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ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May

Edited by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Dean Brandum

Hardback (Forthcoming)

Explores the diverse career of director, screenwriter, comic and actor, Elaine May

Spanning from obscurity to notoriety, the films of director, screenwriter, actor and comic Elaine May have recently experienced a long-overdue renaissance. Although she made only four films — A New Leaf (1971), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), Mikey and Nicky (1976) and Ishtar (1987) — and never reached the level of acclaim of her frequent collaborator Mike Nichols, May’s work is as enigmatic, sophisticated and unceasingly fascinating as her own complicated, reluctant star persona. This collection focuses both on the films she has directed, and also emphasises her work with other high profile collaborators such as John Cassavetes, Warren Beatty and Otto Preminger.

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Who’s Kidding? Approaching Elaine May; Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Part I: Beginnings

Chapter One: Teenagers on Stage – The Comedy of Elaine May and Mike Nichols; Mark Freeman

Part II: Critically Situating Elaine May

Chapter Two: Hollywood Can’t Wait: Elaine May and the Delusions of 1970s American Cinema; Maya Montañez Smukler

Chapter Three: Dangerous Business – Elaine May as Existential Improviser; Jake Wilson

Part III: Elaine May’s Films as Director

Chapter Four: Kneeling on Glass – Elaine May’s A New Leaf (1971) as Screwball Black Comedy; Samm Deighan

Chapter Five: "Don’t Put A Milky Way in Someone’s Mouth When They Don’t Want It": A Contemporary Feminist Rereading of Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid (1972); Clem Bastow

Chapter Six: Mikey and Nicky (1976) – Elaine May and the Cassavetes Connection; Jeremy Carr

Chapter Seven: Cartographies of Catastrophe – Elaine May’s Ishtar (1987); Dean Brandum

Part IV: Collaborations/Revelations

Chapter Eight: In/Significant Gestures – Elaine May, Screen Performance, and Embodied Collaboration; Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Chapter Nine: Otto É May(zo) – Elaine May’s Screenplay of Otto Preminger’s Such Good Friends (1971) as Affirmation That Hell is Other People; Paul Jeffrey

Chapter Ten: Spectral Elaine May – The Later Mike Nichols Collaborations and the Myth of the Recluse; Tim O’Farrell 


Chapter Eleven: When in Doubt, Seduce: An Interview with Screenwriter Allie Hagen; Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Dean Brandum 


About the Author

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is an Australian film critic. She has written six books on cult film with a focus on gender politics, and has published for fifteen years in magazines, journals, edited collections and home entertainment releases. Alexandra recently co-authored a book on filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, and in 2017 co-curated the “Pioneering Women” program at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival which celebrated Australian women’s filmmaking in the 1980s and 1990s. Alexandra is also a member of Alliance of Women Film Journalists.

Dean Brandum is an independent film historian. He gained his PhD at Deakin University (Australia) in 2016 for analysis of historical box office takings. He has taught at a number of universities in Melbourne and has written for various publications, generally on the topic of film distribution. His first book Technicolouryawn: Melbourne Drive-ins in 1970 is forthcoming.


Academicising elusive Elaine May and her unruly improvs risks landing one in an imaginary Nichols-May routine, but this lively collection fearlessly takes the plunge. Watching the resourceful, mainly Australian contributors confirm or contradict one another as much as any of May’s mutually entangled duos is only part of the fun.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, author of Cinematic Encounters

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