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  • Louis Jeck Prestidge

Cassavetes.

John Cassavetes made 12 films between 1958 and 1984. Perhaps his most acclaimed would be Woman under the influence (1974) the story about the mental breakdown of a married women played by Gena Rowlands, who was married to Cassavetes. I wanted to focus on a few of his other works, particularly Opening Night (1977) one of my personal favourites. There is a hefty 45 minute scene at the end of the film which details the opening night of a play. Again Gena Rowlands plays the lead role as a stage actor who suffers a guilty conscience after a car accident leaves a young fan dead. The plot is barely worth examining, the quality in any Cassavetes film lies in its build up of tension. Many of the scenes are thoroughly rehearsed, with Cassavetes the actors were a closely knit family. The film is over two hours, although quite long the final scenes are a joy to experience. You experience a Cassavetes film you don't watch it. The characters seem genuine and real to the point in which it feels like you're watching a documentary. He manages to do this by stripping away all the cinematic tropes. There are no gimics, no incidental music, no clever dolly shots. These elements were often too expensive anyway as he worked on shoe string budgets for most of his career. Sometimes the limitations of filmmaking is a blessing. I see films with large budgets that have less than half the power of a Cassavetes picture. In the last scene of this picture the main character has been drinking heavily, she arrives late to the stage. The camera observes the action from two different places. One observes the action from the point of view of an audience member. The other is handheld and back stage, following the chaos that ensues as we see Rowlands inability to stand up through inebriation. She cries, makes guttural noises and seems shaken up. The other cast members plead with her to sober up and play her part on stage. The anxiety is witnessed so directly by the viewer, every small gesture is highlighted. We feel tension, despair and later triumph and relief. Nobody does it like Cassavetes or will ever do it again. A huge influence on American cinema and a pioneer of Independent filmmaking.


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