, if I had to take something to a desert island, it would be those rather than any of his films.

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#10 Post by domino harvey » Thu Nov 20, 2014 7:18 pm

I actually bought all of their albums this summer (they were available as super cheap mp3 copies via Amazon) and there's some great bits there. "K as in knife..."

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#11 Post by Numero Trois » Fri Nov 21, 2014 2:17 am

My favorite of his recent (filmed) work is his performance in The Designated Mourner. The film as a whole is too claustrophobic for its own good, but Nichols more than makes the most of Wallace Shawn's text. As intellectually satisfying as one could hope for.

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#12 Post by hearthesilence » Fri Nov 21, 2014 2:32 am

domino harvey wrote:I actually bought all of their albums this summer (they were available as super cheap mp3 copies via Amazon) and there's some great bits there. "K as in knife..."
It's too bad some of them are no longer available as physical media, the sleeves can be pretty funny.

Image

A little small, but under that title, we have two testimonials:

"Mike Nichols is one of the most
incisive wits in America today.
His brilliance lights up the stage, his
observations on the foibles of humanity
rank with those of Jonathan Swift
and George Bernard Shaw.
He is without exception
the world's greatest comedian."
Elaine May

"Elaine May is a heck of a sweet kid."
Mike Nichols

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#13 Post by hearthesilence » Fri Nov 21, 2014 6:56 pm

Found this tantalizing - a 1980 theatrical production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Nichols and May as George and Martha. Would've liked to have seen this, even with its alleged failings. Linking to this isn't working too well so if it's all right, I'll post the whole review:

SUNDAY ESSAY: NICHOLS
AND MAY IN VIRGINIA WOOLF
New Haven, May 4, 1980
by Frank Rich

It is the happiest possible reunion. Here, after far too many years of waiting, are Mike Nichols and Elaine May--finally together again, alive and well, on the very same stage. They look pretty much as we remember them, too. Maybe Mr. Nichols has been dealt a few curves by middle age, but he still has those eyes whose mad glint belies the innocence of his deadpan cherub's face. Maybe Ms. May has gained a few facial shadows, but her curly mane is still pleasingly unkempt and her body remains a triumph of angularity; she is a Jules Feiffer cartoon woman sprung to life.

Just seeing these two performers in the same place at the same time, we involuntarily start playing back some of the funniest bits in the canon of modern cabaret humor. We imagine Ms. May, as the most metallic-voiced of telephone operators, depriving a lost motorist of his very last dime. We hear Mr. Nichols, as the most fatuous of late-night talk-show hosts, questioning the starlet "Barbara Musk" about her very close friendship with "Albie" Schweitzer.

But no. This legendary pair has not reunited to ply us with all their old, cherished routines or to bring back the glory days of Second City; indeed, they have not even come back as the comedy team of Nichols and May. When the lights come up on the stage at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, the couple are inhabiting one of the most famous of theatrical living rooms. For a six-week run that is scheduled to conclude next Sunday; Mr. Nichols and Ms. May are playing George and Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

No wonder, then, that the audience's initial feelings of delight soon give way to morbid curiosity. Except for occasional, brief appearances, this pair has not been a team since they went off to pursue separate Broadway and Hollywood careers in the early sixties. They have never acted together in a play in New York. But what really makes their reemergence at the Long Wharf seem audacious is their choice of vehicle--not to mention what they do with it.

One might picture Mr. Nichols and Ms. May trying out a comedy of their own invention, or maybe having a go at a Plaza Suite or Same Time, Next Year. Instead they have plunged right into a demanding classic of the American theater. Virginia Woolf is not a play built for two slumming stars on an ego trip; indeed, anyone who undertakes it now--even in New Haven, far from the glare of Broadway--is asking to be measured against a formidable corps of illustrious predecessors. What's more, a new George and Martha must contend with the problem of the work's familiarity. Is it still possible for any actors to make Virginia Woolf seem fresh?

Mr. Albee's lethal drama has had quite a lively history over the past eighteen years. The original production, directed by Alan Schneider and starring Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill, was one of the pivotal events of post-World War II theatrical history. Though Mr. Albee had had success as the Off Broadway author of such avant-garde playlets as The Zoo Story and The American Dream, no one quite expected his first full-length drama to turn out the way it did. In one bold stroke, the writer seemed to inherit the mantle of Eugene O'Neill. He had written his own and original Long Day's Journey into Night: an alcohol-fueled, psychological striptease that revealed all the rage of a battling couple while simultaneously upholding that marriage's right to exist.

It was an exhausting, lacerating, and, for many, shocking night of theater. Mr. Albee had not only presented an extraordinarily corrosive view of modern marital bliss, but he had used rough language that was new to Broadway. Some audiences--and critics--had trouble getting past the four-letter words, especially those that came out of Ms. Hagen's mouth. The reviewer for New York's largest circulation newspaper [John Chapman of the Daily News] suggested that Mr. Albee be "taken out behind the literary woodshed and spanked." The Pulitzer Prize committee, despite protests, chose to withhold an award for drama rather than bestow one on a play that some of its members apparently regarded as "dirty."

Other theatergoers debated different aspects of Virginia Woolf that seem equally arcane now. Were George and Martha named after George and Martha Washington, and, if so, what did that mean? (Only a few years ago Mr. Albee disingenuously attempted to clear up this matter by telling an interviewer that his play actually was "an examination of whether or not we, as a society, have failed the principles of the American revolution.") Did the couple actually have a son or not? (They did not.) Were the characters disguised homosexuals? (The latter question, when answered yes, allowed heterosexuals to view the play from a very safe remove; it was like saying that Willy Loman's tragedies are the occupational hazards of traveling salesmen.)

When the film version of Virginia Woolf, minus a few deleted expletives, appeared in 1965, the reaction and debates were not much different, although they were more widespread. The director of the movie, of course, was Mike Nichols, in his debut as a filmmaker. Since Mr. Nichols had only directed comedies on Broadway, and since his adaptation starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, purists feared that he would gut the power of the original. For the most part, he did not. The movie was shot, with self-conscious gravity, in black and white, and the stars did not deviate markedly from the tone of the original production's characterizations. Yet, in retrospect, Mr. Nichols did somewhat bring out the play's wit, which had been present but not dominant on stage. Ms. Taylor's game performance, looked at today, is funnier than one remembers. At the time, it was so surprising to see a movie goddess gray her hair and speak rudely that the shock effect largely neutralized her lighter moments.

By the time Mr. Albee directed the play himself, on Broadway in 1976, it was no longer possible to duplicate the impact of the Hagen-Hill and Taylor-Burton versions. The drama's once-inflammatory vision and language had long since been absorbed by American popular culture. Mr. Albee's promise as a writer had faded; the novel dramatic techniques of his best play had become the common currency of such hits as Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band and Jason Miller's That Championship Season. But Mr. Albee did have a new and somewhat incendiary idea: He gave the drama an unusually playful production. Colleen Dewhurst's Martha was a savvy, sexy earth mother; as her victim, Ben Gazzara was wry and at times jocular. There were more laughs than anyone had found in Virginia Woolf before, or at least enough to put a fresh face on an otherwise standard, and somewhat becalmed, reading of the play.

As visitors to the Long Wharf have been discovering, Mike Nichols and Elaine May have decided to go Mr. Albee at least one better. Hardly do the lights come up than the audience is laughing as hard as it would at any production of Same Time, Next Year. Without altering a line of the text, the stars transform a Strindbergian duel of the sexes into a knockout battle of wits.

And though it's impossible not to be unsettled by this production at first, any fears that this Virginia Woolf might be a vanity show soon subside. The actors are in character. When Mr. Nichols tells Ms. May that "there isn't an abomination award you haven't won," we begin to see the impotent anger of a defeated associate professor in New Carthage College's history department. Martha's swift rejoinder--"If you existed, I'd divorce you"--comes back with such a guttural snap that we immediately accept Ms. May as the barracuda daughter of the college's ironfisted president. The precise comic rhythms are not just the practiced style of two comedians; they testify to the long years that George and Martha have spent united in unholy wedlock. It's as if Mr. Albee had consciously set out to write the ultimate Nichols and May routine back in 1962.

But, of course, he didn't, and this new reading subtly but dramatically alters the play's meaning. Now, as in years past, Mr. Nichols and Ms. May remain accomplices in comic mayhem; they are just too jocular to be aiming Mr. Albee's darts at each other. So they shoot them instead at their dreary nocturnal guests: the square junior faculty member Nick (James Naughton) and his dim wife, Honey (Swoosie Kurtz). If Mr. Nichols has a nasty expletive to deliver, he lobs it like a tennis ball right into Honey's court. (When it lands, Ms. Kurtz lets loose with a squeal.) Ms. May's periodic carnal taunts leave her partner unperturbed, but send Mr. Naughton reeling.

The play's first act sustains this approach with no apparent strain. Yet, as the evening wears on, the laughs are not really there to be had and we find ourselves getting a bit hungrier for blood: Martha and George do declare "total war" on each other eventually; adultery, humiliation, and other cruel forms of psychological brutality are their chosen weapons. After such a hilarious start, we begin to worry if the director, Arvin Brown, and his cast can bring about the necessary shift of dramatic gears. It is not for nothing that Mr. Albee titles his last two acts "Walpurgisnacht" and "The Exorcism."

At first this difficult transition is cleverly negotiated. The second act works quite well in its own peculiar way. Since George and Martha still refuse to go for each other's throats, the focus switches almost entirely to their victims. The director finesses the shift by providing the Nick and Honey of one's dreams. Mr. Naughton complements his hosts' rapid-fire delivery with a slightly doltish lethargy; he is a cool jock who is pushed by constant prodding into anger. He also may be the first Nick ever to capture the character's ambition, boorishness, and casual ruthlessness without falling into cliched Sammy Glick mannerisms or sacrificing the role's humor. Mr. Naughton's slow-boiling, robustly heterosexual biologist gives a whole new beat to the play.

Once Nick goes into the kitchen to tryst with Martha, it is Ms. Kurtz's turn to let loose with some fireworks. As the soused and sick Honey, she manages miraculously to straddle all the play's moods at once. Her provincial naivete is both appalling and funny, but booze has given her the utter lucidity of the truly mad. Though Honey cannot articulate the source of her sorrow, Ms. Kurtz's grinning fool's face shows us that she has grasped the internal logic of the night's horrors.

And when Mr. Nichols moves in for the kill, dredging up Honey's repressed memories of her long-ago hysterical pregnancy, her pain rises up in a flash and simply tears into the audience. Perched on the couch, Ms. Kurtz first loses control of her limbs and then her voice and then the rest of her torso; her whole body seems to shriek. By the end of Act 2, she is a battered pink pulp, lying in an abandoned heap on the floor. Mr. Nichols, towering above her, arrives at his most powerful moment: His face set in an eerie jack-o'-lantern grin, he announces his chilling plot to wreak final revenge on Martha. Well after the lights go down and plunge him into darkness, we retain the image of the fire rising in his steely eyes.

Unfortunately, once the new day begins to dawn in the last act, this grueling momentum is lost; the exorcism that Mr. Albee promises does not quite materialize. When George finally tells Martha that their fictive son is dead, Mr. Nichols italicizes his lines.' He isn't committing a ritual killing, but is instead playing a tart practical joke. When Ms. May retreats into convulsive sobs, the reaction doesn't seem justified; shouldn't she, like us, know that George is only having waspish fun? Her transformation from braying tyrant to fearful, vulnerable child is so well done that the play's final moments are moving anyway. Yet somehow we feel that this George and Martha have never gone, as Mr. Albee puts it, "to the marrow." The emptiness that the dead son symbolizes--and that paradoxically binds this warring couple together--has not been made terrifyingly real.

One could blame the occasional failures of this Virginia Woolf on lapses in the performances, but that really would not be fair: On its own terms, the production is almost entirely consistent. What Mr. Brown and his actors have done is face up to the fact that the drama can no longer deliver the same devastating revelations it did in another time. This worldly-wise Virginia Woolf seems a concerted effort to find a solution to the problem: What if George and Martha are in fact a happily married couple who play grotesque games merely to while away the night? If such an interpretation robs Mr. Albee's work of some of its emotional power, it pays unexpected dividends as well. Certainly it is hard to feel too cheated at the Long Wharf these nights. We arrive expecting to watch two rusty stand-up comics do a novelty act. We leave having seen four thinking actors shed startling new light on one of the great dark plays of our time.

(This Sunday piece came about when Arthur Gelb stormed into the culture department demanding to know why we weren't reviewing this production, which was widely publicized but off-limits to critics. Informed by an underling that Nichols and May had specifically requested no press coverage, Arthur witheringly asked, "Well, they're selling tickets, aren't they? Buy one." And so we did, albeit well into the run, after the show presumably had found its footing.)

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#14 Post by barryconvex » Fri Nov 21, 2014 9:57 pm

One of my big regrets is not shaking Mike Nichols' hand and thanking him for his films when i had the chance. He and Diane Sawyer visited the gallery i used to work at (the wife of the artist showing was Sawyer's personal chef) on a saturday afternoon. There was no one around and we were alone in the gallery. While they looked at the paintings i sat at the front desk and tried to gather the courage to say, "I know people will always think of you for The Graduate but for my money Carnal Knowledge is your masterpiece." A moment or two later they signed the book, i opened the door for them and they got into their black town car and drove off. It's such an inconsequential thing but i really wish i was able to tell him that...

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#15 Post by hearthesilence » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:55 pm

Did you go that screening of Carnal Knowledge at Lincoln Center a few years back? Jason Reitman moderated a Q&A with Nichols, but I remember several other notables in the audience, including Noah Baumbach and Lena Dunham (soon after she got her TV deal but still months away from announcing Girls). A lot of "you're great"/"no, you're great" talk, but still, Nichols was entertaining. My favorite remark (and I love the way he says it too) was about New York City, and how the people have become so much nicer. "You should've seen how it was before…it was like Paris!"

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#16 Post by Perkins Cobb » Mon Nov 24, 2014 3:03 pm

hearthesilence wrote:Found this tantalizing - a 1980 theatrical production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Nichols and May as George and Martha. Would've liked to have seen this, even with its alleged failings.
Here are some photos from it.

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#17 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Nov 24, 2014 6:21 pm

Oh nice! Thanks!


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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#19 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Nov 25, 2014 8:17 pm

Just watched that the other night - it's amazing how Nicholson, while always pretty abrasive, goes from an exaggerated but occasionally relatable figure of male id/frustration to outright MRA psychopath during the course of the film, culminating in that ridiculous slideshow. What a feel-bad time at the movies that must've been upon release!

Also contains one of the best lines ever written - "I'd almost marry you if you'd leave!"

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#20 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Feb 26, 2015 5:54 pm

You know, on watching Carnal Knowledge again with the knowledge of the Jason Reitman interview it does cheekily make me wonder if the title of Up In The Air is a sly reference to the final line of this film!

I like that Nicholson's character Jonathan is both the worst and the most pitiful in the film: the man who steals a guy's girlfriend (and her virginity!) from his best friend, who chases all women and leaves them when they don't measure up to expectations (or who finds something wrong to justify leaving them), who proposes wife swapping and eventually ends up idolising-demonising every woman he has known in his slideshow scene (devastating in its brutality, yet also telling in that he's kept track of and never forgotten any of the women in his life).

Yet the tragedy is that his character can never connect with the girl that his best friend is besotted with: he stole her body but not the intellectual connection they had, and one of the great aspects of this early section is that Candice Bergen's Susan is really too good for either of the men vying for control of her. She is flawed and bears some of the responsibility for deceiving Sandy, but Susan is more than just an object to be conquered by either of them. Following that Jonathan might corrupt his friend Sandy (brilliantly played by Art Garfunkle) but his friend still retains a kind of naive faith in love (cripping and self-deluded to the opposite extreme in some ways) that Jonathan doesn't have. Later he rails at his long term girlfriend (Ann-Margaret) at her wish for a commitment, but stunningly breaks off to ask her to leave him, his self-disgust breaking through before it hardens again into another abusive rage. Eventually Jonathan's impotence, though couched in talk about women failing him, is about his character's own self disgust crippling him sexually, and that final scene of his ego literally being stroked(!) in the only incredibly specific way left that he can possibly be fulfilled is a perfect climax to the film! Jonathan performs most of the worst acts in the film, but it is a testament to the power of Carnal Knowledge that even this character can be represented and in some ways understood and empathised with in his push-pull attitude towards love and commitment.

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931 - 2014)

#21 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Feb 26, 2018 4:52 pm

Has anyone here seen Nichols's adaptation of Angels in America? It doesn't seem to be discussed as much as his feature films, possibly because of the general stigma against TV productions made before the '00s, but I've come across a few mentions that hail it as Nichols's finest work by film critics who are otherwise less-than-enamored with his directorial work.

Longtime theater critic Frank Rich is a huge fan as well - in a long piece on both Nichols's adaptation and the controversy surrounding The Reagans, he wrote "Angels is the most powerful screen adaptation of a major American play since Elia Kazan's Streetcar Named Desire more than a half-century ago...I can't say I expected to find Angels in America this affecting in 2003. Plays you love don't always hold up years later, particularly those tied in any way to headlines. Great plays almost never make good films. But even when Mr. Nichols's version lags -- as it does at times in the second half, in part because the female characters are not as deeply acted as the men -- any failings pale next to the grandeur of the larger achievement. This is a work big enough to walk around in again and again, and ravishing to watch even when its heavenly interludes threaten to go over the top. It hasn't dated a whit."

I imagine this is only available on home viewing formats? (I doubt any theatrical prints were ever created for exhibition, especially given the six-hour running time, but then again, I was pleasantly surprised when BAM screened a 35mm print of Joe Dante's HBO production The Second Civil War, which apparently was shown in theaters overseas.)

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Re: Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

#22 Post by knives » Mon Feb 26, 2018 5:06 pm

I like it a lot though I prefer his other HBO adaptation Wit.

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