John Cassavetes was a genius, a visionary, and the progenitor of American independent film, but that doesn’t begin to get at the generosity of his art. A former theater actor fascinated by the power of improvisation, Cassavetes brought his search for truth in performance to the screen. The five films in this collection—all of which the director maintained total control over by financing them himself and making them outside the studio system—are electrifying and compassionate creations, populated by all manner of humanity: beatniks, hippies, businessmen, actors, housewives, strippers, club owners, gangsters, children. Cassavetes has often been called an actor’s director, but this body of work—even greater than the sum of its extraordinary parts—shows him to be an audience’s director.
SHADOWS (1959) 82 minutes Black & White Monaural 1.33:1 aspect ratio John Cassavetes’s directorial debut revolves around a romance in New York City between Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), a light-skinned black woman, and Tony (Anthony Ray), a white man. The relationship is put in jeopardy when Tony meets Lelia’s darker-skinned jazz singer brother, Hugh (Hugh Hurd), and discovers that her racial heritage is not what he thought it was. Shot on location in Manhattan with a mostly nonprofessional cast and crew, Shadows is a penetrating work that is widely considered the forerunner of the American independent film movement.
FACES (1968) 130 minutes Black & White Monaural 1.66:1 aspect ratio John Cassavetes puts a disintegrating marriage under the microscope in the searing Faces. Shot in high-contrast 16 mm black and white, the film follows the futile attempts of the captain of industry Richard (The Godfather’s John Marley) and his wife, Maria (Taking Off’s Lynn Carlin), to escape the anguish of their empty relationship in the arms of others. Featuring astonishingly nervy performances from Marley, Carlin, and Cassavetes regulars Gena Rowlands (A Woman Under the Influence) and Seymour Cassel (Rushmore), Faces confronts modern alienation and the battle of the sexes with a brutal honesty and compassion rarely matched in cinema.
A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) 147 minutes Color Monaural 1.85:1 aspect ratio) This uncompromising portrait of domestic turmoil details the emotional breakdown of a suburban housewife and her family’s struggle to save her from herself. Gena Rowlands (Faces) and Peter Falk (Wings of Desire) give unforgettably harrowing performances as a married couple deeply in love but unable to express their ardor in terms the other can understand. This landmark American film is perhaps the most beloved work from the extraordinary John Cassavetes.
THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976 version) 135 minutes Color Monaural 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 1978 version 108 minutes Color Monaural 1.85:1 aspect ratio) John Cassavetes engages with film noir in his own inimitable style with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Ben Gazzara (Anatomy of a Murder) brilliantly portrays a gentleman’s club owner, Cosmo Vitelli, desperately committed to maintaining a facade of suave gentility despite the seediness of his environment and his own unhealthy appetites. When he runs afoul of loan sharks, Cosmo must carry out a terrible crime or lose his way of life. Mesmerizing and idiosyncratic, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a provocative examination of masculine identity. It is presented here in two versions: Cassavetes’s original 1976 edit and his 1978 one, nearly thirty minutes shorter.
OPENING NIGHT (1977) 144 minutes Color Monaural 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While in the midst of rehearsals for her latest play, Broadway actor Myrtle Gordon (A Woman Under the Influence’s Gena Rowlands) witnesses the accidental death of an adoring young fan, after which she begins to confront the chaos of her own life. Headlined by a virtuoso performance by Rowlands, John Cassavetes’s Opening Night lays bare the drama of a performer who, at great personal cost, makes a part her own, and it functions as a metaphor for the director’s singular, wrenched-from-the-heart creative method.