This article was commissioned by the Torino Film Festival to accompany a John Cassavetes retrospective in November 2007, and was published there in a substantial catalogue/collection in Italian translation. I’m sorry I can’t do a better job of illustrating this: apart from some pictures of Cassavetes, Rowlands, and Carol Kane, there are no appropriate images available to me. I’m grateful, in any case, to Jim Healy and Emanuela Martini for asking me to write this. — J.R.
Cassavetes’ Prelude and Postscript: The Original Shadows and A Woman of Mystery
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
I consider myself unusually fortunate in having been able to see the original version of Shadows in January 2004. Shot in the spring of 1957 and screened publicly only four or five times, the first completed version of the first film of John Cassavetes had been considered irretrievably lost for almost half a century.
More specifically, I saw the first of two public projections at the Rotterdam International Film Festival of a good video transfer of the rediscovered 16-millimeter print, presented by Ray Carney, the man who rediscovered the print. After these two screenings, objections were raised by Cassavetes’ widow, Gena Rowlands, with the result that subsequent public screenings have been forbidden by her.… Read more »
From Sight and Sound, Spring 1989. — J.R.
The news of John Cassavetes’ death reached the Rotterdam Festival just as his retrospective was winding to a close, and my initial response was to recall Billy Wilder’s remark at Ernst Lubitsch’s funeral. ‘No more Lubitsch,’ a friend said, and Wilder replied, ‘Worse than that — no more Lubitsch films.’ On the face of it, it’s hard to think of many directors more dissimilar than Lubitsch and Cassavetes, but each brought to cinema a kind of personal passion that it’s never had before or since, despite the fact that each has had a host of imitators and emulators. It even seems possible that Cassavetes influenced almost as many directors as Lubitsch did. Just for starters, one could cite Peter Bogdanovich, Jean Eustache, Henry Jaglom, Elaine May, Rob Nilsson, Maurice Pialat, Jacques Rivette and Martin Scorsese.
In the case of Cassavetes, though, what I had in mind was something specific — the fact that he hadn’t lived long enough to make a film of his remarkable play A Woman of Mystery, which I had been lucky enough to see during its limited run in a tiny Beverly Hills theatre the summer before last, and which remains one of the key theatrical experiences of my life.… Read more »
Capsule reviews of two of my favorite American films, both commissioned by BBC.com, who previously asked me to name my ten favorite American films. (For some reason, my computer can’t handle their own web site and link, which is why I’m posting this material here.) I responded to their first request with these choices:
1. GREED (Stroheim, 1924)
2. SUNRISE (Murnau, 1927)
3. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (Welles, 1942)
4. CITY LIGHTS (Chaplin, 1931)
5. LOVE ME TONIGHT (Mamoulian, 1932)
6. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (Wyler, 1946)
7. STARS IN MY CROWN (Tourneur, 1950)
8. LOVE STREAMS (Cassavetes, 1984)
9. A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)
10. WHEN IT RAINS (Burnett, 1995)
Other truncated masterpieces (most notably Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons) tend to be appreciated in spite of their flaws, but Erich von Stroheim’s Greed maintains its strength and intensity and even much of its density in its surviving form. The characters are rich and complex and the mise en scène fully serves both the power of the performances and the richness of the world depicted. The overall fidelity to Frank Norris’s McTeague is matched by a highly personal and inventive dedication to its meanings and resonance, and the overall vision of what money does to disfigure and destroy human personality is unequaled.… Read more »
Missing from this review from the July 1975 Monthly Film Bulletin is any acknowledgment that Godard and Gorin’s rather punitive analysis against Jane Fonda’s role in a still photograph might have incidentally reflected some misogyny along with their resentment against the power of a movie star. For those interested in tracking down Letter to Jane, it’s included as an extra on the Criterion DVD of Tout va bien. —J.R.
Letter to Jane
France, 1972 Directors: Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin
Letter to Jane was initially made to be shown in a specific limited context: as a short accompanying Tout va bien at the New York and San Francisco Film Festivals in 1972. As with all of Godard and Gorin’s joint projects, the essential aims of the film are demystification and political analysis. More generally, it pursues a demystification of cinema itself as art object, reflected in the minimal technical means used in the articulation of the filmmakers’ argument (a montage of stills separated by cuts or makeshift wipes accompanied by the voices of Godard and Gorin in English, with brief uses of recorded music as punctuation) — an approach further developed by Godard’s more recent work with video, which seeks to demonstrate that the “production of sounds and images” need not be as expensive or as technically elaborate as is usually supposed.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (September 25, 1987). — J.R.
While it may not add up to anything very profound, this paranoid thriller is put together with so much craft and economy that a significant part of its pleasure is seeing how tightly and cleanly every sequence is hammered into place. Brian Dennehy is Dennis Meechum, an incorruptible police detective who doubles as a successful crime writer; James Woods is Cleve, a hit man who doubles as a corporate executive, and who wants Meechum to write a nonfiction best seller exposing his ruthless and respectable former boss — a philanthropist tycoon who has stealthily slaughtered his way to the top. Dennehy’s square and skeptical cop is an adroit reading of a dull part, but he makes a wonderful straight man for Woods’s fascinatingly creepy yet sensitive killer — modeled in part on Robert Walker’s Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train, with a comparable homoerotic tension between the two men. Tautly and cleverly scripted by Larry Cohen, crisply shot by Fred Murphy, and directed by John Flynn without a loose screw in sight, this is first-class action story telling, stripped to its essentials: no shot is held any longer than is needed to make its narrative point, and the streamlining makes for a bumpless ride.… Read more »