John Cassavetes: Five Films
Always popular in Europe and film school, Cassavetes was largely underappreciated in his lifetime and criticized for being boring, terse, and difficult, but these films are fresher than ever
Reviewed by Taylor Holland, Fri., Oct. 8, 2004
John Cassavetes: Five FilmsCriterion, $124.95
A Woman Under the Influence
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
The most honest of American filmmakers, John Cassavetes' work is as mischievously demanding as it is infectiously familiar and, like all great works of the cinema, it has gotten better with age. The five films collected here (what, no Husbands?) showcase the better half of a remarkable directorial canon in which viewers find little distance from their subjects, as Cassavetes used filmmaking as a way to reach reality, not to escape it. Fiercely independent, he eschewed the Hollywood system, viewing studio films as shortsighted in comparison to his lifelike vision: never neat, never with a nice ending. The centerpiece of Cassavetes' films are the love and enthusiasm he inspired in a family of actors, including wife Gena Rowlands and pals Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassel, and Peter Falk. Included in this box set are Shadows, an improvisational beat tale of interracial romance in the early 1960s; the breakout Faces, about the disintegration of a marriage (with bonus disc of supplements including a 17-minute alternate opening sequence); A Woman Under the Influence, Gena Rowlands' masterwork as Mabel Longhetti, the suburban housewife who goes berserk (Falk's lazy eye was never more poignant or hilarious); The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, his homage to scumbaggery, presented here in its original 1976 135-minute cut, as well as the more commercially accessible 108-minute 1978 recut; Opening Night, about a stage actress who can't confront aging; and A Constant Forge, Charles Kiselyak's entrancing 200-minute documentary about our maverick hero. Always popular in Europe and film school, Cassavetes was largely underappreciated in his lifetime and criticized for being boring, terse, and difficult, but these films are fresher than ever, eclipsing the work of current directors who tread in his wake, such as Denmark's Lars Von Trier and Iran's Abbas Kiarostami. Gazzara once asked Cassavetes why he chose filmmaking over theatre. His reply: "Immortality."
Also Out Now
Mr. Show: The Complete Fourth Season: Maybe there is a razzleberry waterfall, after all ...
Star Wars Trilogy: It's about time, George.
SuperSize Me: Festival fave continues bitchslapping the corporate burger clown.
Fahrenheit 9/11: Michael Moore recently declined to submit it for an Oscar on the off chance it might be broadcast on cable before Election Day.