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Poll

Your Favorite John Cassavetes 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: 39

Author Topic: Cassavetes, John  (Read 7734 times)

MartinTeller

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #40 on: October 25, 2014, 06:24:24 PM »

Opening Night (rewatch) - I was thinking recently about all the movies I used to love that I no longer do.  Movies that, 20 years ago, would have appeared on my top 100 list but now I'm not as fond of.  Sid & Nancy, This Is Spinal Tap, Die Hard, Yellow Submarine, Harold & Maude, both Forbidden Planet and Fantastic Planet.  The list goes on.  Tastes change over time and I wonder what my list of favorites will look like in 2034 (three-quarters of the movies on my current list are ones I hadn't even seen -- or didn't exist yet -- when I was in my 20's).  There are also a few movies that rubbed me the wrong way the first time that opened themselves up to me on a second viewing.  The Apartment and The Lady Eve come to mind.  But these cases are less numerous, and it's rare for a film to win me over when I had previously reacted negatively to it.

I'm really not sure why I gave Opening Night a 4 out of 10 (lately I've been toying with the idea of going back to the old 10-point scale, but I've changed my rating system too many times already) when I first saw it nearly ten years ago.  The charges I leveled against it don't make sense to me... they sound like a different person seeing a different movie.  "A good dramatic premise gone to waste"?  What did I think was supposed to happen?  Perhaps the "ghost" of the dead girl (Laura Johnson) gets a proper exorcism?  I'm not even sure which dramatic premise I was referring to.  What I see now is an actress struggling with aging, her reputation and her craft.  An actress who can't figure out if she's too far from reality or too close to it.  It's not gone to waste... it's dealt with in a nuanced, multi-faceted fashion.

"The conclusion is quite unsatisfying"?  I think I remember where this gripe came from, a feeling that the "improvisation" that Myrtle (Gena Rowlands) and Maurice (John Cassavetes) perform is lame.  Which is somewhat fair, but I don't think it's meant to be brilliant ad-libbing.  It lets the film end on a message of hope... a message that early on Myrtle complains is missing from the play.  Rather than be a dour meditation on aging and the loss of "the first woman", Myrtle shows the love and life still burning inside both her and her character.  The author (a terrific performance by veteran Joan Blondell) may be disgusted, but the audience is appreciative.  Cassavetes's stories always seem to end on a note of hope, I think, even Chinese Bookie.  As much as he showcases the unlikable characteristics of people, he truly loves them and wants them to flourish.  It's a very satisfying conclusion indeed.

"Even Rowlands is disappointing in this one"?  What was I thinking?  I'm baffled.  Okay, so Myrtle Gordon is not quite as electrifying as Mabel Longhetti, but it's still a riveting performance.  One of my biggest pet peeves is bad drunk acting, but here Rowlands does drunk acting as authentically as I've ever seen it.  And she does fear and frustration and nervous breakdown as real and touching as they could be.  In loving close-ups, Cassavetes invites us to share her emotional turmoil, to see the world through her eyes.

Granted, the movie still isn't one of my favorites... it doesn't gut-punch me like the best of Cassavetes does.  But it's a frequently beautiful piece of work, with surreal, ambiguous touches and a lot of thoughtful insights on both aging and acting.  Perhaps one difference between the me of today and the me of a decade ago is my understanding of what the craft of acting meant to Cassavetes and how this film connects to his other works on many different levels.  And if you ever want to program a triple feature with intriguing connections, I suggest All About Eve, Opening Night and All About My Mother.  Rating: Very Good (82)

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #41 on: October 25, 2014, 06:36:59 PM »
"The conclusion is quite unsatisfying"?  I think I remember where this gripe came from, a feeling that the "improvisation" that Myrtle (Gena Rowlands) and Maurice (John Cassavetes) perform is lame.  Which is somewhat fair, but I don't think it's meant to be brilliant ad-libbing. 

I was hoping you would mention this. It sticks out to me as something Cassavetes tries but doesn't make work. I called it "the Cassavetes version of a Broadway play". I don't think his technique works in a live stage format, at least nit this performance. I've seen live theater with chunks of improvisation but there's still an underlying structure. This performance is somewhat less than barely holding together. An audience would sense that and become increasingly turned off by it (opinion), but I understand why Cassavetes would choose to imagine a more hopeful reaction to his technique.

I'll say this, of the 8 Cassavetes films I've seen it's the one that left me with the most to think about. Not as emotionally effecting as Woman Under the Influence, but combining that approach with the haunting use of the unstable fan brought out new, exciting angles

MartinTeller

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #42 on: October 25, 2014, 07:21:32 PM »
I was hoping you would mention this. It sticks out to me as something Cassavetes tries but doesn't make work. I called it "the Cassavetes version of a Broadway play". I don't think his technique works in a live stage format, at least nit this performance. I've seen live theater with chunks of improvisation but there's still an underlying structure. This performance is somewhat less than barely holding together. An audience would sense that and become increasingly turned off by it (opinion)

I don't disagree.  The reactions to the shabby New Haven performances -- half loved it, half hated it -- would be more genuine than the apparent adoration they get at the NY opening night.

verbALs

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #43 on: October 26, 2014, 03:51:05 AM »
@MT re- Opening Night; I don't think your original opinion was wrong at all;

Quote
Whilst it's good to get more Cassavettes into my life, there's only so much actorly introspection that I can ingest at any one sitting. So Opening Night leaves me gassy, full of thespian hot air. Dramatic dynamic is knocked sideways, also, by the death of Myrtle Gordon's hysterical stagedoor fan at the start of the film. I'm going to invoke Morvern Callar here, so at least that film is useful for something. If a traumatic incident happens before the characters are established the effect of that event is hard to gauge. If the protagonist is then bludgeoned into a comatose state by experiencing a death too close to home, how would we know that they weren't already always like this? Assume they were normal before? Or continuing in an unresponsive or detached manner. In both cases, great actresses can't cross that Rubicon. It's poor storytelling when the character arc has no starting point.

Cassavettes is a director dancing on the bleeding edge, and that danger of collapse is an effective tool, that he uses to transmit the parlous state of his players. It's notable that he doesn't fail often operating at the boundaries of drama. The positive aspects of this film are the continued, almost, accepted and expected beauty of Gena Rowlands acting, and she is ably supported by Ben Gazzara and Madame Blousey herself, Joan Blondell. Not so much by Cassavettes though, strangely enough. I found myself in a tangle recently, describing an actor as too big, because I thought that was an acceptable descriptor. On reflection the term should be "one-toned". Whether he is whispering or screaming there isn't much contrast in the performance. Veins seem to be popping from his forehead, whatever the situation.

I can see the value of the film as an actor's workshop. It feels like a film that Cassavettes would, inevitably, make eventually. So he got it out of his system.
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 #44 on: October 26, 2014, 12:48:14 PM »
Hmm no, I have to disagree with that first paragraph.  How do we know that she wasn't already always like this?  By the reactions of everyone around her.  I think there's enough of a starting point to her arc.  I don't believe the death of the fan is a Big Transformative Event for her anyway, I think it merely brings her issues to the fore.

verbALs

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #45 on: October 26, 2014, 01:08:01 PM »
Fair enough. I'm probably not going to revisit it to see if my first reaction changes like yours. As far as revisits are concerned... are you planning to include Faces? Now that's a movie that merits multiple rewatches. Loving the Cassavettes-fest.

EDIT: I realised the two Cassavettes films I'm cool on are the pair that the man himself appears in. I don't think Husbands worked well either when that Rat Pack element with Falk and Gazzara should have endeared me to it.
« Last Edit: October 26, 2014, 01:17:49 PM by verbALs »
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 #46 on: October 26, 2014, 02:25:21 PM »
Yep, Faces will be coming up.  It's already in my top 250... maybe it'll get a leap into the top 100?  We shall see.

MartinTeller

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #47 on: October 29, 2014, 08:52:05 PM »

Faces (rewatch) - There couldn't be a better title for this film.  Simple, elegant, powerful and highly appropriate.  I don't think there's anything that matters more to John Cassavetes than an actor's face.  Whether it's the creases in John Marley's cheeks as he busts himself up with another corny joke, or coy but cautious eyes of Gena Rowlands as she juggles potentially dangerous strangers in her home, or the boyish grins of Seymour Cassel pouring on the charm, or the watchful gaze of Lynn Carlin as she stoically keeps her feelings to herself, the camera is right up in those faces.  Drinking it all in, pouring it all out.  The possessive leers of Fred Draper, the desperation of Dorothy Gulliver, the devious bravado of Val Avery.

But more than that, it's a movie about the faces we wear, the masks we're constantly swapping out.  We try different ones out when they're not getting our needs met.  We put on a face to save face.  We don a persona to seem like the life of the party, the unflappable top dog, the available companion.  When a little alcohol enters the picture, the faces fly around more recklessly.  It's hard to keep up, we forget who we really are.  Sometimes the mask slips and there is a moment of genuine human contact.  Sometimes there are dire consequences.  Someone is suddenly put on the spot, and they have to decide whether to lower their mask.  Something awkward is said, something more real than anyone else was prepared for.  Or we reveal the bitterness brewing inside us, it's not all fun and games goddammit.  There's a person under here, can't you see that?  "I think we're making fools of ourselves."

But sometimes those real moments are our saving grace.  Our vulnerability is reciprocated with kindness and understanding.  And Cassavetes knows, he knows... that is the deepest beauty there is.  Amid the crazy, shambling dance of social interaction, a dance we're all making up as we go along, nothing is more right than when -- even if only for an instant -- two people find their step together, naked and open.  The face under the face sees the face under the face, and feels love for it.  True, deep, powerful joy.  Rating: Great (92)

Sandy

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #48 on: October 29, 2014, 10:22:00 PM »
Martin, I've read many reviews from you and have been moved by your words, but this review is something extra special. Not only did you bring the movie right back to me, but you captured the feel of it perfectly. I think you were able to do this partly because of your writing skills and partly because you really get it. :)

MartinTeller

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Re: Directors Best Poll - John Cassavetes
« Reply #49 on: October 29, 2014, 11:28:44 PM »
Sandy, that's about the nicest compliment I can imagine.  Thank you!

Fortunately I still had my DVD copy of the movie sitting around and could grab exactly the screenshot I wanted. 

 

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