ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May

deadline for submissions: 
July 1, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (University of Melbourne / VCA) and Dr Dean Brandum (independent researcher)

Cloaked in a veil spanning from obscurity to notoriety, the films of director, screenwriter, actor and comic Elaine May have in recent years undergone a long-overdue critical renaissance. Although her acclaim never quite reached that of her early stand-up comedy (and later filmmaking) collaborator Mike Nichols, May's directorial work has inspired The New Yorker's Richard Brody to christen her as nothing less than “the greatest American woman director and simply one of the great modern filmmakers.” As director, May made only four films—A New Leaf (1971), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), Mikey and Nicky (1976) and Ishtar (1987)—but, diverse as they are in theme and tone and as infamously troubled as the majority of their productions were, May made films as enigmatic, sophisticated and unceasingly fascinating as her own complicated, reluctant star persona. 

As an award-winning actor and screenwriter, May found more formal success in her numerous collaborations with figures including Warren Beatty, Woody Allen, John Cassavetes, and of course Nichols himself. While all of these works form a vital and essential part of the ‘Elaineverse’, it is her work as film director that reveal her own unique vision: one proudly its own, and almost legendarily at odds with the orthodox norms and mores of the American movie business.

We are currently soliciting abstracts of approximately 200-300 words for essays to be included in a book-length anthology on Elaine May to be published as part of the ReFocus series from University of Edinburgh Press which examines overlooked American directors (series editors Robert Singer and Gary D. Rhodes). For too long May has remained a footnote to the career of her collaborators, and this collection seeks to remedy her relegation as a curiosity, emphasizing the passion, artistry and unwavering commitment to her craft that has dominated all aspects of her remarkable career.

Due to the diversity of May’s career, we invite essays that focus not only on the films she has directed, but also those that emphasise her often underplayed role in other films, including the many collaborative relationships that marked the high (and low) points of her screen career. We encourage a broad approach to the term “filmmaker”, taking into account not only May’s work as an individual director but also a strong collaborative force as both screenwriter and actor (Luv, Crisis in Six Scenes, Small Time Crooks, In the Spirit, California Suite).

Please note that we currently have accepted chapters on May’s documentary Mike Nichols: American Masters (2016), her screenwriting work with Mike Nichols (The Birdcage, Primary Colors, Wolf), and chapters on her collaboration with John Cassavetes on Mikey and Nicky and with Warren Beatty on Reds (1981).

This collection will be refereed and we will be seeking chapters of approximately 6,000 - 8,000 words, using the Chicago endnote referencing style.  Please provide alongside your 200-300 word abstract a CV and a short bio of no more than 200 words by 1 July 2017.  

Send details to:

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (University of Melbourne / Victorian College of the Arts)
Dr Dean Brandum (Independent Researcher)
Melbourne, Australia