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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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Spectral Elaine May—The Later Mike Nichols Collaborations and the Myth of the Recluse

Spectral Elaine May—The Later Mike Nichols Collaborations and the Myth of the Recluse

(p.202) Chapter 10 Spectral Elaine May—The Later Mike Nichols Collaborations and the Myth of the Recluse
ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May

Tim O’Farrell

Edinburgh University Press

Elaine May's documentary Mike Nichols: An American Master (2016) surveys Nichols' life and, in particular, work as a noted Hollywood director. The American Masters series, described on the PBS website as "an award-winning biography series", is designed to produce biographies of leading figures in American culture. May's contribution to the series is at first sight a conventional short form television documentary profile of an artist. However, it repays examination both as an example of May's artistry (the opening includes a signature sly moment, importing archival footage of a blustery Adolf Hitler to reference Nichols German Jewish background, reminding us of May and Nichols' shared heritage) and as a launching pad for dissecting the way May and Nichols' careers have become intertwined in fact and in Hollywood legend. I will frame the documentary's content by considering other May tributes to Nichols (such as speeches at the AFI Life Achievement Awards and at the Kennedy Center Honors) and her early comedy work with Nichols, as well as biographical background to material which is suggested or touched on in the documentary

Keywords:   Elaine May, Women’s Filmmaking, Women Directors, Mike Nichols, Documentary filmmaking, Screenwriting, Comedy, Mike Nichols: An American Master (film), Primary Colors (film), The Birdcage (film)

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