“I don’t give a fuck what anybody says. If you don’t have time to see it, don’t. If you don’t like it, don’t. If it doesn’t give you an answer, fuck you. I didn’t make it for you anyway.” — J. C.
In preparation for our month-long retrospective, I’ve been steeping myself in the subject of Cassavetes: reading interviews and biographies, watching documentaries, and most of all, viewing his films. Like many a film lover before me, I’m going down the rabbit hole, because the more deeply you go down, the more rewarding it is. And I’m having a blast. In fact, it’s only by doing this that I’m just now I’m realizing what we’ve done here at Cinefamily, and why I think you should really participate this month: this retrospective is a kind of “master class” in the work of one of America’s most fascinating directors.
To start with, I think Cassavetes himself would appreciate my honesty when I say I’ve always had mixed feelings about his work before now; there are scenes and moments that destroy me (in a good way), and other moments that feel false, bombastic, or just seemed sloppy. I had trouble grasping the films as a whole, and long chunks would consequently bore me as I floated adrift on the sea of emotion, until some undeniably explosively awesome moment would happen. But the films always haunted me. What I see now is how his films improve over repeated viewings — from seeing them consecutively, getting on his wavelength, and learning to speak his language. These films are like people, interesting and complicated people. You don’t always understand them at first, but as you get to know them, all of their quirks make more and more sense. They reveal themselves.
Rewatching his films, I often have an epiphanous moment when the code cracks, and suddenly the whole crazy experience falls into place. I immediately want to see the whole movie again, or at least revisit it in my mind, now that I know how it’s all working. His films are like relatives; my feelings towards them change as I get older, and as I understand them better. I may still hate the way my mother screams like she’s witnessed a murder just because she drops something in the kitchen, but more and more it becomes inextricably interwoven with my deeper understanding of who she is, and why I love her.
If I had to sum up one thing I’ve gotten out of all this, it’s a knowledge of the incredible focus Cassavetes had. Truffaut once said that all great directors must sacrifice some aspect of filmmaking to achieve something brilliant — in essence, the bedsheet never covers the whole bed. And no one has worked harder to go as deep as possible exploring the complexity of human interrelationships than Cassavetes, and while he did love other aspects of film, he would give up anything — the framing, the editing, the continuity, the smoothness of the story, paradoxically even his own understanding of the characters — to reach a certain ecstatic emotional depth. He wanted you to feel as intensely and thoughtfully about his films as you did about your own life, and sometimes (perhaps by definition all the time) that means you can’t fully understand them.
As I said before, here’s your chance to have a “masters class” in John Cassavetes. We’re showing not just every film he directed, but films he starred in, his rare television work, and even films made with people he just worked closely with — ’cause we know what it’s like when you get obsessed: everything and everyone he touched takes on a certain interest. We’ve got restored prints from UCLA, rare trailers, and lectures. We’ve got sidebar tributes to Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassel and Gena Rowlands — all appearing in person — where we’ll tour through their own careers as actors. We’ve rounded up virtually every guest that could be had. This is the best chance you’ll ever have to do this right.
The whole shebang starts tomorrow with Shadows, screened from a gorgeous restored 35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film &Television Archive. After the film, join us for a conversation with its star, Lelia Goldoni, the memorably gorgeous face turned on its side in the film’s signature image. She’s still gorgeous, charming, and as one of the last remaining members of the Shadows cast, an important link to one of the most historically significant films of the 20th century (virtually the first truly successful independent film).
THIS ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY BEGINS TONIGHT!!!
3.10 @ 8pm — “SHADOWS” 1959 directed by John Cassavetes. Co-star Lelia Goldoni Q&A after the film…
A New York counterpart to the crime-solving hipsterism of its contemporary “Peter Gunn”, “Johnny Staccato” is still riveting in ways long removed from its lone ‘59/’60 season. Cassavetes-lovers can get hours of our main man as a moody jazz combo pianist who moonlights as an unorthodox detective, and the style points go through the roof from there: amazing wardrobe, fakey sets, and superb jazz music on the soundtrack, all bubbling within overblown plots and chewy dialogue. The young, mercurial Cassavetes is a blast, updating the old ‘40s noir detective fighting a confused world to the ‘50s fresh jazz era — and the series’ parade of guest stars is equal fun, as the show’s run included one-off turns by Dean Stockwell, Cloris Leachman, Martin Landau, Mary Tyler Moore and even Gena Rowlands! As well, Cassavetes even got to direct some of the episodes, giving him the opportunity to hone the skills he would simultaneously use on the production of Shadows. Join us for a program of J.C.-directed episodes from this hidden treasure of golden-era television!
3.12 @ 7:30pm — Ben Gazzara Q&A. @ 9pm — “HUSBANDS” 1970 directed by John Cassavetes…
3.13 @ 5:30pm — Gary Oldman Q&A with Ben Gazzara. @ 6pm — “THE STRANGE ONE” 1957 directed by Jack Garfein. @ 8pm — “THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE” 1976 directed by John Cassavetes. @ 10:45pm — “SAINT JACK” 1979 directed by Peter Bogdanovich…
“The Strange One” is an odd little movie, an allegory of evil that seems made by a studio that only exists in an alternate reality, and beamed onto a local TV station late into the night. In his first starring role, Gazzara immediately proved he had serious acting chops, oiling up the screen with his creepy, charismatic portrayal of a Machiavellian military cadet who’s rotten to the core. Looking dapper in a sailor cap and robe, a casually manipulative Benny spews out his hyper-articulate lines with the coolness of a proto-Buddy Love type, sadistically getting pleasure out of destroying the lives of everyone he touches. Directed by fascinating film footnote Jack Garfein (a teenage Holocaust survivor cum successful Broadway theater director who only directed two films) and largely populated with fellow skilled Actors Studio members including George Peppard and Pat Hingle, is not quite like any other film you’ve seen, and is not easily forgotten. The Strange One is indeed a strange one.
3/15 @ 8:00pm — Seymour Cassel Q&A. @ 9:00pm — “MINNIE & MOSKOWITZ” 1971 directed by John Cassavetes…
In one of her final dramatic roles, Judy Garland stars as an unorthodox teacher of special-needs children who stands up against Burt Lancaster’s stern, by-the-book mental hospital psychiatrist in A Child Is Waiting, Cassavetes’ nouvelle vague melodrama that was to be his last for-hire feature directorial gig until the tumultuous production of Big Trouble almost 25 years later. A Child Is Waiting has all the trappings of a standard “social issue” movie, but in Cassavetes’ hands, the focus is shifted most interestingly onto its young characters. Cassavetes insisted on casting real-life mentally-challenged youngsters, whose intriguing performances at times even upstage the mighty Miss Judy, and are the true heart and soul of the film. Along with the stylistic touches (tight close-ups, handheld camerawork, long takes) that would later become his hallmarks, Cassavetes infuses the film with an elevated level of genuine tenderness and sadness rarely reached by other studio pictures of the day.
This delirious Vegas gangster saga, featuring Cassavetes as an ex-con offered a too-good-to-be-true casino heist gig, is a major rediscovery. J.C. had already earned a critical reputation for directing pioneering works like Shadows and Faces, which he largely financed by taking surprisingly good paycheck roles in films like The Dirty Dozen, Rosemary’s Baby and this crackerjack Italian production with a cast to die for. The co-star here, Peter Falk, immediately hit it off with John, beginning a partnership that continued with Husbands, A Woman under the Influence, and Mikey and Nicky. Gena Rowlands also appears in a key supporting role, while the gorgeous Britt Ekland is seen in her prime as the female lead. Meanwhile, Eurocult devotees will get a huge kick out of the infectious Morricone score, and ‘60s aficionados will thrill to plenty of terrific on-location footage of Vegas in its swingin’ prime. The fact that McCain is a really solid crime film to boot is just icing on the cake!
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