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Paul & Cher & Chazz & Bobby

August 27, 1995|Judy Brennan | Judy Brennan is a frequent contributor to Calendar

It's not that Paul Mazursky isn't faithful to his forthcoming "Faithful," but the director has found himself in a bit of a pickle with the producers, just as he did with his 1993 stinker "The Pickle."

The dispute involves test screening results, who owns final cut of the movie, and a show business chap named Alan Smithee. Smithee is the pseudonym slapped on a film when a director, producer or writer demands that his own name be removed from the credits.

It is highly unusual for a director--particularly one of the stature of Oscar-nominated Mazursky--to yank his name off his own picture. (Among his credits: "Enemies, a Love Story," "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "An Unmarried Woman," "Moscow on the Hudson" and "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.")

When Smithee's name crops up, it is usually on a bad B-movie, but if Mazursky has his way, he and Smithee may soon become best friends.

Next month, Mazursky and the producers of "Faithful"--an offbeat comedy starring Cher, Ryan O'Neal and Chazz Palminteri (who adapted his stage play for the screen)--will arbitrate the director's credit rift before the Directors Guild of America. The picture is set for release next March. None of the parties will discuss the dispute now because of the pending arbitration.

But three weeks ago they squabbled loudly in the Hollywood trade press over Mazursky's cut of the picture. It seems that the stars and the producers--namely the film's distributor Savoy Pictures and Tribeca Productions' Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal--didn't like Mazursky's version. They insist he didn't have the right to final cut as director and they want their own cut released. But they are nervous about Mazursky's decision to use the Smithee moniker and fret that it will taint the picture before it ever hits the theaters.

While Mazursky knows that he was a director for hire, meaning he doesn't get final cut, he sticks by his art and considers the producers' decision to alter that art an outrage. Sources close to the production say that both Mazursky's cut and the producers' cut have been test screened several times in New York and Los Angeles. Supporters of Mazursky say his cut got a better score from audiences than the other. Savoy does not comment on test screening results, but other sources close to the production counter the claims that Mazursky's "Faithful" fared better.

A similar spat occurred between Mazursky and Columbia Pictures over "The Pickle." The studio refused to screen the movie in advance because it thought it had a turkey on its hands. According to one studio source involved with the picture at the time: "It was a bad movie and Paul wouldn't acknowledge it. He's very stubborn. He wanted a $10-million marketing campaign to promote it and Columbia refused. He wanted it opened nationwide but they platformed the release, which proved the wise thing to do."

Mazursky wouldn't comment, but those close to him say he felt the studio poisoned the picture by not test-screening it.

What is actually wrong with Mazursky's latest effort remains unclear. Some close to the "Faithful" production say that Cher didn't like the music or the way she looked in the film and thought there was a better performance by her in footage that didn't make Mazursky's cut. She reportedly complained to De Niro. He and his partner, Rosenthal, agreed with Cher and approached Mazursky about making some changes. Then Palminteri got into the mix, voicing criticism that Mazursky's cut deviated too much from the story in his screenplay, the trade press reported.

But Cher's publicist, Lois Smith, balked at "ridiculous" claims that her client would refuse to promote the picture if editing changes weren't made to Mazursky's version, which sources say lit Cher's face unflatteringly. "Cher had a great time making this picture and she had a great time with Paul, who actually plays Chazz's character's psychiatrist in the film," Smith says.

"Most of the time Cher's character is tied up in a chair. In the first 15 minutes, she doesn't have any makeup on and looks so ragged that other characters think she is a bag lady and offer her a dollar. She's playing a woman who has been married a long time and basically let herself go. This is not a vanity issue," Smith says. She noted that Cher certainly wasn't overly concerned about her appearance in her hit films "Silkwood" and "Mask."

In "Faithful," Cher's character is a woman who is about to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary with husband O'Neal, who has hired a hit man to kill her on that day. Palminteri is the hit man. The story turns when the hit man and Cher's character fall in love.

Sources close to the producers also insist Cher is not the issue. They say the cut by Mazursky simply moved too slowly. The producers' cut, they say, punched up the timing.

According to one source involved in the picture: "I've known Paul for a while. You have to understand, he is like all directors. It's all about wanting control."

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