losing it at the movies: blume in love (paul mazursky, 1973)
Monday, December 06, 2021
Picking this up after still yet another long break, this is the thirteenth in a series, "Losing It at the Movies," which is explained here. I've been at it for more than two years ... maybe I'll finish in 2022.
In 5001 Nights at the Movies, Pauline Kael wrote of Blume in Love:
This romantic, marital-mixup comedy, written and directed by Paul Mazursky, is like a hip updating of The Awful Truth. Now the institution of marriage itself is in slapstick disarray. Blume (George Segal), an L.A. divorce lawyer, is berserkly in love with his ex-wife, the stiff-jawed Nina (Susan Anspach). An inscrutably frustrated, humorless woman, she has taken up with Elmo (Kris Kristofferson), a roly-poly drifter-musician. He’s just the right lover for tense Nina: his stoned contentment is the best protection against her high-mindedness. And he’s so likable that even Blume, who’s obsessed with winning Nina back, has to like him. Mazursky gets L.A. just right; he sees the pratfall folly of his educated, liberal characters who are up to their ears in social consciousness. This is his most messily romantic movie: he’s “too close” to the subject—he’s gummed up in it, and the chaos feels good. The scattier his characters are, the more happily he embraces them. They include Marsha Mason (in her film début) as a giggly, compliant woman who has an affair with Blume, and Shelley Winters as a legal client. Also with Donald F. Muhich as the divorced couple’s deadpan analyst, Mazursky himself as Blume’s law partner, Anzanette Chase, and Erin O’Reilly. There are scenes that dawdle, but in Mazursky’s best films craziness gives life its savor and a little looseness hardly matters. The cinematography is by Bruce Surtees; the production design is by Pato Guzman.
Blume in Love is very much of its time. Writer-director Paul Mazursky's films in the 1960s and 70s included Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Harry and Tonto, Next Stop Greenwich Village, and An Unmarried Woman. George Segal had a long career ... in the 1970s he worked with directors like Robert Altman and co-starred with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Glenda Jackson, Elliott Gould, and Jane Fonda. Blume in Love was only the third movie for Kris Kristofferson (Elmo), who followed it with directors like Peckinpah and Scorsese and teamed with Streisand in the 70s A Star Is Born. Susan Anspach (Nina) is best known for Five Easy Pieces, and she plays a similar character here, an intelligent, tense woman. (Anyone who thinks she could only play one type should check out Montenegro.) I'm not sure why her star faded, although she kept working through 2011 (she died in 2018). But for a few years, it felt like she was in half the good movies.
I was buried in movies in those days, especially in 1973, when I began my time as a film major. My program ran free double-features five nights a week, plus there were all the movies I watched in my classes. (One result was that despite my fighting hard against the literary canon in grad school, my time as a film major meant I had a comprehensive "canonical" education in movies.) Blume in Love was the kind of movie that I watched all the time, partly because there were movies like Blume in Love all the time. I liked it, especially a scene where George Segal (Blume) hangs out with his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, singing "Chester the Goat" (quit watching just before the two-minute mark ... the uploader added a montage that does nothing for me):
You can see why Kristofferson could be so appealing on screen ... it's as if his lack of actorly moves enhances his character here. Segal is trying hard to fit in, and also trying hard not to fit in, so he's more uncomfortable than Kristofferson. And Anspach is content for the moment. Mazursky gives the entire scene the feeling that it was made up on the spot, in a good way.
Blume is basically a creep, but he's the film's point of view and Segal manages to help us forget the creepiness. Kristofferson isn't quite a creep, but his casual lack of commitment finally loses whatever made him likeable. And yes, it was of its time. I don't think I'd seen it since it came out so long ago, and for the most part, my fond memories still held. But I had forgotten something, something that probably wouldn't be made today, and if it were, it would be treated much differently. Blume visits his ex, tries to get her to bed, insists on his love for her, and when she turns him down, he rapes her. And Mazursky doesn't shy away, doesn't pretend it "wasn't really a rape". But he does something worse: after she gets pregnant (time for Elmo to hit the road), Nina decides to give Blume another chance. And with that, all of my fond memories went down the drain.
And it's weird how it was treated at the time. Roger Ebert gave it his highest rating ... he didn't mention the rape at all. Nor is there any hint of it in Kael's review. Nor in other "major" reviews I read, from the New York Times and the Village Voice. Again, this would be one thing if the rape wasn't a rape, but Mazursky makes it clear what happened. And with that, Blume in Love goes from a fondly-remembered picture to something worse.