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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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Otto É. May(zo)—Elaine May’s Screenplay of Otto Preminger’s Such Good Friends (1971) as Affirmation that Hell is Other People

Otto É. May(zo)—Elaine May’s Screenplay of Otto Preminger’s Such Good Friends (1971) as Affirmation that Hell is Other People

Chapter:
(p.181) Chapter 9 Otto É. May(zo)—Elaine May’s Screenplay of Otto Preminger’s Such Good Friends (1971) as Affirmation that Hell is Other People
Source:
ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May
Author(s):

Paul Jeffery

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474440189.003.0010

In February 1971, while her studio-seized debut feature A New Leaf was being readied its premiere, Elaine May took a job-for-hire – adapting Lois Gould's newly published, fictionalized semi-memoir Such Good Friends for director Otto Preminger. Her work on the film was pseudonymously ascribed to Esther Dale, in keeping with May's general policy of not taking credit for projects for which she lacked authorial control, and has tended to be regarded as little more than a footnote in her career. Yet Such Good Friends is characterized by themes and styles which typify May's oeuvre: betrayal of a partner; the conflict between the roles we play and our ‘true’ selves; abrupt, seemingly spontaneous, tonal shifts; a particularly intellectual, highly verbal brand of New York Jewish humour counterpointed by vulgar farce; the spectre of impending death. Further, the film shows us that, even when working as intermediary between Gould and Preminger, May's outlook remains thoroughly existentialist. This philosophy, popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre, is not merely reflected in the content of her work but also shapes her entire approach to creative endeavours. Indeed, it's fascinating to see how May's inherent spontaneity, manifested as an inescapable subjectivity, merges with Preminger's highly- controlled, deliberately composed objectivity.

Keywords:   Elaine May, Women’s Filmmaking, Women Directors, Otto Preminger, Existentialism, Such Good Friends (film), Screenwriting, Lois Gould, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jewish humour

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