“I KNEW IT WAS YOU”11/21/2010
Oscope takes aim at John Cazale…
John Cazale appeared in exactly five motion pictures before he died of cancer at 42. But the five films he made were among the best films of Hollywood’s richest decade. If you could only appear in five movies, you could do a lot worse than The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. His entire filmography was nominated for the Academy Award.
But Cazale himself never was. He tended to play the quiet role, the supporting character, the guy on the edge of the frame, while the showy roles were the ones that got the awards. But perhaps the most cogent argument put forth by the new documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale is that, in his quiet skill and sometimes scary intensity, Cazale elevated the actors around him, putting them on alert to do their best work. The stats certainly back it up: his co-stars in those five films received a collective total of 14 acting nominations. Cazale was, in the truest sense, a brilliant “supporting actor.”
Several of Cazale’s co-stars show up to pay tribute: Robert DeNiro, Richard Dreyfuss, John Savage, Carol Kane, Gene Hackman, and, most extensively, his good friend Al Pacino and his lover Meryl Streep. Playwright Israel Horovitz and directors Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet discuss the experience of working with him; contemporary film historian Mark Harris (if you haven’t read his wonderful book Pictures at a Revolution, then you’re reading the wrong thing right now) adds invaluable insight. And then there are the contemporary actors who idolize him, who pinpoint him as influence, supporting actors of weight and intensity like Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who form a kind of “Cult of Cazale.”
The joy of the film comes from the joy that these friends, collaborators, and admirers glean from his work. When Lumet describes Cazale’s greatness in the scene in The Godfather where Michael arrives in Vegas and dismisses Fredo’s impromptu party, or when Dreyfuss describes how Cazale plays the aftershock of Don Vito’s shooting, their passion and respect for the work is palpable. When several of the actors pinpoint tiny, peripheral moments in his Deer Hunter performance (“He does this thing…” they all begin), they all convey a sense of possibilities being opened up, of truly understanding the full breadth of great acting.
“I KNEW IT WAS YOU” 2009 directed by Richard Shepard