Wednesday, 30 April 2008
under the influence of john cassavetes
More than any other artist, he demonstrated that an American cinema made outside of Hollywood was not only possible, but, given his ferocious and generous spirit, could be exceptional. moma.org, Museum of Modern Art, New York
ACMI celebrates the remarkable films of American director/actor John Cassavetes, whose unique vision and fierce independent spirit served as an inspiration for many of today's most original cinematic voices including Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorcese and Pedro Almodovar.
The niche carved out by 'independent American cinema' is a deep one. With its own film festivals, visual aesthetic, cinema release pattern and hip music soundtrack, an 'indie film' is these days more marketing term than genuine description, a phrase often used by studios and production companies to talk up the latest emerging talent at Sundance or as a way to 'position' a new film about to hit the art-house circuit.
But back in the 60s and 70s, before many of today's most celebrated independent filmmakers had picked up their first camera, John Cassavetes was raising his own finance outside of the Hollywood Studio system and, more amazingly, handling the distribution of his films.
Desperate to get his films made by any means necessary, Cassavetes' do-it-yourself ingenuity and guerrilla filmmaking tactics have since become the stuff of legend: from repeatedly mortgaging his house, to staffing a crew with unpaid students from the American Film Institute, to siphoning electricity from a city power line in order to complete an outside film shoot.
The two Academy Award nominations achieved with A Woman Under the Influence was unprecedented for an independently-made feature, instituting a new level of mainstream recognition and acceptance for films made outside of the studio system.
For many fans however, it is the nature of the films themselves and not the way they were made that has been the key factor in the filmmaker's enduring and influential legacy.
Described by some as the "actor's director", Cassavetes' work favoured intimate character examination and stories exploring the quintessential human condition over grand narratives.
Focus on John Cassavetes will screen twelve films spanning three decades, beginning with Shadows (1959), Cassavetes' directorial debut centering on three African-American siblings grappling with love and angst in the jazz-soaked, beat-infused streets of 1950s New York.
Included are the director's three masterpieces of the 1970s, all of which were produced independently: A Woman Under the Influence (1974), starring Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes wife) in her Oscar-nominated role as an increasingly troubled housewife in an uncomprehending world (the film also netted Cassavetes an Oscar nomination for Best Director); The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), a 'post-noir masterpiece'1 involving a small-time strip-club owner (Ben Gazzara) at the end of his luck facing mob pressure to commit a murder; and Opening Night (1977), once again with Rowlands in the lead, as an actress grappling with ageing and the vagaries of life in the theatre (which would later become a key inspiration for Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother).
Other films in ACMI's Focus on John Cassavetes program will include his skewed romantic comedy Minnie and Moskowitz (1971); Love Streams (1984), a poignant, uncompromising portrayal of the lives of an alcoholic writer and his emotionally-fragile sister; Husbands (1970), a rare and unsentimental tale of midlife male friendship and self-discovery; Gloria (1980), a winning variation on the classic odd couple theme, as well as two of his rare forays into studio filmmaking: Too Late Blues (1961) featuring crooner Bobby Darin as a struggling jazz pianist fighting to maintain his integrity in the cut-throat music business, and Cassavetes last film, the breezy comedy Big Trouble, starring Alan Arkin, Peter Falk and Beverly D'Angelo.
Providing a deeper insight into Cassavetes' films will be the documentary A Constant Forge - The Life and Art of John Cassavetes. Charles Kiselyak assembles new interviews with key players such as Rowlands, Gazzara, Falk and long time collaborators such as producer and cinematographer Al Ruban as well as footage of the filmmaker candidly discussing his work methods and philosophies on art, creativity and life.
1 Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
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