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Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) Review

Next Stop, Greenwich Village is definitely the most biographical movie Mazursky ever made: he produced it along with Tony Ray, directed it, written it and acted in. The film is set in the 50s in both Brooklyn and titular Greenwich Village, which once was a bohemian part of Manhattan.

An aspiring actor Larry Lipinsky (played by Lenny Baker) is trying to move away from his parents’ place in Brooklyn to Manhattan in order to pursue his acting career. In order to pay for a cheap apartment and food he takes a daily job as a juice presser and going to every audition he can. In his spare time, Larry’s embarking on a relationship with liberated wanna-be performer Sarah and hanging out with his Village crowd. We see Larry mimicking young Brando, taking method acting classes and talk about the art and craft of performing. It’s not long before he gets his break and signing a deal to act in Stanley Kubrick’s first feature film Fear and Desire (1953) and Richard Brooks’ Blackboard Jungle in 1955. The protagonist is haunted by his mother Faye, an overbearing nightmare of a human being. In the movie, Mazursky presented a detailed analysis of his youth but also managed to capture a true spirit of the bygone era. Despite of numerous anachronisms, the film is often cited and screened during many reunions and revivals – ofttimes used as a tour-guide. People who had lived in Greenwich Village back in the 50s claim its accuracy beyond average. There are little relishes like “the rent party” when people get together in the broke host’s tiny apartment to collect the money for the rent. There is a sentimental sense of community captured here. Mazursky managed to fill up his memories with balmy nostalgia showing deep understanding and forgiveness for all the dirt youth has to offer.

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Viola Spolin playing Larry’s Mother in Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) directed by Paul Mazursky

As for genre the film oscillates between comedy and drama. To be more precise: it uses comedy convention to unload more dramatic potential. Next Stop, Greenwich Village has a very unique energy. Its rhythm is timed with the characters who are bright, funny, always hungry for more, arrogant and yet poetic. The mother persona is like a time bomb that keeps on exploding whenever she appears. Dave Brubeck’s score (slightly anachronistic) complete the vibrant and somewhat chaotic world of Village in the 50s.

In DP30: The Oral History of Hollywood the legendary director reveals that he needed to wait until his mother died in order to make this movie, because his real  life mother was too much alike Faye Lipinsky. It all started back in the 1970 when Mazursky released his second feature Alex in Wonderland, a semi-biographical movie where he introduced a character based solely on his own mother (played by Viola Spolin). She was a classical embodiment of a Jewish Mother’s stereotype: pushy, loud, controlling and with no off button on her. Even though the dialogues between mother and son are trimmed and well polished, after the movie premiered Mazursky’s mother was so furious she wanted to sue him for defamation. After she died, already more experienced Mazursky could finally make Next Stop, Greenwich Village, a movie about his youth and examine complicated relationship with the woman who gave birth to him. Shelley Winters’ portrait of Lenny’s mother is mesmerizing. She’s so good, her clinging makes you want to kill yourself.

Although the critics gave Mazursky rave reviews for Next Stop, Greenwich Village (maybe with a memorable exception of Vincent Canby’s summary), the movie did not make enough money in the US. In Europe, on the other hand, it was very popular: it ended up being nominated for Palme d’Or during the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. Shelley Winters was nominated in supporting role category for a Golden Globe Award in 1977 and BAFTA  for 1978. Lenny Baker received a nomination during Golden Globes (1977)  too in a category for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture – Male. Apart from lively performance from Lenny Baker, the cast consists of other, more known from their theatrical endeavor, great actors: Broadway’s own Ellen Greene, the great Shelley Winters, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Antonio Fargas, Lois Smith, Denise Galik and uncredited: Bill Murray, Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Mazursky (as a casting director).

Next Stop, Greenwich Village was a complete surprise follow-up after Harry and Tonto. But then again a huge success of his previous movie gave Mazursky the freedom to do more personal movie (something similar happened with Alex in Wonderland being made after Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice). And the two (Next Stop… and Alex…) are in fact the most personal films he ever made. While Alex in Wonderland is more accurate, some of the Next Stop’s subplots are imaginary, like for example the relationship with Sarah and Anita’s suicide attempts, In Next Stop… he smuggled more of his emotional upbringing. It’s a memoir of starting up in the film industry which is always inspiring given the already known career Mazursky had.

 

©  2018 Anna Jozwiak

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