As a child, John Cassavetes chipped his front teeth in a fight. As his parents were too poor to buy him caps, Cassavetes didn’t smile for years. The experience made him aware of how others coped with misfortune. Later, when he started making films, his camera fixed on the facial tics and movements of his actors. These were unlike any other movies - improvised character studies, where the camera relentlessly followed, watched, examined, but rarely interrogated. We are always close-up to the characters. When we see them in wide-shots, they are isolated, the scene only highlighting their alienation: Ben Gazzara having breakfast outside after losing $23,000 at a gaming table inThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie; or Ben Carruthers taking a stroll through the gardens in Shadows; or Gena Rowlands at a loss with the world in A Woman Under the Influence.
His characters are suburban, middle-aged, all on the back slice of life. They may have flourishes of rebellion (a trip to London in Husbands), but nothing changes their direction, all stick blindly to some instinctual role.
Cassavetes’ films may not be that innovative, or offer any new or considered insights, or offer redemption, but they succeed because of the ineffable passions, the inexpressible humanity of the central characters that Cassavetes puts on screen. That’s where his genius lies - in his deep and committed humanity.
Cassavetes once told Cahiers du Cinema:
‘I am more interested in the people who work with me than in the film itself or cinema.’
Cassavetes’ films always remind me of what Jack Kerouac once wrote about literature in Satori in Paris:
“…the tale that’s told for no other reason but companionship, which is another (and my favorite) definition of literature, the tale that’s told for companionship and to teach something religious, of religious reverence, about real life, in this real world which literature should (and here does) reflect.”
Made in 1965, Cinéastes de notre temps - John Cassavetes is a profile of the great director and actor as he edits his second feature Faces in Hollywood, before taking it Paris. Cassavetes openly discusses his views on film-making and cinema, and why he takes certain roles to pay for his movie making.
Posted by Paul Gallagher |
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