Show Business: Elliott Gould: The Urban Don Quixote

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Paul McCartney and Jacques Brel.

Risking Self-Parody

"What I really want to do now," he says, "is to direct." He is currently working with a writer to develop an original screenplay for his first venture behind the cameras. He and Brodsky have also discussed producing a film for Barbra, with Mrs. Gould in the leading role and Elliott, maybe, directing. "Listen," Gould grins, contemplating all these conquerable worlds, "I'm not even in my prime yet."

The grave risk now facing Gould is getting into reruns before his prime time is used up. In Getting Straight, when his jaw flew open in astonishment and water cascaded down his chin during the Master of Arts oral exam, the bit was both funny and surprising. But when he appeared on-screen in Move just a couple of months later doing the same thing again, it became self-parody. The theme of I Love My Wife concerns the oft-plumbed conflict between professional success and contemporary marriage; Little Murders deals with urban man's inhumanity to urban man. Is it all getting too familiar? "My God," he says, "this is my work. What difference does it make if I work 40 weeks a year? That's fantastic, especially when you consider I used to work ten weeks a year. What does it matter, as long as the work has validity?" In contrast to someone like Warren Beatty, who shows up in a movie every few years, Gould has been making them as though his time were running out. For him, the therapeutic validity of going from one project to another often outweighs aesthetic considerations. He is all too willing to forget that audience overfamiliarity may not necessarily breed contempt but something far worse—indifference.

If only because of the echoes of his mother's personality, Gould's situation bears at least a superficial resemblance to Philip Roth's fictional character, Alexander Portnoy. The noted psychologist,

Bruno Bettelheim, recently used Portnoy's Complaint as the basis for a fictional analyst's notebook. Portnoy's problem, wrote Bettelheim, was not excessive hatred of a smothering, domineering Jewish mother, but the complete reverse —excessive love and dependence on her. In these terms, Gould's current life-style is reminiscent of his childhood, and his current burst of show business activity could conceivably be an effort to live up to his mother's expectations for him.

At least one person resists all such interpretations. "Psychoanalysts," Gould's father complained to TIME'S Patsy Beckert, "those guys poison the mind. Elliott says to me now, 'Why didn't you tell me about sex?' Well, who told me about sex? He says, 'I could have been a fag!' But I say not with that background. Not with the nice summers he spent in the mountains." Bernie himself is happier now that he has divorced Elliott's mother and married his Sweet Sixteen sweetheart, whom he met again after she had been widowed.

The new Bergman film will offer Gould an invaluable opportunity to break away from the life and the stereotyped roles that now make him so popular but could in two years' time make him just a familiar bore. The plunge into Bergman's special private world will require greater depth, diversity and complexity than Gould has heretofore displayed.

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