Mid-November last year I announced that I would be attempting to make it through the catalogue of films directed by John Cassavetes. Approximately twelve weeks later I have so far watched and reviewed ten of his films (he directed in all twelve films). This is the moment where I have to call an end to the marathon.
While I honestly was hoping to finish the last two features it’s become increasingly difficult to attain copies of those last two films, so I’m calling it quits here. However, here is my assessment of what I witness in those ten films I watched…
Cassavetes is a strong filmmaker that has a visual sense with a focus on character through action as opposed to boring exposition. The greatest tool a filmmaker can have is to show and not tell and Cassavetes does that constantly. My only issue with that is that he tends to discuss characters that I don’t enjoy spending time with.
Like any filmmaker that loves to create character studies more than thrilling plots the enjoyment and appreciation then comes from how much we are invested in this character. From Shadows where we watch three random misanthropic roam around New York seeking employment and life to Faces where we watch a married couple dealing with their constant battle with being together and falling into indiscretion. Not one of these films had characters that I ever truly cared for, sometimes I ended up being lost in whatever disjointed narrative Cassavetes was using to actually create this character for me on scree, which could possibly have attributed to my lack of appreciation for these lauded features.
Cassavetes has been revered in cinema for being the face of independent movie making. Many of his films were not appreciated by the Hollywood studios and ended up being self distributed. It’s said that with Opening Night as well as A Woman Under the Influence he had to manage to booking of showings personally in theatres across the country, sometimes with a lot more limited showings. These two films though represented my most beloved films of his catalogue. Here his characters had motivation for everything we saw on screen and constantly kept us intrigued and wanting to know what would happen next. It was also aided by the wonderful performance of Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes’ wife) in both of the films. Both movies deal with a character attempting to figure out how she is perceived by the world and attempting to manage that as well as dealing with her own mental state. The films exemplify what I love most about Cassavetes when executed at its best.
Then Cassavetes brings us something inbetween the independent him and the studio him with The Killing of the Chinese Bookie and Too Late Blues. How these movies stand out to me is that they feel like they have the best of movie making and also the best of him in them. They not only have compelling characters to follow but plots as well (OMG!!!). The worst part about is that the plots were interesting… which just proves to me that he could do that more often.
Then there’s the case of A Child is Waiting, Gloria, Minnie & Moskowitz and Husbands which is best summed up as Cassavetes filling the void. These are all films which never spark any mode of interest with anyone. With the instance of A Child is Waiting it’s the film that he made with the studios and barely even feels like a Cassavetes movie, so I’m willing to forgive and forget there. However, the other titles are all feel like how I would talk about the most trite and/or failing experiments of Steven Soderbergh (I point to Bubble and Ocean’s Thirteen). These are films that I don’t even know how to talk about because I don’t believe they bother to offer us anything worth discussing.
It’s interesting to see the many faces (should I admit that pun??) of Cassavetes and at the same time only want to focus on what was obviously his main goal of filmmaking. He loved to show the character, he loved the close up as we just watched these people transform in front of us. Many of his films (most of all Faces) involved us just staring down these characters as they emoted in their situations. Even in A Woman Under the Influence we watched Peter Falk try to convince himself that he had to send his wife away for the betterment of his family while at the same time making his life that much harder. It’s a risky tactic in filmmaking that not many can succeed at. We witnessed it just last year with The Master where the film was basically 80% close ups (or that’s how I remember it).
You can read all my John Cassavetes reviews and writings here.
However… Regardless of what I think I’ll let Cassavetes himself have the final word here:
What do you think of Cassavetes work?