When the trailblazing “new Hollywood cinema” of the 1970s is nostalgically evoked, two names too infrequently mentioned in the hallowed company of Altman, Cassavetes, Rafelson, et al. are those of Paul Mazursky and Ulu Grosbard. This year, the Los Angeles Film Festival sets about correcting that oversight in a sidebar program titled “Movies & More,” the “more” referring to the fact that all films in the series will be preceded or followed by onstage conversations with their makers. Chances are you’ve at least heard of Mazursky, if not for his recurring appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos, then for the fact that he weathered the grim moviemaking decade of the 1980s more successfully than most of his more lionized contemporaries, emerging with two popular hits, Moscow on the Hudson (1984) and Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986). Mazursky’s heyday, though, was the ’70s, during which he presided over a series of indelible tragicomedies (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice [actually 1969], Blume in Love, An Unmarried Woman) about modern American marriage and the pursuit of something like happiness. In 1974, Mazursky took time out for a love story of a different sort, this one between an elderly widower (Art Carney, in his Oscar-winning role) and his trusty feline companion, who, upon being evicted from their New York apartment, take to the highways, destination unknown. The movie is called Harry and Tonto, and from an era rich with road movies (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Vanishing Point), it is one of the most lyrical and picaresque, as man and beast encounter a succession of relatives and eccentric strangers (played by the likes of Ellen Burstyn, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Chief Dan George) who form a mosaic of hopeful and bottomed-out possibilities.
Now to the more pressing question: Ulu who? A Belgian-born former diamond cutter whose Broadway credits far outnumber his film ones, Grosbard was nevertheless responsible for one of the best and least-heralded American movies of the decade: 1978’s Straight Time. In probably his greatest, least mannered performance, Dustin Hoffman stars as a recently paroled petty thief who flirts briefly with the idea of living legit, only to quickly fall back into old habits. Adapted from the novel No Beast So Fierce by real-life ex-con Edward Bunker, Straight Time sees the criminal life less as a choice than as a predisposition, and it bristles with the terse street poetry and solemn philosophizing associated with the later films of Michael Mann (who worked uncredited on the script). Also on tap, an ultrarare revival of Jospeh Sargent’s The Man (1972), which was originally produced for television but released to theaters instead and returns to the big screen at what could hardly seem a more prescient moment: It stars James Earl Jones as the first black president of these United States. The Man screens Fri., June 22, at 9:30 p.m. at the Billy Wilder Theater;Straight Time screens Sat., June 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Billy Wilder Theater;Harry and Tonto screens Fri., June 29, at 8:30 p.m. at the Billy Wilder Theater.