Elaine May

Author: Elizabeth Alsop
An unsentimental education
Cloth – $110
Paper – $22
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/07/2025
Cloth: 01/07/2025
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About the Book

A master of subverting tropes with surgical precision, Elaine May forged a career in 1970s Hollywood with films like The Heartbreak Kid and Mikey and Nicky. Elizabeth Alsop explores the director’s nonconformist and uncompromising vision while looking at May’s films against trends in classic and postclassical Hollywood. Shaped by her background and success in the theater, May brought the biting humor of her improv comedy to her filmmaking. But unfriendly media and a system hostile to both her methods and sensibility consigned her to “director’s jail” after the failure of Ishtar. As Alsop moves through the filmmaker’s four movies, she tracks May’s inventive treatment of favorite themes like hapless male characters and the inanities of American culture. She also considers May’s work in relation to her multifaceted career as a writer and performer.

A compelling reconsideration of an iconoclast and original, Elaine May reveals how a surprisingly radical auteur created her trademark cinema of discomfort.

About the Author

Elizabeth Alsop is an assistant professor of communication and media at the CUNY School of Professional Studies and a faculty member in Film and Media Cultures at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Making Conversation in Modernist Fiction.



“A dynamic analysis that celebrates and problematizes an influential, complex, multifaceted, and singular artist and talent. Alsop makes revelatory connections between May's formative start in live comedy improv, as a writer for theater and film, and as a performer on stage and screen to not only track May’s unique style but to understand her creative process.”--Maya Montañez Smukler, author of Liberating Hollywood: Women Directors and the Feminist Reform of 1970s American Cinema