sexta-feira, 28 de novembro de 2014

Mike Nichols, Urbane Director Loved by Crowds and Critics, Dies at 83 By BRUCE WEBER

Mike Nichols, Urbane Director Loved by Crowds and Critics, Dies at 83

MOVIES - NOV. 20, 2014
Mike Nichols, one of America’s most celebrated directors, whose long, protean résumé of critic- and crowd-pleasing work earned him adulation both on Broadway and in Hollywood, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 83.
His death was announced by James Goldston, the president of ABC News. Mr. Nichols was married to the ABC broadcaster Diane Sawyer. A network spokeswoman said the cause was cardiac arrest, giving no other details.
Dryly urbane, Mr. Nichols had a gift for communicating with actors and a keen comic timing, which he honed early in his career as half of the popular sketch-comedy team Nichols and May. An immigrant whose work was marked by trenchant perceptions of American culture, he achieved — in films like “The Graduate,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Carnal Knowledge” and in comedies and dramas on stage — what Orson Welles and Elia Kazan but few if any other directors have: popular and artistic success in both film and theater.
An almost perennial prizewinner, he was one of only a dozen or so people to have won an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy.
His career encompassed an entire era of screen and stage entertainment. On Broadway, where he won an astonishing nine Tonys (including two as a producer), he once had four shows running simultaneously. He directed Neil Simon’s early comedies “Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple” in the 1960s; the zany Monty Python musical, “Spamalot,” four decades later; and, nearly a decade after that, an acclaimed revival of Arthur Miller’s bruising masterpiece, “Death of a Salesman.”
In June 2012, at age 80, he accepted the Tony for directing “Salesman.” When his name was announced at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the neighborhood where he grew up, he kissed Ms. Sawyer, stepped to the stage and recalled that he once won a pie-eating contest in that very theater.
“It was nice, but this is nicer,” he said. “You see before you a happy man.”
From 1968 to 2000 his work included revivals of classics like Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” and Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes”; astringent dramas tied to world affairs like “Streamers,” David Rabe’s tale of soldiers preparing to be shipped out to Vietnam, and Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden,” about the revenge of a former political prisoner; incisive social commentaries like “The Real Thing,” by Tom Stoppard, and “Comedians,” by Trevor Griffiths; and comedies, by turns acid (Mr. Rabe’s “Hurlyburly”), sentimental (“The Gin Game,” by D. L. Coburn), dark (Mr. Simon’s “The Prisoner of Second Avenue”) and light (his “Plaza Suite,” a tripartite work that goes from melancholy to loopy to slapstick).
In 1984, as a producer, Mr. Nichols brought a talented monologuist to Broadway, supervising the one-woman show — it was called, simply, “Whoopi Goldberg” — that propelled her to fame. Alone or with the company he founded, Icarus Productions, he produced a number of well-known shows, including the musical “Annie,” from which he earned a fortune (and a Tony); “The Real Thing” (another Tony); and Jules Feiffer’s play “Grown Ups.”
Conquering Hollywood
The first time Mr. Nichols stepped behind the camera, in 1966, it was to direct Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in an adaptation of Edward Albee’s scabrous stage portrayal of a marriage, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The film was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including one for best director. Though he didn’t win, the film won five.
Mr. Nichols did win an Oscar for his second film, “The Graduate” (1967). A social satire that lampooned the Eisenhower-era mind-set of the West Coast affluent and defined the uncertainty of adulthood for the generation that came of age in the 1960s, the film anticipated the antiheroism of many movies to come.
The film also made a star of an unknown actor, Dustin Hoffman, who was nearly 30 when he played Benjamin Braddock, the 21-year-old protagonist, a Southern Californian and a track star who sleeps with the wife of his father’s best friend and then falls in love with her daughter. A small, dark, Jewish New York stage actor (though he was born and raised in Los Angeles), Mr. Hoffman was an odd choice for the all-American suburban boy whose seemingly prescribed life path has gone awry.
“There is no piece of casting in the 20th century that I know of that is more courageous than putting me in that part,” Mr. Hoffman said in an interview with The New Yorker in 2000.
By the end of Mr. Nichols’s career, he was bravely casting the star Hoffman of a different generation — Philip Seymour — with whom Mr. Nichols made the political film “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007) and, later, more provocatively, the Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman.” He cast Hoffman, then 44, to play Miller’s tragic American in defeat, Willy Loman, a man in his 60s. In addition to Mr. Nichols’s Tony Award for directing, the play won for best revival.
He had also turned his attention to television, winning Emmy Awards for directing adaptations of two celebrated plays for HBO: Margaret Edson’s “Wit” (2001), about a woman dying of cancer, and Tony Kushner’s AIDS drama, “Angels in America” (2003).
Driven, forceful and, for all his wit and charm, known occasionally to strafe the feelings of cast and crew members, Mr. Nichols was prolific — too prolific, according to some critics, who thought he sometimes chose his projects haphazardly or took on work simply for money.
Not every project was a winner; he had a number of duds, and for periods — part of the 1970s, when he made the science-fiction thriller “The Day of the Dolphin” and a comedy about bumbling hustlers, “The Fortune”; and the late ’80s and early ’90s, when his work included “Regarding Henry,” a sappy tale about a hard-driven lawyer who learns the true meaning of life as he recovers from a shooting, and “Wolf,” the macabre tale of a book editor (Jack Nicholson) who turns into a werewolf — his career lost a bit of luster.
Still, his projects almost always had a high-profile glow, mainly because stars flocked to work with him.
He directed Julie Christie, Lillian Gish, George C. Scott, Richard Dreyfuss and Morgan Freeman on Broadway. Off Broadway he directed Steve Martin and Robin Williams as Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Outdoors, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, he directed Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Christopher Walken, John Goodman and Kevin Kline in Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”
Mr. Nicholson, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Ron Silver, Anne Bancroft, Candice Bergen and Gene Hackman all worked with Mr. Nichols more than once. When he directed Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley on Broadway as appealingly bickering newlyweds in “Barefoot in the Park” (1963), they were largely unknown. When he directed Burton and Taylor in “Virginia Woolf,” they were the biggest stars in the world.
“A director’s chief virtue should be to persuade you through a role; Mike’s the only one I know who can do it,” Burton said after the film was finished, a remarkable compliment from a renowned actor for a fledgling director. “He conspires with you to get your best. He’d make me throw away a line where I’d have hit it hard. I’ve seen the film with an audience and he’s right every time. I didn’t think I could learn anything about comedy — I’d done all of Shakespeare’s. But from him I learned.”
Mining Relationships
Unlike other celebrity filmmakers — his contemporaries Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, for example — Mr. Nichols was never known as an auteur. He did not create a recognizable visual style or a distinct artistic signature. And his thematic interests were disparate.
“I’ve always been impressed by the fact that upon entering a room full of people, you find them saying one thing, doing another and wishing they were doing a third,” he said in a 1965 interview with the weekly newspaper The National Observer, now defunct. “The words are secondary and the secrets are primary. That’s what interests me most.”
To that end, romantic narratives were his main vehicle. He examined marriages — from the nascent, as in “Barefoot in the Park”; to the suddenly crumbling, as in his film adaptation of “Heartburn” (1986), Nora Ephron’s novel about a wife betrayed by her husband; to the weathered and unbearably brittle, as in “Virginia Woolf.”
He examined courtship rituals in films like “Carnal Knowledge,” which told the abrasively comic story, written by Mr. Feiffer, of the sexual education over 25 years of two men (Art Garfunkel and Mr. Nicholson) who were college roommates, and “Closer,” adapted from Patrick Marber’s play about seduction via the Internet; and in plays like “The Real Thing,” Mr. Stoppard’s excavation of the meaning of love, with Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close, and “The Gin Game,” about the evolving connection between an elderly pair of card players played by Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, who were married in real life.
“I think maybe my subject is the relationships between men and women,” Mr. Nichols said in an interview with The Washington Post in 1986, “centered around a bed.”
Even so, he found equally rich material in gay relationships, as exemplified in “The Birdcage,” a 1996 comedy about sexual identities adapted (with a script by Elaine May) from a French play by Jean Poiret and a subsequent French film, both called “La Cage aux Folles.”
And he often strayed to other kinds of stories, as in his adaptation of Joseph Heller’s sardonic war farce, “Catch-22” (1970).
“Silkwood” (1983) was the fact-based drama of a whistle-blower at a plutonium plant; starring Ms. Streep and Cher, it was nominated for five Oscars, including best director. “Working Girl” (1988), which was a revenge-of-the-working-class comedy about the triumph of a secretary (Melanie Griffith) from blue-collar Staten Island over her smug, condescending Manhattanite boss (Sigourney Weaver), earned Mr. Nichols another Oscar nomination. “Primary Colors” (1998), adapted from the novel by Anonymous (a.k.a. Joe Klein, the political commentator), was a presidential campaign tale about a Clintonesque candidate played by John Travolta.
Nichols and May
Rather than theme, subject or style, what tied his work together were qualities less tangible — or at least less readily discernible. He was known among actors for finding inventive physical actions for them to enliven writers’ lines, and for concentrating on making each scene independently lucid. His generally unobtrusive visual perspective made the occasionally striking camera angle more provocative; think of the nervous Ben Braddock, alone with the seductress Mrs. Robinson, viewed through a space defined by her bent, black-stockinged leg.
Especially consistent was his wry and savvy sensibility regarding behavior, derived in part from his early success in nightclubs and on television with Ms. May. Their program of satirical sketches depicting one-on-one moments of social interaction reached Broadway, where “An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May” opened in October 1960 and ran for more than 300 performances; the recording of their show won a Grammy Award.
Developed through improvisation, written with sly verbal dexterity and performed with cannily calibrated comic timing, a sharp eye for the telling gesture and an often nasal vocal tone that both of them employed, their best-known routines became classics of male-female miscommunication and social haplessness: a mother haranguing her scientist son for not calling her; teenagers on a date in the front seat of a car; an injured man and a doltish emergency room nurse; a telephone operator and a desperate caller in a phone booth.
Their work, along with the cartoons of Mr. Feiffer and the stand-up routines of Bob Newhart and a young Mr. Allen, defined comic neurosis for the American audience before it became a staple in the hands of Albert Brooks, Richard Lewis and countless others.
“Most of the time people thought we were making fun of others, when we were making fun of ourselves,” Mr. Nichols said in 2000. “Pretentiousness. Snobbiness. Horniness. Elaine was parodying her mother, as I was mine, and a certain girlishness, flirtatiousness, in herself.”
Mr. Nichols said in interviews that though he did not know it at the time, his work with Ms. May was his directorial training. Asked by Ms. Ephron in 1968 if improvisation was good training for an actor, he replied that it was, because it acclimates the performer to the idea of taking care of an audience.
“But what I really thought it was useful for was directing,” he said, “because it also teaches you what a scene is made of — you know, what needs to happen. See, I think the audience asks the question, ‘Why are you telling me this?’ And improvisation teaches you that you must answer it. There must be a specific answer. It also teaches you when the beginning is over and it’s time for the middle, and when you’ve had enough middle and it’s time already for the end. And those are all very useful things in directing.”
Critics speculated that Mr. Nichols’s portrayals of American life were especially shrewd because he came to this country as a boy, felt alienated and never lost his outsider’s point of view.
Berlin Beginnings
Mr. Nichols was born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin on Nov. 6, 1931. His maternal grandparents were distinguished: his grandmother, Hedwig Lachmann, was a translator who wrote the libretto for Richard Strauss’s opera “Salome,” and his grandfather, Gustav Landauer, was an anarchist leader who was killed by right-wing opponents.
Mr. Nichols’s father, from whom Mr. Nichols said he got his sense of humor, was a Jewish doctor from Russia who fled to America to escape the Nazis in 1938, Anglicizing part of his name — Nicholaiyevitch — to become Paul Nichols. Michael and his younger brother, Robert, joined him in New York the next year. Michael knew two sentences in English, he recalled in a 1964 interview in Life magazine: “I do not speak English” and “Please don’t kiss me.”
His mother, Brigitte Landauer, who had been ill, and whom Mr. Nichols described as miserable and manipulative, followed her husband and children in 1941. The fragile family fragmented further when Paul Nichols died of leukemia the next year.
Young Michael’s sense of being a stranger in a strange land was aggravated by the loss of his hair at age 4, the result of a reaction to an inoculation for whooping cough.
“I was a bald little kid,” he recalled in a 1984 interview. He wore wigs the rest of his life.
He attended several schools, public and private, in and around New York City, and after a brief false start at New York University, went to the University of Chicago, where he threw off what he had considered a lonely and difficult childhood.
“I never had a friend from the time I came to this country until I got to the University of Chicago,” he told one interviewer. To another, he described the university as “paradise.”
“I began to see there was a world I could fit in,” he said. “I was happy and neurotic.”
“I was a bald little kid,” he recalled in a 1984 interview. He wore wigs the rest of his life.
He attended several schools, public and private, in and around New York City, and after a brief false start at New York University, went to the University of Chicago, where he threw off what he had considered a lonely and difficult childhood.
“I never had a friend from the time I came to this country until I got to the University of Chicago,” he told one interviewer. To another, he described the university as “paradise.”
“I began to see there was a world I could fit in,” he said. “I was happy and neurotic.”
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