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John Cassavetes

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Year Title Rating
1959 Shadows 7/10
1961 Too Late Blues 6.5/10
1963 >>A Child Is Waiting 6.5/10
1968 Faces 7.5/10
1970 Husbands 6.5/10
1971 Minnie and Moskowitz 7/10
1974 A Woman Under the Influence 9/10
1976 The Killing of a Chinese Bookie 7.5/10
1977 Opening Night 8/10
1980 Gloria 6.5/10
1984 Love Streams 8/10

Review last updated: May 7, 2017


John Cassavetes is probably the single most important American filmmaker. He was a profound student of human emotion, and he insisted his audiences felt exactly what he was feeling. He did this with an inventive and frankly invasive camera technique - I call it "motionful" filmmaking. Up close, intimate, private cinematography, that magnified and illuminated emotional nuance. This allows for accelerated character development and a longing engagement. Watch any Cassavetes film and you will live its events and love its characters as if it were happening to you. Even the realest Ingmar Bergman films had some element of separation, some kind of abstraction. Cassavetes does not have that. Watching Cassavetes doesn't even feel like you're watching a premeditated story, it's not a production, you're not even watching a movie. You've somehow gained a private perspective on real events and real people. Of course you consciously know it's fiction (because real life doesn't have "Written and Directed by John Cassavetes" titles unfortunately), but the film happens to you as if life happened to you. If you've ever liked a Lars von Trier film, you will find that everything about his aesthetic existed decades earlier in independent American cinema. The Dogma 95 movement might not seem so groundbreaking.

But also he was well-adapted in the Bergman narrative structure, as he would make single scenes 20 minutes, and spend up to 4 minutes on a single shot. This tried and true method of connection (but also a possible risk of alienation) served Cassavetes the way it did Bergman.

Something else the reader should know: Almost all of Cassavetes' films were independent projects that he funded himself. He wrote and directed his films, and hired a multi-million-dollar cast and crew, with his own money. Of course he made the money to do this from acting in larger productions (his famous role in Rosemary's Baby), but because he paid for all of his films himself, his works were free of any toxic Production Company influence. You will notice there are no "Mk2 Productions", "Lionsgate", "Dreamworks", or any of the sort preceding any of these works. He made his own personal vision, and was free from the limitations of the film industry. He married his leading actress, Gena Rowlands, like many auteurs. They were together his entire career.


Faces was one of the most abrasive films of the '60s. The circumstances surrounding the production (and perhaps most of it is intentional, even symbolic) gave the film a high-contrast black and white, that made each of its characters look like monsters but also human beings. The "motionful" filmmaking I described above is applied to the situation of an estranged married couple, both going out and getting shitfaced, being a general idiot, and fucking a stranger, separately. This film has long, stark, bleak, and almost disgusting passages, of deeply drunk people shouting at each other. Imagine being in college, and your roommate brings home a troupe of stumbling alcoholics, imposing and burdening their surroundings with their endless party and mass suicide of brain cells. You've lost any hope of getting any sleep before class the next day, because now Roomie and the Party Time Bros are getting turnt up and lit in front of your bed. Now you have to watch them and be apart of their drunk people bullshit, or leave. You decide to stay. That's what the film Faces is like. Imagine that, but after a long time, you start to care about and become attracted to, and even enjoy the other drunken lushes.

The viewer is kept in a bottle for much of the movie, being held hostage with abrasive diatribes, uninhibited emotions, and general uneasiness, until the viewer is released, and all the tension the movie creates is relieved in bursts of feeling. It's easy to imagine a majority of a theater audience walking out of this halfway through. What I'm trying to convey in my long winded indulgence: Faces is a movie that will reward you immensely if you take a chance on it. It's what you might call a "slow burner", but rather this is a "harsh, unfiltered burner", as if from the wrong end of a cigarette.

A Woman Under the Influence

Wow. This movie is so emotional it will leave you punching pillows, holding back tears, and cursing God days after you watch it. John Cassavetes has portrayed and illustrated something important to every individual's emotional well-being: The rapid degeneration of a loved one's self and identity. A madness that has been enabled and obscured by domestic chores and traditional homemaker life, suddenly erupts to the point of danger and instability. If you've ever loved someone whose mind runs away from them, you will find this film hard to watch.

After a lead-in of misinformed and thoughtless actions, like picking up a stranger after being stood up on date night with her husband, flirting with Nick's coworkers at the lunch table, and inviting strange men and their kids into the home, Mabel Longhetti suffers a complete nervous breakdown, a total obliteration of her mental faculties, identity, memory, and perception of self. And because of the remarkably innovative way this was filmed, the viewer's experience of this is disturbingly intimate, sympathetically motionful, and desperately disillusioning. You watch A Woman Under the Influence happen to you, as if life were happening to you. This is no longer a simple movie, but a crisis, an emergency, something that needs your immediate attention and emotional commitment.

I will now attempt to comment on the ending without giving it away. The way this film ends is a pitiful retreat into reality and monotonous domestic life. Despite a number of inspired attempts to keep this madness at bay, to reform Mabel Longhetti into a rational functioning person, the great darkness and paleness of mind takes over and brings everything back to the way it was before. Imagine feeling closure where there is none, imagine the feeling of security in being insecure, and being safe in a dangerous home. That is the ending to A Woman Under the Influence.