PHILLIP DIMITRIOUS, the protagonist in Paul Mazursky's Tempest, is by most standards a very successful man. As a New York architect, he designs fantastic casinos for his mobster boss. He is married to Antonia, an acclaimed actress still the object of others' desire. His daughter, Miranda, is completely immersed in the complexities of pubescent pop culture, complete with movie-star worship and bad imported music.
But Phillip is far from satisfied. To his gangster employer Alonzo, "Phillip is a moody man, but he's a genius, so it's forgiven. "Unfortunately, Phillip's inquietude is more than temperament. For him. The American Dream has become a low-budget horror movie titled something like "The Revenge of Morpheus."
He thinks he doesn't love his wife. He knows he doesn't know his daughter. He wants to find his identity again. So he dumps his woman, takes his kid and heads for the Mediterranean homeland of his fathers. Along the way, he picks up an oversized wanderer named Aretha (Susan Sarandon) whose greatest claim is her ability to sing Jewish folk songs in both Hebrew and Greek. By the end of his 18-month trek, and Mazursky's film. Phillip seemingly reclaims himself. Alas, he does so by means unrevealed to the movie's audience, who watch him sitting contented in his comfortable Manhattan apartment and wonder exactly what all the fuss was about.
The fault for the film's flaws can only lie with Mazursky himself. He wrote the screenplay, produced and directed, and even appeared in a bit part as a producer friend of Antonia's. The story and the statement are his. And he recently made it quite clear that he is pleased with the result. "I can't change it," he says definitively, "nor would I want to."
But his result is unclear, and the problems may rise from the confusingly complete identification Mazursky has with Phillip. He almost mockingly cast John Cassavetes, a fellow filmmaker known for his cinema verity, in the role, while admitting that he first visualized Phillip as a Jewish American like himself. A New Year's Eve party Phillip anticipates will be "dull, pretentious and nervous" appears to parrot Mazursky's dislike of Hollywood tinsel. And when in an interview he says. "America has become kind of decadent; a lot of things have been too easy," he echoes his own screenplay of Phillip castigating Antonia and Alonzo for invading the Elysium he has created on a remote Greek isle. "I found paradise," his character says, "and you turned it into a slum."
In the course of the film, this association between Mazursky and his character runs amok. The most obvious result is the film's length, an unwieldy and tedious two hours and 20 minutes. Much of the time is dominated by plodding and ponderous soliloquies by Phillip or, worse still, supposedly meaningful glances. By the film's end, as Dinah Washington croons she "will turn Manhattan into an isle of joy," and Cassavetes takes a final knowing glance at the City's skyline, one wonders what made such an ugly point of departure such a desirable destination. Mazursky seemingly knows, but he's hurting for company.
TEMPEST IS BEST in its simplest moments. Cinematographer Don McAlpine's opening shots of the stark geography of Phillip's island do more than just stir a feeling of wonder--they wrench it from deep down inside, ably abetted by Stomu Yamashita's eerie, haunting score, Miranda (Molly Ringwald) and Aretha provide welcome lightness with their a capella renditions of the pop tune. "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?," a protest of the harsh conditions of their voluntary captivity. As the island's actual inhabitant. Raul Julia as Kalibanos is a nearly perfect primitive, adoring his goats and his Sony Trinitarian.
Ringwald, in her major film debut, gives Tempest's most believable performance as a teenager struggling to establish her own identity stuck on a rock in the middle of the Mediterranean in an intentional parallel to Phillip's own search. When she tells an admiring Sam Robards. "I'm not exactly beautiful, besides. I'm a virgin," it is pure adolescent poetry.
Mazursky's title seems purposely and cheaply misleading Sure. William Shakespeare still draws in the crowds. But the connection between the Englishman's play The Tempest and the film is lenuous beyond the arbitrary similarity of names; certainly the themes and purposes of the two writers differ. Besides, Mazursky admits his original idea for Tempest came a decade ago, long before he knew the Shakespeare play, when he wanted to make a film about the relationships between family members. There are token attempts to maintain some of the Bard. But two hi-tech lightning storms and exclamations like, "you are a good, hors," from Kalibanos rain the subtle translation Mazursky could have made of Shakespeare's examination of the link between knowledge and magic.
If you want to see such parallels sensitively drawn, a fine modern interpretation of The Tempest does exist in the 1956 science-fiction thriller Forbidden Planet, with Walker Pidgeon as a Phillip-like character and Robbie the Robot as his Kal-bonos. Catch it on a Saturday afternoon double creature feature. At least it'll cost you less than Mazursky's offering.