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ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May$
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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Dean Brandum

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474440189

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474440189.001.0001

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Hollywood Can’t Wait: Elaine May and the Delusions of 1970s American Cinema

Hollywood Can’t Wait: Elaine May and the Delusions of 1970s American Cinema

(p.41) Chapter 2 Hollywood Can’t Wait: Elaine May and the Delusions of 1970s American Cinema
ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May

Maya Montañez Smukler

Edinburgh University Press

Elaine May began her career as a filmmaker during the 1970s when the mythology of the New Hollywood male auteur defined the decade; and the number of women directors, boosted by second wave feminism, increased for the first time in forty years. May’s interest in misfit characters, as socially awkward as they were delusional, and her ability to seamlessly move them between comedy and drama, typified the New Hollywood protagonist who captured America’s uneasy transition from the hopeful rebellion of the 1960s into the narcissistic angst of the 1970s. However, the filmmaker’s reception, which culminated in the critical lambast of her comeback film Ishtar in 1987, was uneven: her battles with studio executives are legendary; feminist film critics railed against her depiction of female characters; and a former assistant claimed she set back women directors by her inability to meet deadlines. This chapter investigates Elaine May’s career within the lore 1970s Hollywood to understand the industrial and cultural circumstances that contributed to the emergence of her influential body of work; and the significant contributions to cinema she made in spite of, and perhaps because of, the conflicts in which she was faced.

Keywords:   Elaine May, Women’s Filmmaking, Women Directors, Second Wave Feminism, New Hollywood, A New Leaf (film), The Heartbreak Kid (film), Mikey and Nicky (film), Ishtar (film)

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