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John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara take over ‘The Dick Cavett Show,’ 1970

klafsetevassacarazzag.jpg
 
Invited to discuss their current film Husbands on the Dick Cavett Show in 1970, the three amigos John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara spend the first ten minutes horsing around, amusing each other and the audience, partly because Cavett jokingly described them as “animals” in his introduction. It takes around twelve minutes of such antics before director Cassavetes explains Husbands is a very serious picture about death.

Made over a two year period, Husbands tells the compelling story of three middle-aged men (Falk, Cassavetes, and Gazzara), re-examining their lives after the death of a close friend. After bar-hopping and long subway conversations, the trio decide to take a trip to London, in the hope of finding something long lost, and possibly never possessed.

It’s a love it or loathe it movie and depending on your point of view it’s brilliant, self-indulgent, funny, boring, frustrating, the best or the worst. When I first saw it, I was blown-away. Here was something more like a documentary, centered around three of the greatest improvised performances put on film. I was breathless at their audacity and talent.

Cassavetes wrote the script after improvising scenes with Falk and Gazzara. Falk later described his experience of working with Cassavetes as a director “shooting an actor when he might be unaware the camera was running.”

“You never knew when the camera might be going. And it was never: ‘Stop. Cut. Start again.’ John would walk in the middle of a scene and talk, and though you didn’t realize it, the camera kept going. So I never knew what the hell he was doing. But he ultimately made me, and I think every actor, less self-conscious, less aware of the camera than anybody I’ve ever worked with.”

It’s an amazing piece of cinema, an uncensored slice of life in all its humor, pain, emotion, charm and endless subterfuge.

Back to The Dick Cavett Show: the host does his best to keep the whole interview going (along with a comedy turn from the house band), but after a series of pratfalls, Cavett leaves the set, only for the audience to call him back. It is with Cavett’s return, around 20-minutes in, that the interview finally kicks-off. Falk says the three constantly fought during the making of the film. Then Gazzara talks about the spark between the three actors, before going on to compare Cassavetes with Orson Welles.

Inspired by such adulation, Cassavetes opens-up:

“I happen to think Husbands is a very fine film that has to do with what’s happening today from our point of view, you know, three guys that have lived part of their lives and don’t have their youth to look forward to.”

It takes a while to get there, but if you can sit through the testosterone-fueled antics of three men horsing around, then its worth it.
 

 
H/T Tom Ruddock

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
What’s Wrong With Mabel?: John Cassavettes’ ‘A Woman Under the Influence’

Woman Under the Influence
 
Unrelenting. That is one of the first words that comes to mind when talking about the work of John Cassavetes. Few filmmakers were as willing to not only open a vein but then deny their audience any easy answers about said act as Cassavetes. A Woman Under the Influence is a supreme example of this, standing as one of the most honest and quietly uneasy films that have emerged in the past fifty years. How uneasy? Well, it made Richard Dreyfuss physically ill after watching it…..in a good way. (Yes, even vomiting can be a compliment when done correctly.) That reaction sounds completely over dramatic, but when you see the film, you can understand why Dreyfuss or anyone else, would have been so gut punched by it.

Woman stars Gena Rowlands as Mabel, a middle-aged mother of three precocious kids and wife to Nick (Peter Falk), who is a gruff but warm blue collar man. She seems high-strung at first, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is something not right. Everyone knows it except her husband, with even some of his co-workers asking about her health. Nick’s the kind of guy who lives in denial for the reasons most due in such situations; out of love and out of an inability to deal. But much like in real life, it takes a series of events to bring everything to a simmer and after one particularly ugly and intense intervention with Mabel, her doctor and Nick’s stunningly irritating mother, he has his wife committed.

It is in her absence that he is confronted with the fact that he is not only been out of touch with his wife, but with his children as well. The only time we get to see him bond with the kids at all, is when he gets them unwittingly snockered on cheap beer after a dreary trip to the beach. Two months later and Nick plans a huge welcome back party for Mabel, but then quickly scraps it in favor of a more intimate family gathering. But as she arrives home, looking heavily sedated bordering on shell shocked, it becomes apparent that there are no easy fixes, especially for a family that is so steeped in simply not dealing.

Woman Under the Influence is a film that not only confronts its characters’ issues but a larger issue looming ahead. Mental illness, along with addiction, are two of the most misunderstood and often mishandled issues. It’s true now and it was true then, especially when you are talking about a time when electroshock therapy was common, a procedure Mabel mentions receiving. There’s nothing like someone leaving a facility worse off than they were beforehand. (For more info on this, just listen to Lou Reed’s song “Kill Your Sons”, which references Reed’s own experiences with electroshock.) Often, families’ ways of dealing with mental illness is to not deal with it all until it becomes the loud and at times, dangerous elephant in the room. Even then, there is an undercurrent of resentment there, something that comes out especially from Nick’s mother, making an already dicey situation worse when her son is finally trying to help Mabel.

Even Nick, who clearly does love his wife, is still impotent in his ability to even truly empathize with his spouse, including slapping her around a few times to calm her down. He’s not a villain just someone who is rendered useless by his unwillingness to try to understand, but also by the fact that he was never raised to see his partner as a full fleshed human being and an equal. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that gender roles have hurt Nick and Mabel. In one scene, she tells her kids that “I never did anything in my whole life than make you guys.” She’s not trying to make them feel bad or anything, but it is a loaded statement because it’s clear that she has been relegated her whole life to the categories of “wife,” “mother” or “daughter.” There is nothing wrong with any of those categories, but every person is more than just a label put on them. The whole being gets neglected, along with any troubles they may have. This applies to Nick too, because men often get a whole other set of baggage to deal with, so you end up with a whole generation of individuals who are not equipped to fully deal with one another.

Cassavetes handles all of this brilliantly, which is no shock for anyone familiar with the man’s work. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to simplify everything. Have Nick be a total bastard or pure doting husband and Mabel just be a misunderstood eccentric or a total psychopath. Not to mention the last 20 minutes, which mirrors Cassavetes equally sublime Killing of a Chinese Bookie, both in terms of open-endedness but even with the main character’s blood on their own hand. (The latter may or may not have been on purpose, but it’s interesting nonetheless.) It’s that gray-area borderland of no easy answers that permeates this film, making it all the more uncomfortable but all the more honest. Cassavetes is a director that not only loves his work enough to be real but his audience as well. This is an artist that respects you enough to never bullshit you. That alone makes me a fan for life.

The acting in Woman, especially where our two leads are concerned, is flawless. Watching Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk together is one blue spark of a gift, with the both of them being equally compelling and heartbreaking. In fact, Rowlands won the Golden Globe for best actress and was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in this film. But enough praise cannot be heaped upon Falk, who’s at his zenith here. While most are familiar with him as TV’s lovable Columbo, Falk was a red blooded actor’s actor. How many can boast about not only working with Cassavetes but also Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) to boot? Not many, but Falk was a special breed of character actor and it’s hard to think of someone who could pull off a guy like Nick, who is both likable, sympathetic and at times, a total ass.

Woman is an incredibly uncompromising work that at times is too close for comfort, but in a way that is needed. There’s a truth to this film that has not faded with age. Illnesses get ignored, families repeat dysfunctional patterns and miscommunication is bred in a hothouse of forced gender roles for all involved.

Luckily for us, the British Film Institute (BFI) have done a wonderful job of presenting this film, both on DVD and Blu Ray, for European viewers or anyone who happens to have a Region 2 (PAL) player. (Never fear, North Americans, for Criterion’s Region 1 release of it is still in print and also available as a part of their John Cassavetes Five Films box set.) This is a loving release, with a 30 page booklet, the original trailer as well an alternative one that features footage which is not in the final cut, an archived interview with Peter Falk and an interview with Elaine Kogan, Cassavetes’ long term personal assistant. It’s a supremely fine release and a great tribute to the man and his work.

A Woman Under the Influence is brilliant and like many a great piece of art, it may bristle and worm its way in your skin. It’s a near flawless film that gives you no easy answers because it does not and will not play you for a fool. (Though do try to ignore the awful bit of weird Dixieland music that pops up at the very end. Not sure what that was about but it’s a minor quibble.)

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
John Cassavetes and The Bangles in ‘The Haircut’


 
John Cassavetes and The Bangs (Bangles - double your pleasure, double your fun.

In 1983, Tamar Simon Hoffs, a fine filmmaker and mother of Susanna, directed The Haircut starring John Cassavetes. It was her debut as a movie director and The Haircut was shown at various prestigious film festivals the year it was made. In addition to Cassavetes, it also features The Bangs, an early incarnation of The Bangles with Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson and Victoria Peterson.

From Ben Pleasants’ Swimming To Cassavetes:

Tamar Simon Hoffs had twenty four hours with John Cassavetes as a young director when she was studying directing at AFI. Twenty-four hours and in that time she did one of the greatest films Cassavetes ever starred in. The awkward silences and the hard pauses. She watched and let the camera roll. The film was The Haircut. Twenty-two minutes long. It’s from her script, not the Ring Lardner short story. It’s won a number of awards. It’s how she got Malcolm McDowell interested in her film, Red Roses and Petrol in the first place. She charmed him with her writing. It’s how she got to cut John Cassavete’s hair as a beginning director in her first film, The Haircut. Cassavetes read the script and loved the idea of doing a little film. A two-reeler. A short.

“He gave me twenty-four hours with total dedication and all his majesty as an actor and a director,” she told me. “And he’s out there.” She pointed beyond her pool. I’m not getting it.
“‘I’m yours for twenty-four hours,” he said. “Till the limo picks me up and takes me back to the studio.” She was a student then and she knew how to listen. He liked her language, the way she set up the scenes, the humor of it. He liked the idea that he could play with what she wrote. And there were good supporting actors. The coach from Cheers is the barber. The story is about the haircut of a lifetime for a big shot in the music business.

As he acted, or stripped away the actor’s tricks, Cassavetes taught her what a director should be. How to look for the moment to shut up and let the actor work. How to listen for what was inside the face of a human being giving what he really is. How to wait for the pauses that are true to life.
They all knew they had something magical in twenty-four hours. Susanna Hoffs, The Bangle who was only a Bang was in it. Her mother wanted to take her out, but Cassavetes loved it for its realness.

When it was done and he had given everything he could give, John Cassavetes stood in the street and stripped off his suit, shirt, and shoes, dropping into the back seat of the limo to return to the studio in his shorts.”

If you’re a Cassavetes fan, this will be a real treat. And twice as cool if you like, as I do, The Bangles.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Behind the Smile: John Cassavetes and his films

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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.
 

 
With thanks to Alan Shields
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Blood of a Dreamer: John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Gazzara
 
The phrase, “gangster film”, immediately brings to mind images of iconic, uber-male actors (James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Brando, Pacino, DeNiro, every actor in The Sopranos, etc) immersed in a near-operatic morality tale. Everything is big. The crimes are big, the characters are big and yes, even the violence is big. But what about the crime film that breaks it down to the utmost human level? Not only that, but focuses on the other end? Life is not always a cops and robbers show and nowhere is that more purely evident than in John Cassavetes’ often unappreciated masterpiece, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

Gone is the romance of crime, only to be replaced by the story of our hero, Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara), a burlesque club owner/dreamer who becomes beaten but not broken. The plot by itself is basic. Cosmo, after paying off one gambling debt to the mob, ends up accruing a more massive one in one fateful evening. It is this particular debt that has the underworld figures, including such thespian heavyweights as Timothy “The Man” Carey and Seymour Cassel, all but forcing Cosmo to carry out a hit on our titular bookie. Everything that I just wrote is part of the danger of solely relying on plot descriptors, because this film is more than just a-b-c-d and crime, it’s about a regular guy, not perfect but good hearted, trying to live his dream out in a world full of sharks, vultures and parasites.

Cosmo is not just a man, however, but a breathing metaphor for any artist who was ever backed into the corner of moral compromise. In a lot of ways, you are seeing a thinly veiled story of what Cassavettes himself had been put through as a filmmaker. He’s lauded now but life was never easy for the man and the fact that Bookie was released to mixed reviews and bad box office back in 1976 is partial proof of that. The real testament of Cassavetes’ genius was not just in making great cinema but the fact that the 1978 version, which he re-edited for a second stab at success was actually superior to the original cut. A tactic like that never works creatively but with a guy like Cassavetes, all bets are off.

The centerpiece, the heart and soul of this film is shared with the rich performance by Ben Gazzara. We recently lost Gazzara on February 3rd, 2012, which is a heartbreak. (In a spooky bit of fate, Cassavetes died on the same day, 23 years earlier, which is fitting for the anima/animus factor.) His Cosmo is a charismatic who has elevated what is essentially a strip club into a spectacle that integrates the spirit of vaudeville with T&A. He loves, lives and treats all of the ladies in his life with respect. This is a good man whose one mistake ends up leading him down one hellish road with an uncertain outcome. Gazzara is so naturalistic and nuanced with his performance that this character stays with you long after you have finished watching the movie. Sure, he is tough and masculine but the vulnerability and weariness shows through in the smallest of gestures. Seeing him alongside another screen titan, Timothy Carey, is one of the best cinematic gifts one could ever ask for. Anything you have seen cannot touch the mastery these two actors provide.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
is ripe for rediscovery. It is one of the smartest crime films ever made and features some insanely stellar acting work from both Gazzara and Carey. If you have an open mind and an understanding heart, then you too will see the perfection that is this film.


Both the 1976 and 1978 version of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie are currently available on the Criterion Collection’s lush box set, John Cassavetes: Five Films.

Posted by Heather Drain | Leave a comment
John Cassavetes died on February 3, 1989 but his spirit lives on in this fine documentary
02.03.2012
12:02 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
John Cassavetes
Love Streams
Michael Ventura


 
I’m Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes - The Man and His Work directed by one of the finest writers on the planet Michael Ventura was shot during the making of Cassavetes’ final personal film Love Streams in 1984. One of Cassavetes’ best and most underappreciated films (so what the fuck else is new?), Love Streams is inexplicably and appallingly unavailable on DVD in the USA.

I think Ventura’s extraordinary gifts as a writer provided him with the necessary insight on the creative process and a kindred spirit’s respect for Cassavetes’ incisive skill with the spoken word and empathy for the ways human beings try to find a language for the inexpressible that makes this documentary connect on a visceral level.

Cassavetes’ obsession to get at the “heart of the matter,” to find the essential truth that animates our being, to cut through the bullshit, is as spiritual a journey as any in the history of film. As a young man pounding my fists against the walls of my own masculinity, I found Cassavetes films liberating. Beneath the machismo and testosterone-fueled angst of his male protagonists, there exists a tenderness, vulnerability and uncertainty that belies the inherited social concepts of masculinity. Cassavetes’ men are tough guys clawing at their macho veneer like caged animals desperate to find that one exist point where they can burst free.  

Cassavetes died on this day in 1989 and we present this very special documentary in honor of one of America’s pioneers of indy cinema and an artist of profound depth.

And there is no honoring Cassavetes, without giving equal honor to the phenomenal Gena Rowlands. Has there been a more dynamic collaboration between husband and wife in cinema? And that is not a rhetorical question. Let me know what you think.

Love Streams is available on import DVD. Michael Ventura’s book “Cassavetes Directs: John Cassavetes and the Making of Love Streams” can be purchased here.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Super Cuts and Trash Compactors at the Everything Is Festival!


 
If you live in Los Angeles and you love weird, insane, hilarious underground shit—like, say, the kind of fare you might find on the popular Everything Is Terrible! blog—then the second annual Everything Is Festival! is going to be better than your Christmas, Halloween and birthday combined. It’s the film, video and music festival that feels like a holiday. But a really fucked up holiday in a really fucked up country. Or a fucked up planet. (I was there last year, trust me on this one).

Co-sponsored by Cinefamily, Indie Printing and Everything Is Terrible! there is five solid days of mayhem, carnage and video mischief scheduled from June 30 to July 4.

Let’s take, for instance, the “Super Cuts and Trash Compactors” show. According to Cinefamily programmer Hadrian Belove, a “trash compactor” is “when you take a film and distill it to its essence”:

Cinefamily’s grabbing the zeitgeist by the nutsack and squeezing the video juice out of the YouTube for all of our viewing pleasure! Tonight we celebrate two of our favorite memes in the viral video world: “supercuts” and “trash compactors.” You know, like when TV Carnage cut together every “Gimmie your badge…and your gun” moment from every shitty cop movie ever made, or when FourFour did a mashup of every time someone said “I’m not here to make friends” on a reality TV show — that’s a “Supercut.”

And when that anonymous editor compressed 120 minutes of Wicker Man Nic Cage insanity into a high-powered two-minute H-bomb of hilarity — that’s a “Trash Compactor.”

This show features our favorite pre-existing classics in these two categories, and a group show bursting full of brand-new premieres by Everything Is Terrible, FourFour, Cinefamily’s own Mondo Squad, and more. I tube, you tube, we all tube for YouTube! Tonight’s show features a live appearance by online video mashup maven FourFour!

Watch the now-classic Trash Compactor featuring every dumb pun delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Mr. Freeze” in Batman & Robin:
 

 
More on the Everything Is Festival all this week on DM, but you can go here for more information and ticket purchase. Here’s a two-minute version of horror film, Incubus, in which John Cassavetes seems obsessed with sperm.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Documentary on John Cassavetes directing Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara in ‘Husbands’ 1970

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While it will be for Columbo that the late great actor Peter Falk will be best remembered, we should not overlook his Oscar-nominated performances in Murder inc. or Pocketful of Miracles; his subtlety in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire; or his brilliant work with John Cassavetes in Woman Under the Influence and Husbands.

Made in 1970, Husbands told the compelling story of 3 middle-aged men (Falk, Cassavetes, and Ben Gazzara), who re-examine their lives after the death of a close friend. After bar-hoping and long subway conversations, the trio decide to take a trip to London, in a hope of finding something long lost. It’s a love it or loathe it movie and depending on your point of view it’s brilliant, self-indulgent, funny, boring, frustrating, the best or the worst. When I first saw it, I was blown-away. Here was something more like a documentary, centered around 3 of the greatest improvised performances putt on film. I was breathless at their audacity and brilliance.

Cassavetes wrote the script after improvising scenes with Falk and Gazzara. Falk described his experience of working with Cassavetes as a director “shooting an actor when he might be unaware the camera was running.”

“You never knew when the camera might be going. And it was never: ‘Stop. Cut. Start again.’ John would walk in the middle of a scene and talk, and though you didn’t realize it, the camera kept going. So I never knew what the hell he was doing. But he ultimately made me, and I think every actor, less self-conscious, less aware of the camera than anybody I’ve ever worked with.”

It’s an amazing piece of cinema, an uncensored slice of life in all its humor, pain, emotion, charm and endless subterfuge.

During filming in 1970, the BBC followed Cassavetes and his actors in New York and London making a documentary for their Omnibus strand, examining the unique way this great director made his movies.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
John Cassavetes grooving with Greenwich Village beatniks in 1959

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John Cassavetes, who died 22 years ago today, was the title character in the short lived TV show Johnny Staccato, which aired for one season in 1959. In the episode “The Poet’s Touch,”  jazz musician and detective Staccato mingles with the beatniks of Greenwich Village and gets propositioned by the stunningly beautiful and bohemian Sylvia Lewis.

Miss Lewis has had a long career as a dancer and actress and is still very much alive. Check out her homepage here.

As Staccato enters a building there’s a sign for The Helen Hayes Equity Group, a sly homage to a theater company where many of Cassavetes acting peers got their training.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
John Cassavetes: fed up with Los Angeles!
04.30.2010
12:23 pm

Topics:
Heroes

Tags:
John Cassavetes
Ben Gazzara
Gena Rowlands

image
(Cassavetes, left, with actor Peter Falk)
 
Take a ride through the Hollywood Hills with independent film God, John Cassavetes.  At the time (‘65), the famously intense actor-writer-director (Shadows, Opening Night, A Woman Under The Influence) expresses nothing more than mild contempt for L.A. 

 
In this second clip, though, and as Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara look on, bemused, he really goes off on it.  And don’t get him started on television!

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment