Poll

Your Favorite John Cassavete Film Is...

Shadows
4 (10%)
Too Late Blues
0 (0%)
A Child Is Waiting
0 (0%)
Faces
0 (0%)
Husbands
0 (0%)
Minnie and Moskowitz
0 (0%)
A Woman Under the Influence
16 (40%)
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
4 (10%)
Opening Night
0 (0%)
Gloria
0 (0%)
Love Streams
1 (2.5%)
Big Trouble
0 (0%)
haven't seen any
13 (32.5%)
don't like any
2 (5%)

Total Members Voted: 38

Author Topic: Cassavetes, John  (Read 5396 times)

MartinTeller

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #20 on: July 02, 2014, 11:18:51 PM »

A Child Is Waiting - Dr. Clark (Burt Lancaster) runs the Crawthorne State Training Institute, a facility for the care and education of mentally retarded children.  Jean Hansen (Judy Garland) responds to a help wanted ad... she is a failed music scholar with no experience in education or nursing, but her desire to find meaning in her life convinces Dr. Clark to hire her.  Jean grows attached to Reuben Widdicombe (Bruce Ritchey), an unresponsive lad of about 12, with the mind of a 5-year-old.  Clark calls Reuben "one of the institution's greatest failures" but Jean believes that what the boy really needs is to see the mother (Gena Rowlands) he yearns for, the mother that never comes.  But things aren't as simple as they seem, and Clark is firmly against any contact with the mother.

This is a minor footnote in the career of John Cassavetes, one of two studio films he directed between his independent debut Shadows and his artistic breakthrough Faces.  But there are some interesting things about it.  First is the casting.  There's several actors -- many in tiny roles -- that were or would become part of Cassavetes's regular troupe.  Besides his wife Rowlands, there's Fred Draper, John Marley and Marilyn Clark.  The great, dark-eyed Paul Stewart has a significant part (and one of the film's best scenes), and he would later appear in Opening Night as well.  I was delighted to see Juanita Moore pop up, even if only in a small part.  Lawrence Tierney appears in an amazingly subdued role for him, as Reuben's downright normal stepfather.  Child stars Billy Mumy ("Twilight Zone", "Lost in Space") and Butch Patrick ("The Munsters") are among the juvenile cast, although most of the children were actually mentally disabled.  And then of course there are the stars.  Lancaster is intense as always, his sharp delivery evoking an air of confidence and integrity that suits the character.  Garland -- in one of her final onscreen appearances -- has a shakiness that may be attributable to the drugs and alcohol, but it adds to Jean's uncertainty.  She also gets to sing a song, albeit in a most un-Judy-Garland-esque fashion.

The film is quite progressive, reflecting changing attitudes about how we "handle" our mentally challenged children.  The movie puts forth a number of liberal, caring thoughts on the matter (though some are now dated).  Quite a number, actually, and this leads to some problems.  Apparently the film was taken away from Cassavetes in the editing room by the heavy hand of producer Stanley Kramer, whose hammy fist would deliver Guess Who's Coming to Dinner a few years later.  The movie's message is muddled, and Clark's methods and philosophies are all over the place.  Furthermore, the script deals far too much in hokey platitudes ("It's not about what you can do for them, Miss Hansen... it's about what they can do for you").  There's remarkably little to Garland's character, and it's somewhat troubling that the child she latches onto is one of the "normal" looking ones.

It's too bad we can't see Cassavetes's cut, because there's a decent movie lurking in here.  Besides the strong performances and general good intentions, the cinematography hints at what would come from the director in its intimate close-ups.  Some shots are perhaps needlessly showy, but others are quite captivating and expressive.  The subject matter is treated with a sensitivity that doesn't feel the slightest bit exploitative.  The climax is genuinely touching, and surprisingly not that mawkish.  It's too bad there's so much messy drivel leading up to it, no matter how well-intentioned.  Rating: Fair (66)

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #21 on: July 02, 2014, 11:21:47 PM »
A Woman Under the Influence (B)
A Child is Waiting (B-)

Someday I will venture further.

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #22 on: July 02, 2014, 11:28:37 PM »
Martin, of your 4 upcoming watches, this is the one I was most interested to read. Thanks for the write-up. Consider me curious.

verbALs

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #23 on: July 03, 2014, 12:49:53 AM »
@MT. I overlooked this one because it appeared outside the Cassavettes mainline. Kramer's presence is death especially in an "issue movie" context. However Cassavettes directing those two legends is difficult to ignore. Thanks for putting it on my radar.
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MartinTeller

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #24 on: July 03, 2014, 12:28:14 PM »
It's a very "watchable" movie, it's only afterwards when you start wondering what the message was supposed to be. 

verbALs

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #25 on: July 03, 2014, 12:35:51 PM »
Subtlety of message when Kramer's involved. Unusual.
I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don't do that so much anymore. - Banksy

MartinTeller

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #26 on: July 03, 2014, 02:36:21 PM »
More confusion than subtlety.

roujin

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #27 on: August 14, 2014, 01:32:29 PM »
1. A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
2. Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)

MartinTeller

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #28 on: October 10, 2014, 12:54:48 AM »

Shadows (rewatch) - Ten years ago, I acquired Criterion's "John Cassavetes: Five Films" DVD box set.  At the time I had only seen A Woman Under the Influence, but since it was a huge favorite of mine I was eager to see more.  Of the other films in the box, only Faces resonated with me and I ended up selling the set and just getting the individual releases of the two movies I cared about most.  When Criterion upgraded the set to Blu-Ray, I started having second thoughts, especially since I had seen and enjoyed both Husbands and Love Streams in the interim.  I took advantage of a recent sale and snatched up the set once again -- this time in high-definition -- hoping that I would appreciate his other films a bit more than I did a decade ago.

The gambit paid off at least a little bit, as I far less troubled by the "amateurish" aspects of Cassavetes's debut the second time around.  Certainly the spotty acting is the film's biggest hindrance.  The actors never tap into the emotional purity that characterizes the best of Cassavetes's work.  But they have their moments, and they are likable.  The three leads -- Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni and Hugh Hurd -- all get their moments to shine.  It's just sometimes they drop the ball with a reading that feels either flat or off the mark.  The film ends with a title card stating that you have just watched an improvisation, but that's not entirely true.  Some scenes were improvised, but they were improvised in rehearsals and then refined.  Other scenes were flat-out scripted.  I'm not saying the performances would be better if they were improvised, but for whatever reason, they're not transcendent.

Nonetheless, I like them and find them interesting to watch.  The rambling, shambolic narrative gives us often fascinating snippets of their lives and there's truth in how they interact with each other.  The film has an undeniable energy, propelled by the jazz score.  You do feel like you're witnessing the birth of a new kind of filmmaking... a kind that would be often imitated, but only Cassavetes really feels like Cassavetes.  He makes such a careful study of how people love each other, or try to love each other.  The film may be rough around the edges (and really, aren't most of his movies?) but there's some insightful truth being laid bare.

1959 is also the year of Imitation of Life, another film that deals with race.  Both utilize characters who are black but could pass for white.  Both deal with racial issues in compelling ways, and while I love Imitation more, it must be said that Cassavetes has a subtler touch.  He rarely points to the issue... only once is the word "race" uttered, and I don't recall anyone using the word "black".  He lets the actors communicate it in gestures, tone of voice, personal space.  He doesn't make the movie entirely about race, and there are times when you're not even sure it's a factor in play.

While it isn't one of my favorites, I'm glad I gave this a second chance.  Despite some shortcomings that are hard to ignore, it's a bold and engaging movie.  Rating: Good (78)

verbALs

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #29 on: October 10, 2014, 02:31:28 AM »
I liked Shadows a lot and thought it made its points on race with commendable balance; as if Cassavettes knew this multi racial melting pot well.

Energy and intelligence wise I find myself placing it with Spike Lee's debut. Racial politics have moved on and there's a black middle class grown enough for all the characters to be black and range across the classes, whereas the more well to do in Shadows are white people (I'm reaching there memory wise, that's how I remember it).
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