John Cassavetes

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7.2 Shadows (1959)
6.0 Too Late Blues (1961)
6.0 A Child is Waiting (1963)
7.2 Faces (1968)
6.5 Husbands (1970)
6.0 Minnie And Moskowitz (1971)
7.6 A Woman Under The Influence (1974)
6.0 The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie (1976)
7.3 Opening Night (1977)
7.2 Gloria (1980)
7.1 Love Streams (1984)
5.0 Big Trouble (1986)

If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me. John Cassavetes (USA, 1929) esordi' negli anni '50 come attore, prima per il teatro e poi per il cinema (Edge Of The City, 1957, Martin Ritt), rivelando doti di interprete naturalista. Alla fine del decennio si associo' a Mekas e diresse con mezzi di fortuna Shadows (1959), forse il capolavoro del "New American Cinema". La recitazione e' in gran parte improvvisata da attori non professionisti, la scenografia e' approssimata, la direzione e' quasi documentaria. The credits scroll over a wild rock music show. Three white punks walk into a bar and meet three girls who are drinking. One of the three punks, Benny, always wearing a black jacket and sunglasses, is black, although so light-skinned that he might be taken for a tanned white. Later he walks into a talent agency where his elder brother Hughie, a singer, is negotiating a deal for a show that he and his black partner Rupert desperately need. Benny needs money and Hughies gives it to him. Later Benny warns his sister Lelia, an aspiring painter, that the city is dangerous and she shouldn't walk around alone. She laughs at him. Hughie and his partner Rupert take the train to travel to the city where the show will take place. They accepted the deal even though they are going to be just a side show for an inept but sexy female group. Hughie tries to perform his number but the club only wants him to introduce the girls. Lelia joins Bennie and his worthless friends David, Dennis and Tom at a cafe. They tease her because of her intellectual affectation. Dennis, Tom (who boasts that he went to college) and Bennie spend a few hours in an art museum. David, instead, takes Lelia to a party at a club, where they meet his friend Tony. Lelia is also light-skinned and Tony has no clue that she is black. David is drunk. Lelia, also a bit drunk, trying to impress them with her independence, kisses Tony right away. The three walk out together and through a park, with David determined to watch over the naive Lelia. The moment he gets distracted by a friend, Lelia and Tony take off and leave him behind. Tony casually walks to his place and then invites her upstairs. She accepts and loses her virginity. She is badly disappointed. Tony feels bad. She feels awful and asks him to take her home. He takes her home but then insists on walking upstairs with her. He seems to be honestly falling in love with her. Just then Hughie and Rupert return home, so Tony realizes that she is black. He coldly says that he has to go and is about to leave. She tells him that she loves her. He feels ashamed and almost changes his mind, but Hughie, having understood, kicks him out. The three siblings share the same apartment. At a black party her friend Vicki introduces Lelia to a nice black man, Davey, but Lelia is annoyed and hostile. Bennie is in a bad mood and almost starts a brawl. Later the cleancut Hughie, worried about the company he keeps, argues with Bennie. Hughie is the one who is trying hard to keep the family together. When the polite and humble Davey comes to pick up Lelia for a date, he meets her brothers and immediately gets along with Hughie. Lelia, however, is still mean to him. She makes him wait two hours because she wants to finish a painting. They are about to leave when Tony rings the bell. She walks in front of him with her date without saying a word. At the dancehall she is still cold towards the warm and nice Davey until he loses his patience and then she finally relents. Meanwhile, Hughie is ready for another trip, but Rupert is tired of their pathetic routine. Hughie values their friendship and always sees the positive side. That night Bennie and his white friends provoke three kids in a bar and get beaten by them in a narrow alley. This finally wakes up Bennie, who decides that their lifestyle is pointless. He walks back home alone. The film is about loneliness, frustration and impotence. But also about friendship (Bennie with his white punks, Hughie with everybody) and about growing up (Lelia and Bennie undertake a metamorphosis, and the racist Tony too).

Il film fece rumore perche' violava tutti i canoni di Hollywood, in particolare lasciando l'iniziativa agli attori: Cassavetes lascia il pubblico faccia conoscenza con i personaggi, sposta l'enfasi dalla trama del film alle singole trame private.

Proprio a Hollywood si trasferi' per dirigere Too Late Blues (1961), subdolamente autobiografico (narra di un jazzista costretto dalla societa' a commercializzarsi). Kramer gli produsse A Child is Waiting (1963), tipico film spettacolare a tesi sui bambini ritardati, based on Abby Mann's teleplay "A Child Is Waiting" (1957).

Nei sei anni successivi Cassavetes feca ritorno al cinema indipendente e, a poco a poco, riusci' a completare Faces (1968), ritratto di un matrimonio che si sta disintegrando. I ritmi naturali della recitazione (derivati dal cinema- verita' ed esasperati da pause, inazioni, ripetizioni e discontinuita') concentrano tutto l'interesse sul personaggio, piuttosto che sulla storia di cui fa parte. Lo spettatore viene costretto a fungere da voyeur, ad osservare nei minimi dettagli la psicologia dei personaggi. La forma detta anche il contenuto: inevitabilmente Cassavetes si sofferma sugli stati di crisi, che meglio esaltano il suo stile. E, inevitabilmente, il suo cinema e' diventato un cinema di attori. Le trame sono approssimative, molto limitate; la produzione, il montaggio, le scenografie molto casuali; le atmosfere sono pesanti, ripetitive, esasperanti. In un certo senso i suoi film prendono dal free jazz la struttura disarticolata e l'improvvisazione degli assoli. Checov e Bergman sono i riferimenti piu' prossimi. Ma Cassavetes e' anche un eroe che vive fuori dai canali commerciali.
Shot in 16mm black and white, it feels like a home movie. It is mostly a set of conversation pieces. Too much of a conversation piece.

Richard (John Marley) is a rich and powerful businessman. Three female assistants mobilize when he enters the studio. Then other executives walk in. They all assemble in the theater to watch a new movie titled "Faces". After the showing, Richard and his old friend Freddie drive into a car with an elegant woman, Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), who was at the bar. They get drunk and eventually reach her apartment where they continue to party. They have fun until Freddie turns rude and asks her how much she will charge him: she is a prostitute. Freddie's frank exposure of her goal ruins the evening. Freddie leaves. Richard seems more sympathetic but then he too leaves Jeannie alone.
Back home the middle-aged Richard and his much younger wife Maria make fun of Freddie's sex life. Then they go to sleep and make jokes but don't make love. They seem happy. He is certainly amused by the chat. But the following morning he coldly tells her that he wants a divorce. He then calls Jeannie in front of his wife. Jeannie is busy and cannot see him. Jeannie and a "cowroker" are entertaining two obnoxious gentlemen. One of them, Jim, tells Jeannie how miserable his marriage is. He seems more interested in company than in sex. Richard shows up unexpectedly. Richard is embarrassed to find so many people in the apartment. Jim invites him to join them. Richard resents their fake jovial tone. They are both rich businessmen like him. Richard also resents their tone (Jim angrily says "women are all whores") and their offensive jokes. Richard loses his temper and gets into a fistfight with Jim. However, they are soon friends again. He realizes that Jim is just an unhappy husband like him and goes with the flow. It sounds like they become each other's entertainment, ignoring Jeannie. They part friends. Jim and his friend leave, Richard stays. He kisses her fondly. She is not a prostitute to him but a wife substitute.
Meanwhile, Maria foes to a nightclub with her married middle-aged girlfriends. They listen to loud rock music and meet a handsome playboy, Chet, not younger either. They invite him to Maria's apartment where they basically compete for his attention. Chets goes to the restroom for a few minutes leaving the four women alone. One leaves disgusted. Then other one leaves. The one friend left is a middle-aged woman who feels younger for the first time ever. When Chet returns, the middle-aged friend asks him to kiss her, while Maria nervously smokes a cigarette. Then the woman makes sure that Chet feels the duty to drive her home. Now Maria is alone, coldly taking care of the house before going to sleep. A few minutes later Chet reenters from the back of the house. She is pleasantly surprised. They play hide and seek. They get in bed and make love.
Richard wakes up happy in Jeannie's apartment after a night of sex. Maria, instead, tries to kill herself after a night of sex, and Chet saves her just in time. Chet tells her that he really loves her: maybe it's him and not her who was looking for love. Richard walks home all happy. Chet runs out half-naked from the window. Richard the hypocrite confronts his wife as an adulteress. She doesn't know that he is one too. She lets him talk but at some point she slaps him and tells him that she just doesn't love him. They sit on the stairs, each smoking a cigarette.

Faces esplorava il contrasto fra l'american way of life della borghesia e l'avvento della contro-cultura, e fu un inaspettato successo di critica e pubblico.

Nel frattempo Cassavetes aveva recitato in Rosemary's Baby (Polansky,68).

Husbands (1970) e' un affresco de milieu della classe media suburbana. Come il precedente, ha per obiettivo l'analisi delle nevrosi borghesi e, piu' in generale, del disadattamento della coppia, incapace di vivere negli schemi convenzionali. Commedia di costume sull'impotenza del maschio, sulle sue frustrazioni e sulla impossibilita' della fuga. Tre tipici borghesi sposati sono traumatizzati dalla morte di un loro amico e si sfogano cercando di divertirsi, compresa un'avventura illecita con tre donne facili; ma invano: torneranno dalle loro famiglie sconfitti. L'insicurezza e l'insoddisfazione sono ancora le vere protagoniste. Vicino al mondo di Apdike.

Minnie And Moskowitz (1971) e' una commedia piu' ottimista, in cui due solitari si trovano, si scoprono e, infine, si sposano.

Lei e' una trentenne modesta ma raffinata, impiegata del museo, reduce da diverse delusioni sentimentali ma incurabile romantica; lui e' un quarantenne simpatico ed estroverso parcheggiatore pseudo-hippy. La vicenda si svolge sulla falsariga della piu' classica sophisticated comedy (quasi parodia in certi punti), ma il mondo in cui e' inserita e' un mondo arido, desolato, inumano, freddo e ostile. Dapprima lei e' irritata dalla sua corte grezza e impertinente, ma alla fine cedera' e si fara' un matrimonio tradizionale.

A Woman Under The Influence (1974) si svolge invece nell'ambiente tradizionale, gretto e conservatore della borghesia proletaria e si configura come un saggio sulle nevrosi della casalinga. La dimensione politica del film trova in Gene Rowlands (sua moglie) una portavoce superlativa. Il suo e' il ritratto piu' toccante della carriera di Cassavetes e, per definizione, e' tanto merito del regista quanto dell'attrice. Questa volta l'andazzo e' piu' da dramma teatrale di Williams. Tutto il corpo di Rowlands e' a disposizione della macchina da presa per rendere la disperazione di un essere condannato a vita. Cassavetes tocca forse il punto piu' alto del suo iper-realismo, del suo scavo psicologico, della sua poetica del disadattamento. E si spinge anche in territorio psicoanalitico, nel campo delle teorie anti-familiari di Lang. Come sempre la trama e' minima, lo stretto indispensabile.
It's a very long film (2.5 hours) and the action is only ordinary life. Very long scenes that look like the documentary of a family's intimate life. It's a sort of hyper-realism: every scene is protracted to deliver the feeling that it is happening for real. It's not just a narrative device. It's real.
The woman in Snake Pit is gone mad for not wanting to be a housewife. The woman in A Women Under the Influence is gone mad for wanting to be a housewife. The former is healed when she accepts her role as a housewife and her husband is happy. The latter is healed when she becomes a zombie and her husband is not happy. In a sense the latter represents the next stage of the former.

Nick (Peter Falk) is a humble construction worker. He has a date with his wife but his team is called for an emergency. Meanwhile, his wife Mabel (Gena Rowlands) is frantically sending their three children to stay with her mother so that she and Nick can have a good time alone. Instead she'll have to wait alone at home until Nick calls with the bad news that he can't come home. Nick tells a coworker that Mabel is not normal, that she does strange things. She leaves the house and walks into a bar. She gets drunk and comes back home with a man, Garson. Garson tries to make love to her. She resists. (The film does not show what happens during the night). She wakes up in the morning in her bed, naked. Garson is leaving discreetly. She calls "Nick" and Garson realizes that she is a married woman. Nick comes home a few hours later with the whole team. They are starving because they worked the whole night. Mabel cooks pasta for all of them. They chat and make jokes. At one point Mabel embarrasses one of the guests and Nick yells at her. When everybody is gone, Mabel tells Nick that she wants to be the way he wants her to be. They go to bed and make love. When the children come back, Nick is still trying to sleep. They are a good mother and a good father, and they love each other.
When a neighbor drops his three children at Mabel's place, Mabel creates another embarrassing situation. She forces the man, dressed in suit and tie, to stay and play with her and the children. She means well, but the result is that the children run wild and the man stays not because she asks her to but because he's afraid of leaving the children with her. Nick calls and, upon hearing that she has a man in the house, runs over. He slaps Mabel and tells the man to leave the house. The man wanted to leave anyway, and Nick doesn't want to listen to him. They get into a fight and Nick kicks him out. Nick calls a doctor for Mabel. When the doctor comes, Mabel becomes delirious. Nick's mother is present and she screams that Mabel cannot be trusted with the children. The children run to protect their mother.
At work Nick tells the others that Mabel has been hospitalizes in a mental asylum, but then he loses his temper when they keep gossiping. He cuts the rope that one of the workers so that he rolls down a hill and they have to come and rescue him. (The film does not show if the man is alive, dead, wounded...) He then spends a day with the children at the beach, feeling that he has neglected them for too long.
After six months Mabel is released from the hospital. Nick has organized a little get-together to celebrate. Nick, more tense than ever, creates embarrassing situations (it almost looks like he is the one who is mentally unstable). It's too much for Mabel. She soon breaks down and starts behaving even crazier than before. She starts dancing on the couch. Nick kicks out all the guests. Mabel runs to the bathroom and tries to slit her wrists. Nick stops her just in time. The children, scared, surround her. Then they start pushing their father away from her, perceiving him as the cause of their mother's madness. She is dancing again on the couch. He slaps her so that she falls on the floor. He tries to bring the children upstairs twice, but twice they run back to their mom. They accept to go to bed only when their mom takes her to the bedroom. Then their mom becomes again the perfect housewife and mother. She cleans up the dining table, she smiles at Nick, they go to sleep. Everything is back to "normal".

The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie (1976) rispetta le convenzioni del film noir: e` un "crime thriller", ma e` anche un "character study". Il film vale soprattutto come descrizione di un ambiente (lo squallore degli spogliarelli, la paura dei bassifondi, la cacofonia della metropoli) e di uno stato d'animo (solitudine, avidita', lotta per la sopravvivenza).

Cosmo, il proprietario di un locale notturno, che deve ai gangsters un'ingente somma, accetta di uccidere un anziano allibratore cinese. L'omicidio riesce ma, nella sparatoria con le guardie del corpo, Cosmo resta ferito. Deve fuggire, braccato dai suoi stessi "amici", che vogliono eliminare un testimone scomodo. Evita un attentato e riesce a rientrare nel suo locale in tempo per presentare lo show. Poi riprende la fuga, ancora sanguinante.

Opening Night (1977) ritorna al saggio psicologico mono-dimensionale, questa volta su un'attrice nevrotica in pieno esaurimento.

Myrtle (Gena Rowlands) is a middle-aged actress who stars in a play. At the end of a performance, the actors leave from the backstage door and a crowd of fans surrounds them to get autographs. One fan is a young woman, Nancy, who hugs and kisses Myrtle. Nancy follows her to the limo and keeps kissing the windows of the limo, ecstatic that she has met in person her idol. The limo starts moving and the fan starts walking next to it. Nancy does not pay attention to the traffic. It is raining heavily. A car runs her over. The body lies in the rainy street. The limo drives away, and Myrtle protests in vain. At the hotel the other actors are only interested in having dinner. Myrtle asks one of them to accompany her to her room. She is shaken and pours herself a drink. Then she tries to seduce the actor, who coldly rejects her. Later the director, Manny, goes home to his wife. They make fun of how unhappy their marriage is. She calls him boring and then laughs. He tells her that he has lost his passion for theater, and how much he hates the rehearsals. The phone rings: it's Myrtle, who needs to be consoled. Over the phone Manny makes references to their past love affairs while his wife is making faces like a child in front of him. At the rehearsal Myrtle starts screaming out of control. She cannot concentrate anymore. On stage she has to play the part of an aging woman, Virginia. Alone, she stares at herself in the mirror. Her performances get worse and worse. She cannot identify with Virginia. Myrtle tells the playwright, Sarah, who is older than her, that it is difficult to play the role of an aging unmarried woman. One night she invites home the producer, David, an older man who is very devoted to her, and probably an old lover. She lets him in without telling him that Manny is there. Embarrassed, the producer leaves and Manny makes a scene, not understanding what she is trying to do. She locks herself in the bathroom and has an imaginary conversation with her younger self, who has the face of Nancy, reminiscing about the days when she was hunted by all sorts of men. When Manny and Myrtle arrive at the theater for the performance, Manny's wife is there and sees them together. The performance is a disaster: she has forgotten her lines, she is drunk and at one point she simply walks out of the stage. Manny pulls down the curtain but she demands loudly that the curtain be lifted again. Then she concludes the play by improvising a monologue. Director, producer and playwright are terrified, but half the audience likes it. Myrtle justifies herself by explaining that she wanted to feel the character, and used Nancy as a template. She wanted to feel... younger. The playwright Sarah takes Myrtle to a spiritualist, but Myrtle refuses any help to get rid of the ghost. However, back home she is attacked by the ghost of Nancy. She goes to Sarah's, who witnesses how the ghost is beating Myrtle (Myrtle repeatedly slams her own head against the wall until she starts bleeding). Manny, instead, doesn't understand that it's a real crisis, not just whims of a spoiled diva. They move to the great theater for the opening night. Now Myrtle begs Sarah to take her to another spiritualist. This time the exorcism works: Myrtle confronts Nancy (the ghost) and beats her up. She visits an old lover who rejects her, another cruel reminder of aging. She is missing. Sarah, Manny and David are worried that she will not show up for the opening night. That night, as the audience walks in, Myrtle is still missing. She shows up that the audience is beginning to complain. She is so drunk that she can't even stand up. She stumbles into the first act. But in the second act she recovers enough lucidity to improvise a duet with the actor (the old lover who rejected her). Manny, David and Sarah are ashamed, but the audience loves it and gives it a standing ovation. La diva recupera se stessa recitandosi, come recitando altre si era perduta (al punto che la sua nevrosi era scambiata per capricci di diva). Cassavetes abbandona il milieu piccolo-borghese per una meditazione sul rapporto arte-vita. Bisogno di affetti, alienazione, solitudine sono comunque i dati della piccola borghesia. E il film e' di nuovo l'indagine di un vissuto ma partendo da una struttura (la preparazione di uno show) che e' tipica. Ancora una volta il suo stile arido, statico, monocorde, toglie fiato all'azione, nobilita l'interpretazione. E' Rowlands l'"autrice" (esattamente come nel film). Ed e' questa la differenza principale fra Cassavetes e Bergman.

Gloria (1980) immerge un analogo studio di carattere nel pianeta metropoli, e la crisi si trasforma in odissea (calvario) patetico/epica. Il bambino di un gangster rinnegato viene affidato a Gloria, ex donna della malavita, che vive sola e indipendente. Il bambino, braccato dai killers perche' il padre gli ha lasciato un pericoloso quaderno, accende pero' il suo amore materno e durante la fuga convulsa per le vie di New York lo difende con la pistola di agguato in agguato; alla fine perira' , ma il bambino sara' ormai autonomo. Thriller patetico che aggredisce le convenzioni del genere ("la" dura, cinica, spietata banditessa, il bambino "braccato", la fuga disperata dei due "amanti" che pero' sono una donna e un bambino), dinamico, violento e spettacolare.

Love Streams (1984) torna allo psicodramma, questa volta sul rapporto fra due eccentrici, uno scrittore divorziato, ubriacone e donnaiolo (Cassavetes) con un figlio che lo odia, e sua sorella (Rowlands) in crisi con il marito (ma ancora innamorata) con una figlia che la ama, che si sottopone a psicoterapia e cerca conforto nel fratello; lui ha un bisogno maniacale di ragazzette, lei ha un bisogno soffocante di amare. Le loro nevrosi aumentano; quandolei sviene, il dottore dice che e' grave, ma lui lo mette alla porta e continua con i loro folli rituali; lei sogna un balletto paradisiaco, durante il quale fugge con un uomo; fuori infuria il temporale; il fratello vuole tenerla con se' per sempre perche' ritiene di essere l'unico uomo che la ama; ma lei ha deciso di andarsene e, aiutata da un amico, fa le valigie mentre il fratello si ubriaca e ha delle visioni. Melodramma teatrale in cui il pessimismo esistenziale di Cassavetes tocca forse il punto piu' alto.

Big Trouble (1986) e' una farsa in cui un assicuratore (Arkin) progetta la morte di un cliente (Falk) con l'aiuto della moglie di questi (la trama di Double Indemnity), ma Arkin non lo fa in quanto sedotto ma per mandare i figli a scuola; e l'omicidio non si verifica perche' moglie e vittima hanno architettato un'altro piano; e poi c'e' il lieto fine. Gags e parodia, vacanza d'autore.

Gene Rowlands Maschera duttile e incisiva della borghesia neurotica, recita con le minime espressioni del viso. E' lei la vera autrice di molte opere del marito. Attrice drammatica capace di creare tensioni laceranti, e' agli antipodi delle dive classiche, legate ad uno stereotipo mitologico.

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