Appellate Judge Dan Mancini refuses to answer the questionnaire of the great Bernard Pivot of Apostrophes and Bouillon de Culture.
1953 was a good year for leaving home.
This low-profile DVD release isn't likely to change the fact that Paul Mazursky's semi-autobiographical kunstleroman is criminally under-appreciated in America. Still, if even a handful of viewers discovers a gem they'd previously overlooked, that's better than nothing.
Facts of the Case
Harboring dreams of becoming an actor, Larry Lapinsky (Lenny Baker, The Paper Chase) leaves his home and smothering Jewish mom (Shelley Winters, The Poseidon Adventure) for bohemian Greenwich Village. Once there, Larry and his girlfriend Sarah (Ellen Greene, Little Shop of Horrors ) hook up with a crew of eccentrics, including a cynical, narcissistic young playwright named Robert (Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter), a suicidal manic-depressive named Anita (Lois Smith, Minority Report), and a gay, black hustler who goes by Bernstein (Antonio Fargas, Starsky and Hutch).
When Larry Lapinsky leaves home for Greenwich Village, his most significant acting credit is having played the lead in a college production of Hamlet. The Bard's play, and its psychological preoccupations, are a central motif and symbol in Mazursky's film. In perhaps the most memorable and entertaining sequence in the movie, Larry walks the empty streets from Sarah's parent's house to the subway, beret on his head and hands buried in the pockets of his overcoat. Having just gotten laid, he exuberantly delivers Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" soliloquy as he goes, before segueing into a caricature of Marlon Brando and reciting Stanley Kowalski's lines to the image of Vivien Leigh on a poster advertising A Streetcar Named Desire in the train station. Later in the film, an acting instructor urges Larry to stop intellectualizing as he acts. Losing oneself in physicality, he says, is the only way to convincingly deliver lyrical, stylized dialogue. Paralyzing intellectualism is Hamlet's fatal flaw, of course, while in-the-moment physicality is the hallmark of Brando's style. Lenny Baker plays Lapinsky with an innate intelligence and geeky hipster physical presence that straddles the line between these worlds without ever fully committing to one or the other. This perhaps explains why Paul Mazursky—the real Larry Lapinsky—ended up a famous writer-director, though he started off an actor.
The scene involving the acting instructor sounds clichéd to modern ears used to hearing actors sound off about their craft on Oprah or Entertainment Tonight or under the questioning of Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton. It must've sounded fresher and more natural in 1976. Moreover, the scene is helpful in understanding the game Mazursky is playing as a screenwriter. The instructor's advice might just as well have been heeded by Larry and his bohemian cohorts in their day-to-day lives. His clutch of friends are walking stereotypes. This isn't a flaw in the writing: They're self-styled stereotypes (Antonio Fargas' performance as Bernstein, especially, is so over-the-top, he's off-putting at first; rest assured that the pay-off later in the film is appropriately moving). Much of the group's dialogue is lyrical, pseudo-intellectual, and false. But it's meant to be. Mazursky is satirizing his youth even as he constructs a paean to it.
The young actors (with the exceptions of Baker and Walken) occasionally have trouble with Mazursky's semi-phony dialogue, but it doesn't matter. Any hint of mannered line delivery only emphasizes the fact that they're putting on airs to one extent or another. Their bohemian freedom masks the same insecurities harbored by young adults everywhere. Despite their pretense of sophistication, it is only near the end of the movie, when Larry and his pals are thrust into confronting sexual and emotional betrayal, as well as death, that they step fully into the world of adults.
Mazursky balances the theatrical artifice of scenes involving the Greenwich Village gang with a simple naturalism in scenes shared by Larry and his parents. Shelley Winters is magnificent in the film, playing a Jewish mother who is at once a stereotype and a fully-realized human being. Her Fay Lapinsky is as lovable as she is overbearing. Larry's constant sparring with her—his attempts to escape her grasp, her geography, and her values—is beautifully rendered in both the screenplay and the performances. The comedy is rich, genuinely funny, and full of pathos and truth.
Though priced to sell at under ten dollars, Next Stop, Greenwich Village looks spiffy on DVD. The transfer was sourced from a clean print. Detail is excellent, and the overall look of the image is that of celluloid. Grain is noticeable in some establishing shots, but it only adds to the visual character of the movie, which was shot with an eye toward simple naturalism. The movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 displays.
Audio options include a two-channel mix of the original mono track, as well as a stereo remix. The two tracks sound great, though they're mostly indistinguishable. Bill Conti's (Rocky) score is the big beneficiary on the stereo mix. Said score, by the way, relies heavily on the swinging small combo stylings of Dave Brubeck. The jazzman's bright but mannered compositions perfectly exemplify the not-as-hip-as-they-think-they-are posturing of the movie's young protagonists. A Spanish dub is also included, as well as English and Spanish optional subtitles.
Although this is a budget release of one of Paul Mazursky's lesser-known films, it does contain a single, significant supplement: an audio commentary by Mazursky and Ellen Greene. It's a middling track, with the director offering the occasional interesting observation between descriptions of what's happening onscreen. Greene, who was recorded separately from Mazursky, proves more interesting, though her comments are more isolated. Still, far be it from me to slap Fox on the wrist for providing a commentary track. Though it isn't the most engaging or informative track I've ever heard, the effort to include it is still appreciated.
Next Stop, Greenwich Village deserves more recognition than it has received. The movie is an intelligent, truthful, and funny tale of early adulthood. And Fox's quality DVD is steal.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Paul Mazursky and Ellen Greene
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