Cinema and Media Studies John Cassavetes
by
James O'Brien
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0238

Introduction

John Cassavetes (b. 1929–d. 1989) was an American actor and filmmaker who wrote, directed, and acted in a catalogue of independent films he made over a forty-year career. Cassavetes directed twelve films—thirteen if one considers Shadows (1958) and Shadows (1959) as distinct works. With a close group of actors and crew, his works often featured Gena Rowlands (b. 1930), Seymour Cassel (b. 1935), Peter Falk (b. 1927–d. 2011), and Ben Gazzara (b. 1930–d. 2012). Despite early praise of Shadows (1958) by writers such as Jonas Mekas, reviewers were often unfavorable, uninterested, and/or unkind to the majority of Cassavetes’s films. Cassavetes won no major awards in the United States, though Rowlands, his chief collaborator and his wife, was nominated for an Academy Award twice, for her performances in his films A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980). Cassavetes did receive a steady run of accolades near the end of his life. At that point, scholars and critics began to consider his works more expansively in terms of their aesthetics—including oft-cited characteristics of a certain brand of realism, naturalism, and echoes of cinéma vérité. The last three films of his career included two made within the studio system—Gloria (1980) and Big Trouble (1986). Released between these, Love Streams (1984), Cassavetes’s last independent film, was also well received in the United States, and it won first place in the Berlin Film Festival. He died in 1989 of cirrhosis of the liver. For the most part, scholarly writings about the films of John Cassavetes did not appear until the 1980s and 1990s. They have been in large part spearheaded and expanded upon by a small number of authors. Prominent among those writers is Ray Carney. This article began under Carney’s advisorship, and his early input (2011–2012) helped shape its scale and scope. It is not a comprehensive listing and annotation of the writings, but it represents a selection highlighting major trends and directions of response and examination.

Overviews of Life and Work

The writings listed in this section are chiefly narrative and/or biographical. Charity 2001 and Fine 2005 give particular attention to the formative years in Cassavetes’s life, while Carney 2001 represents a different kind of biography/overview by incorporating lengthy sections that quote the director. Researchers should note that scholars do not always concur when it comes to details of the director’s early years. For example, Carney has objected to oft-repeated details surrounding the director’s college attendance. Rosenbaum 2013 considers Cassavetes’s performance career as interwoven with his directorial career. When it comes to Rosenbaum’s entries, in this section and throughout the article, note that he has republished the cited works to his website.

  • Carney, Ray. Cassavetes on Cassavetes. New York: Faber and Faber, 2001.

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    At once a biography and an autobiography, Carney’s book is significantly composed of sections that directly quote Cassavetes. Works covered include the director’s films, but consideration is also given to examples of his television work, such as Johnny Staccato.

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  • Charity, Tom. John Cassavetes: Lifeworks. London: Omnibus, 2001.

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    Tracing Cassavetes’s schooling and early career before giving a chapter on each of the films, attention is also paid to Cassavetes’s relationship with Gena Rowlands—and the ways in which the two worked together. Charity additionally explores posthumous productions of Cassavetes’s un-filmed scripts. Included is a filmography, a chronology of his stage plays, and of his performances.

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  • Fine, Marshall. Accidental Genius: How John Cassavetes Invented American Independent Film. New York: Hyperion: Miramax, 2005.

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    Attending to Cassavetes’s childhood, his early development as actor and director, and his first three independent films, Fine otherwise covers most of the director’s life and work. A chapter (pp. 125–128) is dedicated to Ray Carney’s discovery of the first version of Shadows (1958), in 2003 and its showing at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2004.

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  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “Both Sides of John Cassavetes.” Jonathan Rosenbaum. 2013.

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    Republished (possibly revised) from The Movie (Volume 65, 1981). The author addresses Cassavetes’s career through Gloria (1980). The overview interweaves the significance of Cassavetes’s performances in other directors’ films with that of his work on his own projects.

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Book-Length Scholarly and Critical Writings

In the following list of books, scholars and critics approach the work of John Cassavetes from numerous angles. Carney 1985 reopens earlier considerations of Cassavetes’s career with a fresh argument for renewed scholarly attention. Carney 1994 then enacts elements of that proposition, pursuing details of individual films, their themes, style, and structure. Carney 2000 makes the case for addressing the director’s works in the context of other art forms. Kouvaros 2004 raises questions regarding what underlying approaches one might bring to assessing Cassavetes’s work in the first place.

  • Carney, Ray. American Dreaming: The Films of John Cassavetes and the American Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

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    Carney offers critical appreciations of Cassavetes’s work up to Gloria (1980). The author considers—at times indirectly, in what he refers to as a “meditation”—ways that the ten films he’s chosen have been overlooked or misunderstood. Included is a chronological filmography with cast lists.

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  • Carney, Ray. John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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    Six entries focus on Cassavetes’s films, not only in terms of their creation and their historical/biographical context but also with an emphasis on their structure and style. Carney writes about how the films engage audiences on sensory levels.

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  • Carney, Ray. John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity. 2d ed. Walpole, MA: Company C, 2000.

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    Carney explores Cassavetes’s films, writing that they are fluid, outside-looking-in, cubistic experiences of character, organized in ways that do not emphasize plot. Each entry ends with cast and primary crew credits as well as historical information about different releases. The book concludes with an interview of Carney, conducted by Michael Fitzhenry.

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  • Kouvaros, George. Where Does It Happen? John Cassavetes and Cinema at the Breaking Point. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

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    The author questions the examination of Cassavetes’s films via an auteurist and/or biographical approach. Kouvaros challenges the suggestion that Love Streams (1984) is a film deeply concerned with Cassavetes’s preceding works. He traces details surrounding alcohol in Cassavetes’s movies, and he touches briefly upon Cassavetes’s direction of Big Trouble (1986).

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Essay-Length Scholarly and Critical Writings

In the list of essays that follows, Carney 1988 examines the difficulties Cassavetes faced when trying to distribute his work. Levich 1993 turns an eye to reception of the films over time. Carney 1989 and Carney 1990 examine approaches to character in the films and to improvisation (as does LoBrutto 1997). Berliner 1999 addresses language in Cassavetes’s films. Wojcik 2000 analyzes effects of actions and words in Cassavetes’s films—but she does so against the backdrop of how jazz music often works. Rosenbaum 2013 posits creative “eras” across Cassavetes’s career. See the commentary paragraph to Overviews of Life and Work for a note on Rosenbaum’s publication dates and potential revisions.

  • Berliner, Todd. “Hollywood Movie Dialogue and the ‘Real Realism’ of John Cassavetes.” Film Quarterly 52.3 (Spring 1999): 2–16.

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    Categorizing the dialogue in American films into five types, Berliner examines dialogue in Cassavetes’s works. He also gives details about methods of improvisation used in Shadows (1958–1959), an instance of it differing from later use in Cassavetes’s work. Additionally, Berliner addresses representations of theater in the director’s works, especially in Opening Night (1977).

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  • Carney, Ray. “Love’s Dreams: The Work of John Cassavetes.” Persistence of Vision 6 (1988): 41–66.

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    Carney traces the difficulties faced when it came to showing films such as A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) in theaters, and he helps to illuminate what biographical details may contribute to the style and form of Love Streams (1984). He also gives close attention to characters and portrayals of emotion.

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  • Carney, Ray. “Complex Characters.” Film Comment 25.3 (May–June 1989): 30–33.

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    An examination of ways that Cassavetes’s films defy traditional cinematic character building and explanatory approaches to motivation. Carney also addresses the near absence of improvisatory performances in Cassavetes’s catalog.

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  • Carney, Ray. “Waking Up in the Dark: Learning from John Cassavetes.” Alaska Quarterly Review 3–4 (1990): 123–133.

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    This essay offers a look at the intensity and fluidity of characters and the ways they experience extremes within Cassavetes’s films. Carney notes the director’s proclivity, except in a few films, to allow the potential for redemption among his characters.

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  • Levich, Jacob. “John Cassavetes: An American Maverick.” Cineaste 20.2 (December 1993): 51–53.

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    A consideration of the critical reception of Cassavetes’s films, especially in light of independent cinema in the late 20th century, Cassavetes is compared to Brecht—not in terms of addressing politics but in his efforts to confound and defy viewers’ expectations.

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  • LoBrutto, Vincent. “John Cassavetes.” Films in Review 48.1–2 (January/February 1997): 6–10.

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    An overview of Cassavetes’s approach to directing, the essay includes specific considerations of editing and improvisation—positing that the latter of the two was constrained to rehearsals rather than occurring during filming. Particular attention is given to Shadows (1959) and the film’s effect upon critics and audiences at the time of its release.

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  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “The Tyranny of Sensitivity.” Jonathan Rosenbaum. 2013.

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    Republished (possibly revised) from The Soho News (18 July 1980) and Placing Movies: the Practice of Film Criticism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). Rosenbaum posits a “jazz period” and a “Gena Rowlands period” in the director’s work. Consideration is also given to misogyny in the films.

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  • Wojcik, Pamela Robertson. “Impromptu Entertainment: Performance Modes in Cassavetes’ Films.” Senses of Cinema 9 (September–October 2000).

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    Wojcik considers notions of realism and improvisation as they inform critical approaches to Cassavetes’s films. She argues that the films are deeply concerned with theatrical behavior—something akin that of the self-reflexive musical. She also addresses whether it is accurate to posit contexts of jazz music when considering Cassavetes’s works.

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The Films

To fully address the works of John Cassavetes, especially in the context of critical and scholarly response, attention is due as well to the film reviews that both contributed to and reflected the critical and popular reception of his output. With that in mind, each film attended to in this section also represents a selection of reviews published about it at the time of release. In instances of significantly differing responses to a film, the selection illustrates the spectrum of different reactions. Also in this section, Shadows is considered in the form of two sub-sections. While Cassavetes edited and recut many of his films prior to and following initial release, his first film was shown in two significantly different ways, eliciting two vastly different kinds of reception, in 1958 and 1959. It is an exception in this way and treated as two distinct works in this section.

Shadows (1958)

The version of Shadows first shown to the public in 1958 was given a limited and brief release. Mekas 1959 is an early and positive evaluation. Johnson 1960 would follow in a similar vein. Though a print of the 1958 version of Shadows eluded critics, scholars, and audiences for decades, in Carney 2004 is his story of discovering what he evaluated to be a copy of the first version. Rosenbaum 2013 explores one critic’s experience of both versions of the film. See the commentary paragraph to Overviews of Life and Work for a note on Rosenbaum’s publication dates and potential revisions. For further consideration of Carney’s work with the 1958 version see Fine 2005, cited under Overviews of Life and Work.

Shadows (1959)

The reshot, reedited 1959 version of Shadows received a larger but still limited release. Mekas 1959 characterizes it as a commercial sellout, and Foreman 1961 refers to it negatively as well. Still, reviews such as Crowther 1961 went on to praise the second version. By the time Hanhardt 1995 appeared, scholars and critics at times placed the film within the context of the Beats, at least in terms of aesthetics and cultural context. Carney 2001 offers a deep look at the second version of the film and addresses some of the evidence identifying which shots were used from first and second rounds of filming. Giddins 2004 addresses setting and other references in the film. Cowie 2004 considers it in light of its creation, influence, and place in the timeline of film technology. Rosenbaum 2013 examines ways that documentary film might register in the contest of Shadows. See the commentary paragraph to Overviews of Life and Work for a note on Rosenbaum’s publication dates and potential revisions.

  • Carney, Ray. Shadows. London: British Film Institute, 2001.

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    Predating Carney’s later discovery of what he evaluated to be the earlier version of Shadows, a tracing of Cassavetes’s first film from concept to postproduction, offering a deep consideration of Shadows (1959) in terms of narrative, characters, and setting. Includes an appendix listing shots from the 1958 version’s shooting period compared to material filmed for the 1959 version.

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  • Cowie, Peter. Revolution! The Explosion of World Cinema in the Sixties. New York: Faber and Faber, 2004.

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    Cowie traces the inception and production of Shadows (1959), and then follows its influence upon directors such as John Korty and Philip Kaufman. He also considers the film in the context of changing cinematic technology in the 1960s. Cowie notes Carl Dreyer’s possible influence on Cassavetes.

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  • Crowther, Bosley. “Film Improvised Under Cassavetes Opens.” New York Times (22 March 1961): 37.

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    The reviewer writes that Shadows is a raw and incomplete film but praises its dynamism and vibrancy.

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  • Foreman, Carl. “The Cost of Independence: An Enquiry.” Sight and Sound 30.3 (Summer 1961): 112.

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    Declaring Shadows to be a film that pulls the wool over the eyes of film critics and audiences, the reviewer further dismisses its script and editing. He attributes the film’s earlier warm reception to good luck and not to the strength of the material.

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  • Giddins, Gary. “Eternal Times Square.” In John Cassavetes: Five Films. By Gary Giddins, 10–13. New York: Criterion Collection, 2004.

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    A consideration of the concept of improvisation—and also authorial approval—in connection with two known versions of Shadows (1958 and 1959). The author also addresses representations of New York City in the films, and ways that language, performances, and the appearance of information regarding other films in Shadows (1959) influences potential understandings of the work.

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  • Hanhardt, John G. “A Movement Toward the Real: Pull My Daisy and the American Independent Film, 1950–65.” In Beat Culture and the New America: 1950–1965. By John G. Hanhardt, 219–223. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995.

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    The author considers Cassavetes’s work in light of the Beat authors, poets, artists, and musicians of the 1950s and early 1960s.

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  • Mekas, Jonas. “Movie Journal.” Village Voice 5.4 (18 November 1959): 12.

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    The review sets the second version of Shadows apart from the first, assessing it to be more commercialized and not as noteworthy as its predecessor.

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  • Mekas, Jonas. “Movie Journal.” Village Voice 5.14 (27 January 1960): 8, 10.

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    While the reviewer proclaims the first version of Shadows to be a groundbreaking American feature film that could “influence and change the tone, subject matter, and style of the entire independent American cinema” (p. 8). He is less enthusiastic about the second version of the work. He evaluates it as a more mainstream Hollywood approach.

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  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “The Savage Eye and Shadows.” Jonathan Rosenbaum. 2013.

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    Republished (possibly revised) from The American New Wave, 1958–1967 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan/Walker Art Center, 1982). The author considers echoes of documentary filmmaking in the second version of Shadows.

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Too Late Blues (1961)

With a major studio publicity department behind it, Too Late Blues got a considerable amount of attention. The reviews were mixed, and they are often unfavorable in comparison to the first version of Cassavetes’s first film—see Tube 1962, Babbin 1962, and especially Mekas 1962). On the other hand, Powers 1962 finds promise in the work. Carney 1995 and Sterritt 1998 touch upon the film in later critical essays, and both Brierly 2013 and Sterritt 2014 offer latter-day appreciations of the work as well.

  • Babbin, Arnold. “Cassavetes’ Latest Not up to First Film.” Hollywood Citizen News, 1 March 1962, p. 11.

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    The reviewer attributes the film’s lack of impact to the screenplay. A question raised is whether Cassavetes can escape “the tag of strictly ‘art house’ director.”

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  • Brierly, Dean. “A Day Late and a Dollar Short: A Lost Cassavetes Classic.” Cinema Retro, 8 October 2013.

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    Brierly argues that the film’s themes, performances, and music deserve more attention—but he also observes that its layered and complicated direction proved untenable to audiences at the time of its release. Cassavetes is quoted on the process of making the film, and what in retrospect he would have done differently.

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  • Carney, Ray. “Escape Velocity: Notes on Beat Film.” In Beat Culture and the New America: 1950–1965. Edited by Lisa Phillips, Maurice Berger, and Whitney Museum of American Art. 202. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995.

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    The author considers Too Late Blues (1961) in the light of Beat art and culture.

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  • Mekas, Jonas. “Movie Journal.” Village Voice, 8 March 1962.

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    The specter of Cassavetes’s first film being a fluke is raised again, and this time by one of his key and early champions in print. Mekas writes: “It is clear by now that the first version of ‘Shadows’ was a workshop project and that the contribution of Cassavetes consisted mainly of a proper coordination of the workshop” (p.13).

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  • Powers, James. “Cassavetes Picture Compelling, Moving: Too Late Blues.” The Hollywood Reporter (10 January 1962): 3.

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    Initial reviews of Too Late Blues strike a favorable note when considering the film on its own terms, casting Cassavetes as a “young showman” whose work is already “compelling, absorbing and moving.”

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  • Sterritt, David. Mad to Be Saved: The Beats, the ‘50s, and Film. Carbondale: South Illinois University Press, 1998.

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    Too Late Blues (1961), even more so than Shadows (1958–1959), is credited— alongside works such as Shirley Clarke’s The Connection (1961) and also Cassavetes’s television acting on Staccato (1959–1960)—with helping introduce Beat aesthetics and ideas to the Hollywood studio system.

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  • Sterritt, David. “New Tunes.” In Too Late Blues. By David Sterritt, 5–18. London: Eureka Masters of Cinema, 2014.

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    An appreciation of the performance and directing of Too Late Blues, the author posits parallels between the main characters and Cassavetes’s coterie of friends and collaborators. Sterritt touches upon jazz music in the film and includes portions of an interview with the director.

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  • Tube. “Too Late Blues: Melodrama with Jazz.” Daily Variety (10 January 1962): 3.

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    The film is characterized as a long, corny melodrama, lacking the “creative virility, fresh spontaneity and raw, uncompromising resourcefulness of ‘Shadows,’ John Cassavetes’ personal artistic triumph.” The criticism is aimed at the screenplay; the direction of the film is still considered noteworthy, as is the score.

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A Child is Waiting (1963)

Cassavetes left the production of A Child is Waiting 1963 partway through filming. In some cases, such as Kauffmann 1963, that left negative criticism to be leveled at it subsequent director, Stanley Kramer. Crowther 1963 offers a buoyant take on the film, and Tube 1963 lauds Cassavetes for the film, suggesting that it is a success.

  • Crowther, Bosley. “The Screen: ‘A Child is Waiting.’” New York Times, 14 February 1963.

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    In some reviewers’ eyes, the story of how A Child is Waiting (1963) was created, and who directed it, was less important than its subject—“a forthright, moving documentation of most unfortunate but hopeful youngsters in a school” (p. 5).

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  • Kauffmann, Stanley. “Films: From Bad to Worse.” New Republic (26 January 1963): 28.

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    Blame for directorial choices evident in A Child is Waiting (1963) is leveled at Stanley Kramer. The reviewer refers to the work as full of “movie cliché” writing that this element undoes what truthfulness or pathos the film might otherwise have conveyed.

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  • Tube. “A Child is Waiting.” Variety 229.8 (16 January 1963): 6.

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    While reviews of A Child is Waiting would focus mostly on its subject matter and/or Stanley Kramer’s handling of it, this reviewer focuses upon Cassavetes’s early contribution to the direction of the film, remarking that under “Cassavetes’ artful, arresting and sensitive direction, the result is a deeply moving and beneficial motion picture achievement.”

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Faces (1968)

Cassavetes’s return to independent filmmaking produced a work that garnered support from some New York–based critics, including Adler 1968, but it also accumulated detractors such as the author of Kael 1970. Kauffmann 1968 maintains that it is a film worth seeing, despite its imperfections. Ruban and Cassavetes 1970 represents an insiders’ look at the film from its creators’ perspectives. Thematic and aesthetic considerations commence with Pierre and Comolli 1986, addressing the potential roles of alcohol in the film. Scholarly examination continues, in Carney 1992, with a look at the ramifications of actions and words in the film. Rassos 2001 is concerned with time in the story, and Klawans 2004 represents a defense and exoneration of the film when it comes to earlier perceived difficulties and flaws.

  • Adler, Renata. “Our ‘Faces,’ Our Secret.” New York Times, 15 September 1968.

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    The reviewer notes the film’s aggressions, its roughness, its bluntness, and its sometimes complicated and dense emotional landscapes. “It does something that nobody else is doing,” she writes, “and does it brilliantly” (p. D1).

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  • Carney, Ray. “Faces.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 37–45.

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    A comparison of Cassavetes’s films and the works of Woody Allen. Carney also explores the difficulties posed by Cassavetes’s characters, narratives, and cinematography. He posits a kind of narrative endemic to Cassavetes’s films—one concerned primarily with the expanding ramifications of actions and words.

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  • Kael, Pauline. “The Corrupt and the Primitive.” In Going Steady. By Pauline Kael, 193–199. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1970.

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    Characterizing the film as “so dumb, so crudely conceived, and so badly performed that the audience practically burns incense” (p. 201), Kael accuses viewers who appreciate the work of hiding their embarrassment about what she alleges to be its failures.

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  • Kauffmann, Stanley. “Stanley Kauffmann on Film: Making Faces.” New Republic 159.24 (14 December 1968): 26.

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    The reviewer suggests that Cassavetes perhaps did not always take his vision of the film far enough, that the director’s “ruthless honesty seems to me somewhat compromised.” Most of this commentary is directed at certain interactions between particular characters. The review is mainly positive, however.

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  • Klawans, Stuart. “John Cassavetes: Masks and Faces.” In John Cassavetes: Five Films. By Stewart Klawans, 18–19. New York: Criterion Collection, 2004.

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    An argument that Faces (1968) is an echo of pre-Code Hollywood, an example of imperfect naturalistic cinema, and marked by a series of turning points that reset tone and motivation. Klawans refers to these shifts as “un-maskings,” and he lists them and posits their effects. He also addresses the 1960s aesthetics of the film.

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  • Pierre, Sylvie, and Jean Louis Comolli. “Two Faces of Faces.” In Cahiers du Cinéma: 1960–1968; New Wave, New Cinema, Reevaluating Hollywood. Edited by Jim Hillier, 324–327. Translated by Annwyl Williams. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.

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    Reprinting of an article from 1968 (Cahiers du Cinéma 205). Comparing the film to the work of Godard and others, Pierre writes that it exemplifies emptiness and that its aesthetics and themes are intertwined with (and emulate) effects of alcohol. Comolli writes that the work resists what he suggests are cinema’s familiar approaches to descriptive action.

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  • Rassos, Effie. “Performing the Everyday: Time and Affect in John Cassavetes’ Faces.” Senses of Cinema 16 (September–October 2001).

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    Focusing on two scenes, Rassos considers the effect of time on the viewer’s experience of Faces (1968). She explores this in terms of audience expectations and classical cinematic narrative.

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  • Ruban, Al, and John Cassavetes. Faces. Compiled by Al Ruban. New York: New American Library, 1970.

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    In his own words, the co-producer of Faces (1968) writes about the production and editing of the film, including details about three versions Cassavetes created at the editing bay. In another section of the book, he gives technical notes on the film, with sequence-by-sequence notes. The script is presented in a facing-page format—final-edit opposite earlier text.

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Husbands (1970)

With Husbands (1970), critical and scholarly reactions, plus the nature of improvisation and cinéma vérité, again become focal points when considering Cassavetes’s work. Rick 1970 and other reviewers object to the film’s length and editing. Sarris 1970 questions the future of filmmaking in the Cassavetes style. Zimmerman 1970 admires the camerawork but deplores the running time. Carney 1992 considers the scene as a unit in which structure can take different forms. This approach is echoed in Zucker 1992, where the focus is improvisation. See the Powell 1971 for additional footage from Husbands, and see Chase 1975 for examinations of how the director worked with his cast.

  • Carney, Ray. “Husbands.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 46–52.

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    A consideration of influences at work in Cassavetes’s films and of the elements of documentary the director’s style can suggest. Carney also writes about the construction and development of the scene as a unit in the film, and he compares Cassavetes’s work to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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  • Chase, Donald. “The Actor.” In Filmmaking: The Collaborative Art. Edited by James Powers, 94, 107, 110–111. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.

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    The subject is Cassavetes’s work on Husbands (1970) as director and performer. Chase also writes about the performances in the film.

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  • Powell, Tristram, dir. The Making of Husbands. London: BBC, 1971.

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    Part of the fifth season of BBC’s Omnibus (1967–2003) series, this documentary depicts the improvisatory development of the script by the director and actors. In the film, Cassavetes talks about his direction, performance, and about the nature of the relationship between actor and director.

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  • Rick. “Husbands.” Variety, 4 November 1970, p. 26.

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    Reviewers at times saw differing cuts of Cassavetes’s films. Rick describes a 154-minute version of Husbands that “was obviously in a transitory state of editing with no end credits.” His opinion is that although the cut is overlong and self-indulgent, within it there is to be found “a major work of cinematic and dramatic art.”

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  • Sarris, Andrew. “Films in Focus.” Village Voice, 10 December 1970.

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    Notable in Sarris’s take on the film is an observation about Cassavetes’s creative process: Sarris considers the director’s collaborative relationship with his actors. He cautions that Cassavetes may not achieve “the formal summit of dramatic and cinematic art” (p. 69) if he continues to work in such a way.

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  • Zimmerman, Paul D. “Three Musketeers.” Newsweek 76.25 (21 December 1970): 100.

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    The reviewer lifts the film to a place of achievement above that of Shadows, addressing its photography in particular. Again, however, the two-and-a half-hour length of the work is an obstacle to full endorsement.

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  • Zucker, Carole. “The Illusion of the Ordinary: John Cassavetes and the Transgressive Impulse in Performance and Style.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 20–26.

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    Focusing on the barroom scene in Husbands (1970), Zucker argues that characteristics of Cassavetes’s films—cinematography, editing, performance, and sound—set his work apart in significant ways regarding narrative. The effect of his films, she posits, is similar to that of cinéma vérité.

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Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)

Critics tended to address Minnie and Moskowitz as a film more conventional in its presentation than Cassavetes’s previous efforts—and more comedic than the director’s prior works. There is praise to be found in pieces such as Cooper 1971 but also criticism as in Cocks 1971 and, more severely, Murf 1971. Carney 1992 draws comparisons between Cassavetes and other writers and directors, including Tennessee Williams and Frank Capra.

  • Carney, Ray. “Minnie and Moskowitz.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 52–58.

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    A comparison of the film with Tennessee Williams’s play, The Rose Tattoo (1951), and also with the films of Frank Capra. Focusing on its narrative and stylistic details, Carney explores the first sequence of Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) in detail. Reference is made to the ways Cassavetes’s work relates to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings.

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  • Cocks, Jay. “Cinema: An Anodyne to Loneliness.” Time 98.26 (27 December 1971): 58.

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    When reviewers praised Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) they described it as evidencing a contained and controlled hand at the helm. The writer points out, however, that its pacing seemed slow and that the film was at times repetitive.

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  • Cooper, Arthur. “Happiness is an Old Hippie.” Newsweek 78.26 (27 December 1971): 62.

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    The reviewer proclaims Cassavetes to be “the poet laureate of loneliness with his Edward Hopper-like shots of all-night cafés and neon cocktail signs.” Cooper highlights Gena Rowlands’s performance as Minnie.

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  • Murf. “Minnie and Moskowitz.” Variety 265.6 (22 December 1971): 6.

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    The writer describes the film to be “oppressive,” “irritating,” and “shrill,” referring to the “numbing hysteria” of its acting and Cassavetes’s direction—or “his now-familiar home-movie improvisational and indulgent style.”

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A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

A selection of what critics published about this film—including Haskell 1974 and Kael 1974—suggests that distaste for Cassavetes’s latest offering was evident among prominent film reviewers in the United States. Sterritt 1974 praises the film, by comparison, as does Higham 1975. Even those who had been kinder to his earlier works, such as the author of Kauffmann 1974, leveled not-so-friendly words upon the film. When scholars wrote about it later, however, A Woman Under the Influence’s position within Cassavetes’s body of work is recast as significant, especially in terms of performances. Carney 1992 illuminates some of the business struggles it took to get Gena Rowlands’s blistering portrayal of Mabel into cinemas. Jones 2004 posits the film as a landmark achievement for Cassevetes. LoBrutto 2005 considers different definitions of independent film, and A Woman Under the Influence, within those contexts.

  • Carney, Ray. “A Woman Under the Influence.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 58–65.

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    Tracing the origins of the film’s script, Carney describes the director’s efforts to secure its distribution. He gives much attention to the character of Mabel, and he touches upon the film’s camerawork, specifically in connection with its thematic elements.

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  • Haskell, Molly. “Some W-Pluses for a Change.” Village Voice, 21 November 1974.

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    Characterizing Cassavetes’s work as a “Cinema of Embarrassment,” the reviewer likens A Woman Under the Influence (1974) to a “gallery of grotesques” (p. 137). She further suggests that Cassavetes places more value on emotions than thoughts or words and that he does not invest his characters with intellectual faculties.

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  • Higham, Charles. “The Family That Films Together May Win Oscars Together.” New York Times, 6 April 1975.

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    The film is held up as a success. The reviewer lauds the depictions of pain and disappointment that Cassavetes and Rowlands manage to create with its main character. He also suggests the director’s unwillingness to compromise means the film will not receive conventional studio distribution.

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  • Jones, Kent. “The War at Home.” In John Cassavetes: Five Films. By John Cassavetes, 28–31. New York: Criterion Collection, 2004.

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    Positioning A Woman Under the Influence (1974) as one of Cassavetes’s most significant works, Kent argues against critics who decry the form and content of the films. He explores Cassavetes’s relationship with performance, and how the director emphasizes small details of actors’ decisions. Considerations include comparisons to the works of Carl Theodor Dreyer and Martin Scorsese.

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  • Kael, Pauline. “The Current Cinema: Dames.” The New Yorker, 9 December 1974, 172–177.

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    The writer describes the film as directionless and meaningless, “a murky, ragmop movie . . . We often can’t tell whether the characters are meant to be unconscious of what they’re doing, or whether it’s Cassavetes who’s unconscious” (p. 172).

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  • Kauffmann, Stanley. “Stanley Kauffmann on Film: A Woman Under the Influence.” The New Republic 171.125 (28 December 1974): 20.

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    Another tactic that reviewers took in writing about not only A Woman Under the Influence (1974), but also about Cassavetes’ films in general, was to lump favorable reviewers into a negative category. In this case, the writer first questions the director’s “definition of truth” and then suggests that critics who appreciate the film are sentimental apologists.

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  • LoBrutto, Vincent. “Independent Filmmaking: A Woman Under the Influence.” In Becoming Film Literate: The Art and Craft of Motion Pictures. By Vincent LoBrutto, 333–338. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005.

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    Making the distinction between independent film as a modern Hollywood genre and independent filmmaking that represents a method and result apart from the studio system, LoBrutto makes that case that Cassavetes’s work is primarily of the latter kind. Within that context, he examines A Woman Under the Influence (1974) along the lines of performance, photography, editing, and music.

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  • Sterritt, David. “Proud, Joyful Study of a Woman.” Christian Science Monitor (27 November 1974): 12.

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    Sterritt particularly praises Gena Rowlands’s performance, and concludes that A Woman Under the Influence (1974) is a major achievement in Cassavetes’s catalogue. “A flawed and slightly lopsided diamond, to be sure. But one that deserves to be seen by every grownup with the price of a ticket.”

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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

When it comes to reviews of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Sterritt 1976 is one place that researchers will find a somewhat gentle hand. From Canby 1976 to Anonymous 1976, however, writers took every opportunity to criticize the film. Carney 1987, however, marks a change in approach, considering the work in terms of its resistance to narrative structure and the subversion of conventions of genre. Carney 1992 gives further consideration to the film’s setting and positing an autobiographical reading of its story and character choices—an opinion the actor Ben Gazzara echoes in Smith 1989 (cited under Cassavetes and Collaborators). Lopate 2004 presents a defense of the film against almost all the negative points that its reviewers raised nearly thirty years prior.

  • Anonymous. “Review of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.” Playboy 23.6 (June 1976): 38.

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    The reviewer, who finds the film repetitive and no longer original in light of Cassavetes’s preceding body of work, suggests “he has set a trap for himself, too, by blindly conforming to his own tried and true bad habits.”

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  • Canby, Vincent. “Screen: ‘Chinese Bookie.’” New York Times, 16 February 1976.

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    Suggests that Cassavetes is both trying to confuse the audience with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and that the director is unwilling to think through the story he means to tell.

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  • Carney, Ray. “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.” In Magill’s Cinema Annual: 1987; A Survey of the Films of 1986. Edited by Frank N. Magill, 549–555. Pasadena, CA: Salem, 1987.

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    Discussing conventional narrative details, Carney positions The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) outside such a structure. He also suggests that Cassavetes subverts the genre of film noir. He gives the character of Cosmo a biographical reading, suggesting it to be a kind of directorial self-portrait. The essay is followed by a bibliography of reviews.

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  • Carney, Ray. “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 65–77.

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    A comparison of Ben Gazzara’s performance to performances by Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, and Marlon Brando in other films. Carney suggests that the Crazy Horse West nightclub echoes other locations and ideas in the director’s works. He further compares the film to the writings of William James and those of Frank Capra.

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  • Lopate, Phillip. “The Raw and the Cooked.” In John Cassavetes: Five Films. By Phillip Lopate, 35–37. New York: Criterion Collection, 2004.

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    The author argues that The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) is a model of efficiency and structure and that it satisfies both the narrative and thematic demands of a genre piece. Lopate also considers Cassavetes’s directorial style and his approach to messy, frustrating, and at times inconvenient characters and performances.

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  • Sterritt, David. “John Cassavetes: ‘A Requiem for a Lightweight’.” Christian Science Monitor (5 March 1976): 31.

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    Some reviewers characterized the film as sad and at times eerie. Sterritt described The Killing of a Chinese Bookie as “quirky, eccentric, flawed” (p. 31).

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Opening Night (1977)

Opening Night (1977) was not widely distributed until 1991. Reviewers who did see the film around the time of its completion attended limited or one-off screenings in Los Angeles; Washington, DC; and Portland, Oregon. Among the reviews that emerged, Arnold 1978 and Kinder 1978 are not kind, but Hege 1977 does suggest the film deserves to find an audience. Carney 1992 takes up the subjects of camerawork, editing, and literary influences in the film. Scholars and critics would later make much of Gena Rowlands’s performance in the film—see Katzman 1989, Brooks 2001, and Lim 2004.

  • Arnold, Gary. “‘Opening’: A Glorified Home Movie.” Washington Post, 15 April 1978.

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    The critic posits that Cassavetes made Opening Night (1977) as a vanity project to showcase himself and Gena Rowlands. He suggests that the director should make a sitcom so that he would be too busy to make more films.

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  • Brooks, Jodi. “Performing Aging/Performance Crisis (for Norma Desmond, Baby Jane, Margo Channing, Sister George, and Myrtle).” Senses of Cinema 16 (September–October 2001).

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    Reprinting the essay from Figuring Age: Women, Bodies, Generations (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). The essay considers characters that are aging actresses confronting their status as professionals in Hollywood. She examines Myrtle, of Cassavetes’s Opening Night (1977) in the light of other representations of older women characters, including examples from All About Eve (1950), and Sunset Boulevard (1950).

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  • Carney, Ray. “Opening Night.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 77–90.

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    Addressing the main character, Myrtle, in her states of extremity, and comparing her to Mabel in A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Carney also writes about moments of disorientation created by the camerawork and editing. He examines the setting of the film and suggests comparisons to the writings of William Shakespeare and Anton Chekhov.

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  • Hege. Variety (28 December 1977): 14.

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    Argues that Cassavetes’s highly personal work is not meant for general audiences and that it is accessible only to the director’s small and exclusive segment of enthusiasts. The reviewer suggests that most will find Opening Night “shrill, puzzling, depressing, and overlong” and that audiences have “seen enough of Cassavetes’ characters.”

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  • Katzman, Lisa. “‘Opening Night’: Moment by Moment.” Film Comment 25.3 (May–June 1989): 34–39.

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    A brief look at Cassavetes’s early career and visual style, followed by an examination of hyper-reality and the extraordinary in the director’s films. Katzman touches upon melodrama, madness, aging, and love in this film and others by Cassavetes.

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  • Kinder, Marsha. “Opening Night.” Film Quarterly 31.4 (Summer 1978): 50–52.

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    Kinder questions the nature and meaning of the film—particularly wondering what Cassavetes intended with his depictions of neurosis and madness in the film.

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  • Lim, Dennis. “The Play’s the Thing.” In John Cassavetes: Five Films. By Dennis Lim, 43–45. New York: Criterion Collection, 2004.

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    A celebration of Gena Rowlands’s performance and a synopsis of her character’s arc, Lim posits the film’s influence on directors such as Pedro Almodóvar and Arnaud Desplechin.

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Gloria (1980)

Revisiting the gangster/action genre, this time Cassavetes mostly pleased reviewers. Whereas Canby 1980 is critical of the work, Champlan 1980 and Moskowitz 1980 hail it as an accessible film. In Stevenson 1980, the researcher will find interviews and production details. Sarris 1980 posits a question about whether Gloria is well made or only a celebrated change of pace by Cassavetes. Combs 1981 posits that Cassavetes was courting a wider audience with his approach to Gloria. In Carney 1988, the scholar suggests that the film represents both an accessible narrative and a well-received shift of tone.

  • Canby, Vincent. “Film: Cassavetes’ ‘Gloria,’ Moll and a Boy.” New York Times, 1 October 1980.

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    Initial reviews characterized the film as a peculiar mix of Hollywood-style filmmaking and daring direction. The writer concludes at a kind of middle ground: “It has its charms but not for a moment is it believable. . . Whether or not it’s supposed to be moving, I don’t know” (p. C19).

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  • Carney, Ray. “Gloria.” In Magill’s Cinema Annual: 1988; A Survey of the Films of 1987. Edited by Frank N. Magill, 458–462. Pasadena, CA, and Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem, 1988.

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    Positing that Gloria is Cassavetes’s most accessible film, Carney explores how the nature of its plot affords the director space and time to present complexities and confusions of character. He also focuses on the film’s emotional and physical content, and on the fluidity of self in the story’s milieu.

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  • Champlan, Charles. “‘Gloria’: To Know Her is to Love Her.” Los Angeles Times, 19 October 1980.

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    Some reviewers lauded Gloria (1980) as a success, maintaining that the action-oriented story amounted to the “the most startlingly accessible and likeable film of [Cassavetes’] career” (p. P37).

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  • Combs, Richard. “Hell Up in the Bronx: Richard Combs Reviews Gloria and Raging Bull.” Sight and Sound 50.2 (Spring 1981): 128.

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    Yet another take on Gloria is that Cassavetes was courting a favorable audience. In that light, Combs points out that “Cassavetes’ tactic, as with the gangster elements, is not to pretend that . . . cliché doesn’t exist, but to exaggerate it to the point where it becomes its own truth” (p. 128).

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  • Moskowitz, Gene. “Venice Film Fest Reviews: Gloria.” Variety (10 September 1980): 30.

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    Writers considered why Gloria (1980) might be more accessible to audiences than Cassavetes’s previous works. In this case, the reviewer notes the absence of directorial probing on Cassavetes’s part, describes the camera as less intrusive, and suggests that human disarray and problems are portrayed at a greater emotional distance.

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  • Sarris, Andrew. “Films in Focus: Venice, Cannes, and New York: Life is a Film Festival.” Village Voice, 24 September 1980.

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    Other reviewers were not as receptive to Cassavetes’s approach to Gloria. While praising past works by the director, the writer suggests that Gloria is “soft as mush.” (45)

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  • Stevenson, James. “John Cassavetes: Film’s Bad Boy.” American Film 5 (January–February 1980): 44–48; 79.

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    Stevenson interviews the film’s production managers and set directors, and he reports his observations regarding Cassavetes’s direction. Interviewed, producer Sam Shaw talks about the director’s style and preference for non-specific storytelling. Cassavetes talks about the genesis of Gloria, how he came to direct it, and the filmmaking process behind it.

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Love Streams (1984)

In his last independent film, Cassavetes returned to the characteristic style and approach he’d implemented throughout most of his career. This time, many reviewers lauded the effort. Maslin 1984 regards the film as balanced and carried by Cassavetes’s stylistic strengths. Sterritt 1984 finds it sometimes challenging but worthy of note, and Variety 1984 lauds it as one of the director’s best. Carney 1985 and Carney 1992 both offer considerations of the film in a biographical light, emphasizing the later and end-of-career nature of the film. Ventura 1989 takes viewers deep into the production process. Kouvaros and Zwierzynski 1992 gives attention to the position of Love Streams within Cassavetes’s body of work, addressing its continuance of the director’s resistance to traditional narrative storytelling.

  • Anonymous. “Love Streams.” Variety 314.5 (30 October 1984): 14.

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    Familiar critiques of long running times and repetitive moments arise in the reviewer’s take on Love Streams, but the film is also lauded as one of Cassavetes’s best—“emotionally potent, technically assured and often brilliantly insightful . . . The dramatic rollercoaster ride of frightening and funny moments leave little room for indifference.”

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  • Carney, Ray. “Love Streams.” In Magill’s Cinema Annual: 1985: A Survey of 1984 Films. Edited by Frank N. Magill, 293–302. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem, 1985.

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    Carney posits that Love Streams’ final scenes are not only allusive to Shakespeare’s The Tempest but also deeply connected to the idea of Cassavetes’s farewell to moviemaking. The author examines other visual elements and themes of the film as well.

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  • Carney, Ray. “Love Streams.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 90–98.

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    Carney considers the film as an end-of-life statement by Cassavetes, one that echoes the director’s other works. He further considers Cassavetes’s works when it comes to improvisation, and he draws connections between Love Streams (1984) and ideas found in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James.

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  • Kouvaros, George, and Janice Zwierzynski. “Blow to the Heart: Cassavetes’ Love Streams.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 27–36.

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    The authors position Cassavetes’s films in opposition to the kind of cinema that supplies unity and resolution in its narratives. Kouvaros and Zwierzynski also give attention to thematic elements of Love Streams (1984), comparing them to those of Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), Opening Night (1977), and Gloria (1980).

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  • Maslin, Janet. “Film: ‘Love Streams,’ With John Cassavetes.” New York Times, 24 August 1984.

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    A balance can be found, according to the reviewer, between the excesses and idiosyncrasies of Cassavetes’s films and the magnetism of his vision for character and story. Maslin writes that, in Love Streams, “he is able to galvanize a long, rambling, quirky psychodrama through sheer force of personality” (p. C8).

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  • Sterritt, David. “Cassavetes: Cascades of Emotion.” Christian Science Monitor (1 October 1984): 31.

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    The writer describes the photography and emotional content of the film as linked. Even when the narrative is confusing, Sterritt notes, “bursts of incoherence are the price one pays for entering the profoundly emotional world of Cassavetes, the most purely instinctive artist working in feature films today” (p. 31).

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  • Ventura, Michael, dir. “I’m Almost Not Crazy . . .”: John Cassavetes; The Man and His Work. Cannon Video, 1989.

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    A documentary featuring on-set footage of Cassavetes during the making of Love Streams (1984) and several interview segments with the director, the cast, and members of the crew. Cassavetes also discusses the making of Shadows (1958–1959), Faces (1968), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), and Opening Night (1977).

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Big Trouble (1986)

Critics continued what was now a three-film run of greater warmth and receptivity for Cassavetes’s work. Canby 1986 leads the sequence of positive responses and concludes by putting the film on his shortlist of noteworthy entries in 1986. As is the case with other studio-system films from Cassavetes, at least one reviewer (see Binn 1986) wonders whether Big Trouble is a compromised work. Notably, given the critic’s prior writings about Cassavetes’s works, Sterritt 1986 places Big Trouble in a different category than that of the director’s independently made works, referring to it as a real movie by comparison.

  • Binn. “Big Trouble.” Variety (4 June 1986): 16, 18.

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    The reviewer notes that Big Trouble (1986) is a different kind of film from those Cassavetes has been known to make. The result, in the writer’s estimation, is a credible work but also one with a tamer, milder tone. He suggests that audiences might respond to it with apathy.

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  • Canby, Vincent. “Screen: Big Trouble, With Arkin and Falk.” New York Times, 30 May 1986.

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    A critical expression of relief, in that Big Trouble turns out to be a simpler film than others in Cassavetes’s oeuvre. The reviewer writes that the film is a comedy about friendship rather than “an exhausting analysis of them” in the way, he suggests, of Husbands (1970).

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  • Sterritt, David. “Freeze Frames: Big Trouble.” Christian Science Monitor (6 June 1986): 25.

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    The reviewer draws a line between Big Trouble (1986) — calling it a “real movie” — and the other “cinematic experiments he’s noted for.” (25)

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Plays and Other Works

John Cassavetes’s works for the stage are particularly notable within his career in that many of them, according to Fine 2005 (cited under Overviews of Life and Work), are deeply intertwined with his works for the screen. Some of these works, and at least one screenplay, have also been produced for the stage or screen posthumously, following Cassavetes’s death in 1989. In addition to the reviews given in each subsection that follow, Carney 1989 addresses the scale and scope of the stage work. Rosenbaum 2013 examines the director’s career in light of how play scripts and screenplays intertwined throughout it. See the commentary paragraph to Overviews of Life and Work for a note on Rosenbaum’s publication dates and potential revisions.

  • Carney, Ray. “Unfinished Business.” Film Comment 25.3 (May–June 1989): 48–49.

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    Noting the theatrical origins of A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and attending to Three Plays of Love and Hate (1984), Carney gives attention to Cassavetes’s other plays, including East/West Game (1980), Son (1985), Woman of Mystery (1987), and Begin the Beguine (1987). He also addresses screenplays for Gloria II and She’s Delovely (see She’s So Lovely [1997]).

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  • Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “John Cassavetes Obituary.” Jonathan Rosenbaum. 2013.

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    Republished (possibly revised) from Sight and Sound (Spring 1989). Rosenbaum considers Cassavetes’s career in light of his play scripts and their relationships with his films. He also posits the director’s work as something other than that of a realist auteur, describing it to be more like a look into the nature of mediocrity and incoherence among human characteristics.

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Three Plays of Love and Hate: Love Streams, The Third Day Comes, Knives (1984)

Reviewers detected that the entries in this trilogy of plays began as scripts for the screen. Drake 1981 levels the majority of her criticism at the Ted Allan portion of the program —Allan wrote The Third Day Comes—but she also dislikes the stage version of Love Streams (1984). Sullivan 1981 sees the potential for a future film in some of the material, but he is otherwise dismissive of the work. Christon 1981 pulls no punches: he derides the entire production.

Woman of Mystery (1987)

This work by Cassavetes played at the Court Theater in Beverly Hills in 1987. In response, Sullivan 1987 finds it lacking, suggesting its cast is better than the writing. Rosenbaum 2013 further explores details surrounding the history and reception of the play. See the commentary paragraph to Overviews of Life and Work for a note on Rosenbaum’s publication dates and potential revisions.

She’s So Lovely (1997)

Nick Cassavetes, John Cassavetes’s son, directed She’s So Lovely based on an unfilmed script of his father’s. Rosenbaum 2013 examines Nick Cassavetes’s 1997 production for the screen, comparing it to what he proposes the father might have done with the material.

Begin the Beguine (2015)

A play script by Cassavetes, dating to 1987, a posthumous production for the stage of Begin the Beguine premiered in 2015 at the Akademietheater in Vienna, directed by Jan Lauwers. In a review, D. S. K. 2015 suggests a connection between the play and Husbands (1970).

Cassavetes as Actor

Cassavetes’s acting career included performances in numerous projects other than his own films and plays. Smith 1989 is a helpful overview of this phase of Cassavetes’s work. Mazursky 1999 takes us deeper into his work in front of the lens.

Interviews with Cassavetes

Artists speaking to writers about their own lives and works can both illuminate and also confuse details of their careers—sometimes intentionally, sometimes by accident. Bosworth 1968 may be an instance of where confusion occurs. Otherwise, Franklin and Franklin 1959 is one of the earliest chances to apprehend how Cassavetes characterized his work and the milieu he worked in. Young and Bachmann 2014 put the director on the record about early films. Mekas 1971 is a significant interview where Cassavetes addresses the negative reception of his films (Pasquariello 1975 picks up this thread as well). McNally 1975 offers Cassavetes’s approach to A Woman Under the Influence (1974). Scholars have suggested echoes of Frank Capra’s films in Cassavetes’s work. In Dasgupta 1975, the director talks about Capra and other influences. Researchers seeking further interview material should also see Stevenson 1980 (in the section Gloria (1980)); Ventura 1989 (cited under Love Streams (1984)); Carney 2001 (cited under Overviews of Life and Work); and Carney 2000 (cited under Book-Length Scholarly and Critical Writings).

  • Bosworth, Patricia. “Cassavetes: Why Do Marriages Go Sour?” New York Times, 1 December 1968.

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    Cassavetes discusses his early films. He talks about marriage in America, and the art film in Hollywood, mentioning some of his influences. In correspondence and conversation surrounding the creation of this bibliography, Ray Carney assessed several biographical inaccuracies concerning Cassavetes’s family life, college details, and dates—all of these found in Bosworth’s summary section of the article.

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  • Dasgupta, Gautam. “A Director of Influence.” Film 2.26 (May 1975): 4–6.

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    An in-depth conversation about A Woman Under the Influence (1974), exploring the creation of the film in comparison to the director’s earlier works. Consideration is also given to Cassavetes’s goals as a filmmaker, his admiration of Frank Capra, and his concepts of sentimentality and (neo-)realism.

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  • Franklin, Bob, and Joan Franklin. Interview with John Cassavetes: Oral History Research Office. New York: Columbia University, 1959.

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    Ray Carney transcribed this interview c. 2007. Speaking in 1959, Cassavetes talks about his childhood, his decision to become an actor, and his unsuccessful attempts to attend three different colleges. He gives observations on the craft of acting, his early work as an actor, and on the nature of theater and of Hollywood at the time.

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  • Mekas, Jonas. “Movie Journal.” Village Voice, 23 December 1971.

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    Cassavetes discusses Minnie and Moskowitz (1970), talking about improvisation as a tool in the preparation of his films and in his earlier works. Mekas probes him on the sometimes negative reactions to his films: Cassavetes suggests that American culture is dead.

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  • McNally, Judith. “A Woman Under the Influence: An Interview with John Cassavetes.” Filmmaker’s Newsletter 8 (January 1975): 23–27.

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    The director describes A Woman Under the Influence (1974) to be a kind of reporting, a film presenting the subject of human emotions as a kind of news. He talks about his actors, and his child actors, and he considers the cinematography of the film. Also discussed is Cassavetes’s relationship with Hollywood.

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  • Pasquariello, Nicholas. “John Cassavetes: I Really Like What I Do.” Weekly Californian, 18–25 April 1975.

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    An in-depth discussion of independent cinema, Cassavetes talks about the audiences for independent films and for his own work. He also talks about his efforts to distribute his recent work.

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  • Young, Colin, and Gideon Bachmann. Too Late Blues. London: Eureka Masters of Cinema, 2014.

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    Reprinting “New Wave—or Gestures? John Cassavetes,” Film Quarterly 14.3 (Spring 1961): 6–14. Cassavetes describes the making of Shadows (1958–1959, including the work’s improvisatory nature and its two phases of shooting. Cassavetes compares the second version to the first. Also discussed: Too Late Blues (1961).

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Cassavetes in His Own Words

John Cassavetes also addressed his films in the first person in print. Cassavetes 1959 is an early declaration of intention, irritation, and vision. The two versions of Shadows (1958–1959) are addressed in Cassavetes 1961. A decade later, Cassavetes 1970 addresses his early studio efforts with Too Late Blues (1961) and A Child is Waiting (1963). Cassavetes 1973 provides a close look at Minnie and Moskowitz (1971).

  • Cassavetes, John. “What’s Wrong with Hollywood.” Film Culture 19 (1959): 4–5.

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    The director asserts that Hollywood fails to explore new ideas and directions in the films it produces. He argues against artists compromising their vision to satisfy producers, and he calls for producers to not interfere with artists in the making of the films.

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  • Cassavetes, John. “. . . and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Films and Filming 7 (February 1961): 7–8; 36.

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    Cassavetes says that Shadows (1958–1959) was an experiment in improvised dialogue and physical performance. He explains the two versions of the film and why they exist. He also talks about his influences, Hollywood, and how his employment in television facilitated his eventual move into directing feature films.

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  • Cassavetes, John. Faces. New York: New American Library, 1970.

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    In the introduction Cassavetes describes the early part of his career, his work as an actor in film, and his roles on television and stage. He notes his experiences with Too Late Blues (1961) and A Child is Waiting (1963). He describes the writing, production, and direction of Faces (1968).

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  • Cassavetes, John. Minnie and Moskowitz. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow, 1973.

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    In the introduction the director addresses the genesis of the screenplay of Minnie and Moskowitz (1971). He examines the major characters of the film, and, in some cases, considers what they mean to him. The introduction concludes with Cassavetes’s ideas regarding the themes of the film.

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Cassavetes and Collaborators

The films of John Cassavetes are populated with collaborators, and many of them played numerous roles throughout his career. Smith 1989 brings Ben Gazzara to the table, considering his role in Husbands (1970) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Walker 1989 considers Gena Rowlands’s career—and its possible future—in light of Cassavetes’s death. Viera 1992 is a long talk with Al Ruban, who was the cameraman for Cassavetes throughout his career, and with Seymour Cassel, who played many different characters across the arc of the director’s films. Brierly 2014 gives evidence that improvisation was not an on-camera practice on a Cassavetes’s set. Raksin 2014 offers insights about the process of scoring a Cassavetes film. Green 2014 looks at ways that Cassavetes and company’s off-screen choices could impact their films.

  • Brierly, Dean. Too Late Blues. London: Eureka Masters of Cinema, 2014.

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    Reveals significant details about improvisation on the set of Too Late Blues (1961)—chiefly, that little to none occurred—and about Cassavetes’s directorial approach.

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  • Green, Elon. “Dick Cavett’s Worst Show.” The New Yorker (29 May 2014).

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    Cavett gives an account of the apparently inebriated appearance of Cassavetes, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara on his talk show. A significant detail includes that of the producer of Husbands (1970), the film the three men were on the show to promote, asserting that the trio hurt ticket sales by their actions. Includes video of the appearance.

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  • Raksin, David. “And That Ain’t All.” In Too Late Blues. By David Raksin, 31–37. London: Eureka Masters of Cinema, 2014.

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    Excerpted from The Bad and the Beautiful: My Life in a Golden Age of Film Music (self-published, Alex Raksin, 2012), the composer recounts his experiences working with Cassavetes to first improvise and then compose and record jazz music for the soundtrack of Too Late Blues (1961).

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  • Smith, Gavin. “Fun with Ben and John.” Film Comment 25.3 (May–June 1989): 46–47.

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    In an interview focusing on actor Ben Gazzara’s work with Cassavetes, the actor seeks to dispel the mythology of improvisation that followed Cassavetes, and he describes collaborating on the script for Husbands (1970). Gazzara suggests that some parts of Cassavetes’s films may serve as metaphors for the director’s experiences of making art.

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  • Viera, Maria. “Cassavetes Working Methods: Interviews with Al Ruban and Seymour Cassel.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 14–19.

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    Covering Seymour Cassel’s and Al Ruban’s memories of rehearsal, camera techniques, and the creative environment of the director’s sets. The two talk about Cassavetes’s tendency to shoot generous amounts of footage and about his methods when it came to acting in his own films.

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  • Walker, Beverly. “Woman of Influence: Gena.” Film Comment 25.3 (May–June 1989): 42–43.

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    Juxtaposing the kinds of characters that Gena Rowlands played throughout her career against the femme fatales that Hollywood actresses more often played, Walker attributes a significant advantage in Rowlands’s available choices to John Cassavetes. She gives further consideration to their working relationship, and, briefly, to what might become of her career following Cassavetes’s death.

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Interviews with Scholars of Cassavetes’s Work

Two scholars of note, when it comes to writings about John Cassavetes and his films, are George Kouvaros and Ray Carney. Islam 2000 explores Kouvaros’s view of Cassavetes’s films and characters. Friedman 2005 interviews Carney at length regarding his ideas and opinions about Cassavetes, about scholarship, and about audiences’ ability to view Cassavetes’s films (in terms of their availability; the Rotterdam film festival and events surrounding the early version of Shadows (1958–1959) were still recent, at the time of the interview).

  • Friedman, Shelley. “An Interview with Ray Carney: Warning: Life Altering, Illusion Shattering Material Enclosed.” In Your Life is a Movie: Alternative Visions of Film, Media, and Culture; The Best of SolPix, 2002–2005. By Shelley Friedman, 21–81. Washington, DC: Del Sol, 2005.

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    Carney gives details about his experiences as a scholar of the director’s films. He talks about other critical writings about Cassavetes, and he discusses omissions and errors that have become part of some of those works. He talks as well about Cassavetes’s estate, and about decisions regarding the availability of alternate versions of the director’s films.

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  • Islam, Needeya. “The Cinematic Life of Emotions: John Cassavetes: George Kouvaros Interviewed.” Senses of Cinema 5 (April 2000).

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    Kouvaros talks about the potential of Cassavetes’s films to amplify and transform an audience’s reception of the everyday, and about the inaccessibility of characters’ interior worlds. Kouvaros discusses traditions of Hollywood-style narrative—about which of those traditions Cassavetes’s efforts might sometimes intersect. The interview concludes with a consideration of Love Streams (1984).

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Reference Books

At one point, reference books that included entries about John Cassavetes became a kind of locus for debate among scholars. In four cases—Richard Combs in Roud 1980, Wakeman 1988, Bill Wine in Pendergast and Pendergast 2000, and Katz 2008—a biographical detail about Cassavetes attending college at Colgate has elicited objections from Ray Carney (who has maintained in conversation and correspondence that the director did not study there). Debate also comes to a head in Thomson 2002, where the author suggests that readers are either aligned with his assessment of Cassavetes or they must be aligned with that of Carney’s views on the director.

  • Katz, Ephraim, ed. The Film Encyclopedia. 6th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

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    Addresses films by Cassavetes up to A Woman Under the Influence (1974). The author asserts that all audiences love or hate Cassavetes’s work.

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  • Pendergast, Tom, and Sara Pendergast, eds. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers- 2: Directors. 4th ed. New York: Gale: St. James, 2000.

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    Touching upon Cassavetes’s films through to Gloria (1980), the entry notes the director’s struggle to sustain an audience across the arc of his career.

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  • Roud, Richard, ed. Cinema: A Critical Dictionary: The Major Film-makers, Aldrich to King. Vol. 1. Edited by Richard Combs, 192–193. New York: Viking, 1980.

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    Emphasizes Cassavetes’s interest in his actors’ and camera operators’ freedom on the sets of the films and suggests a kinship between his work and John Updike’s. He describes Ray Carney’s work as a crusade to establish Cassavetes as an auteur.

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  • Thomson, David. The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. New York: Knopf, 2002.

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    A biographical entry marked by generalizations, the author categorizes Cassavetes’s characters as bores and characterizes his directing as confused. He also suggests that evaluations of the director’s films must align with either his own assessment or that of Ray Carney, illuminating one degree to which disagreements about Cassavetes’s work could progress.

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  • Wakeman, John, ed. World Film Directors: 1945–1985. Vol. 1. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1988.

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    The essay contextualizes Cassavetes’s beginnings as a filmmaker, particularly in the light of his earlier work as an actor in television productions.

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Bibliographies and Lists

When it comes to what has been published about the works of John Cassavetes, in Benedetto 1992 the bibliographer weighs in on the individuals he suggests to be most helpful and insightful. Stevens 2001 helpfully lists many of the director’s efforts in television and some of his unreleased works as well. Carney 1995 lists many of the screening dates throughout the history of Cassavetes’s films.

  • Benedetto, Lucio. “Forging an Original Response: A Review of Cassavetes Criticism in English.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (1992): 101–107.

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    In a foreword to the bibliography, Benedetto suggests that critics and scholars have neglected Cassavetes’s films. He credits the efforts of Ray Carney in helping to reverse that scenario, noting also the work of Maria Viera and Joseph Gelmis. Benedetto suggests that Cassavetes’s own writings are also worth researchers’ attention.

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  • Carney, Ray. “The Beat Movement in Film: A Comprehensive Screening List.” In Beat Culture and the New America: 1950–1965. By Ray Carney, 212. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995.

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    A listing of screening dates, helpful in locating places and times that Cassavetes’s films were shown to the public.

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  • Stevens, Brad. “John Cassavetes Filmography.” Senses of Cinema 16 (September–October 2001).

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    While Stevens leaves out all of Cassavetes’s pre-1958 film and television efforts, this is a helpful listing of TV episodes, unreleased work, uncredited work, and other contributions. Notably, Stevens does not note the multiple versions of Cassavetes’s films except for a 1978 reedit of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976).

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Critical and Scholarly Works in Languages Other than English

The breadth and depth of scholarship and helpful resources on the films of John Cassavetes includes a wealth of material published in languages other than English. This bibliography attends to some of these, in a representative way, particularly when it comes to works in French and German (with which the bibliographer has some reading proficiency). A comprehensive and multilingual examination of critical and scholarly works about John Cassavetes would do well to also include the numerous resources published in, for example, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Croatian, and Japanese (given here in no particular order). In the following subsections, the selections explore details either not represented in the preceding parts of this bibliography or they represent ideas attended to elsewhere in this work but are further developed by the authors cited below.

Critical and Scholarly Works in French

Positif devoted its June 1992 edition to the topic of John Cassavetes. Among the essays included, De Bruyn 1992 explores time and narrative in Faces (1958). Niogret 1992 addresses the nature of confrontation in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Richard 1992 looks for tensions related to authority and text in Opening Night (1977). In another publication, Jean-François Jeunet’s John Cassavetes (2014) (note that 1997 and 2010 editions also exist, with some differences of contents), collects a number of significant entries. Among these, Wilson 2014, an interview with Ray Carney, discusses Cassavetes’s work in terms of many ideas but notably in light of French and American film movements. Abbal 2014 looks back at Cassavetes’s early career in the context of postwar Hollywood. Valente 2014 address the length of the scene as a unit in Cassavetes’s work, while Pitiot 2014 and Sarrazin 2014 address particular elements of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Husbands (1970).

  • Abbal, Odon. “Cassavetes en son temp, Shadows.” In John Cassavetes. Edited by Jean-François Jeunet, 35–45. La Madelaine, France: Editions Lettmotif, 2014.

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    Reprints editions of 1997 and 2010. Setting Cassavetes’s emergence against the historical backdrop of Hollywood, after World War II, the author considers Shadows (1959), its reception, its place in the history of American independent filmmaking, and its place as a work of art as opposed to the majority of what Hollywood-system films represented at the time.

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  • De Bruyn, Olivier. “Faces: Un Coeur qui Bat.” Positif (June 1992): 95–97.

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    On Faces (1968) as a template for considering other films by Cassavetes, and on time and narrative in the film.

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  • Niogret, Hubert. “Meurtre d’un Bookmaker Chinois: Le Blanc et le Rouge d’un Veste Blanche.” Positif (June 1992): 100–101.

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    The article is a consideration of the ambiguities surrounding confrontations, those portrayed in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976).

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  • Pitiot, Pierre. “L’homme qui tenait le monde par le bon bout.” In John Cassavetes. Edited by Jean-François Jeunet, 99–104. La Madelaine, France: Editions Lettmotif, 2014.

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    A consideration of the character Cosmo Vitelli, in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and what he represents in the context of order, disarray, and whether considerations of freedom can emerge from notions of destiny.

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  • Richard, Frédéric. “Opening Night: Le Théâtre de l’Identité.” Positif (June 1992): 102–104.

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    This piece examines identity, death, derangement, and the authority of text in Opening Night (1977).

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  • Sarrazin, Stephen. “La maris en désordre.” In John Cassavetes. Edited by Jean-François Jeunet, 135–142. La Madelaine, France: Editions Lettmotif, 2014.

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    A comparative look at elements and depictions of class and restriction, and details of narrative, in the films of John Cassavetes and Michel Brault, focusing on Husbands (1970) and Brault’s Les Ordres (1975).

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  • Valente, Martin. “Cassavetes, de l’amour et presque rien.” In John Cassavetes. Edited by Jean-François Jeunet, 67–77. La Madelaine, France: Editions Lettmotif, 2014.

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    Reprints editions of 1997 and 2010. The author argues for an audience that sees in Cassavetes’s films a place for long-form scenes, and for explorations of place, time, and character. He writes that the films are disorienting, sometimes frustrating, but suggests such reactions are endemic to a consideration of human experience and emotion.

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  • Wilson, Calvin. “Ray Carney: Cassavetes et l’histoire du cinéma américain.” In John Cassavetes. Edited by Jean-François Jeunet, 7–32. La Madelaine, France: Editions Lettmotif, 2014.

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    Reprints editions of 1997 and 2010. In an interview with Ray Carney, the focus is on Cassavetes’s work and independent filmmaking. A distinction is made between Cassavetes’s films and other kinds of independent directorial approaches. Consideration is given to the influence of (and influences on) Cassavetes’s catalogue, as well as to French New Wave and to the “mumblecore” movement.

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Critical and Scholarly Works in German

German publishers have made significant contributions to scholarship on John Cassavetes. Among the early collections of writing about the director’s films and performances, Alexander 1982 attends closely to performances, character, and identity in the films—notably tracing elements of abstraction in Faces (1968). Jacobsen 1982 is a helpful filmography, especially when it comes to Cassavetes’s acting career—extending even to radio performances. A later entry, in German, is John Cassavetes: Diractor, published in 1993. The book includes Lang 1993, which examines ideas of hysteria in A Woman Under the Influence (1974), and also Seiter 1993, which addresses the concept of storyteller—focusing on The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Buschwenter 1993 gives attention to Cassavetes in comparison with Antonin Artaud. Messmer 1993 attends to women as they appear, in terms of both performers and characters, across an arc of Cassavetes’s films. Also in 1993, the journal Kinemathek collects numerous quotes about the director’s work, mining the output of many reviewers, writers, and critics, it also offers Seeßlen 1993 (the only essay in the edition), which is an overview of Cassavetes’s career and methodology.

  • Alexander, Georg. “Die Draumtaurgie der Gefuhle.” In John Cassavetes. Edited by Carl Hanser Verlag, 13–32. Munich: Reihe Film: Carl Hanser Verlag Munchen Wien, 1982.

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    A close look at actors and characters, including consideration of Shadows (1958–1959), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), and Gena Rowlands’s performances across Cassavetes’s body of work. The author also attends to the nature of character and identity in A Child is Waiting (1963), and to elements of obsession and abstraction in Faces (1968).

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  • Buschwenter, Robert. “Das Schauspiel: oder Die Vermittlung des Scheins durch Warheit.” In John Cassavetes: Diractor. Edited by Andrea Lang and Bernhard Seiter, 57–76. Vienna: PVS Verlenger, 1993.

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    A consideration of Cassavetes’s works in the context of spoken drama and spectacle. Through a lens that includes the writings of Antonin Artaud, the author examines Faces (1968), Husbands (1970), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Shadows (1958–1959), and Opening Night (1977).

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  • Jacobsen, Wolfgang. “Daten.” In John Cassavetes. Edited by Carl Hanser Verlag, 147–177. Munich: Reihe Film: Carl Hanser Verlag Munchen Wien, 1982.

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    A biography (including the disputed detail about Colgate and Cassavetes’s college career) and filmography, Jacobsen gives significant attention to cataloguing Cassavetes’s work as an actor. He speaks about his starring roles in films as well as television, theatrical roles, and radio performances. A bibliography includes scholarly articles and reviews sequenced by film or by play.

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  • Lang, Andrea. “Das Privattheater des John Cassavetes.” In John Cassavetes: Diractor. Edited by Andrea Lang and Bernhard Seiter, 11–28. Vienna: PVS Verlenger, 1993.

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    Considers Cassavetes’s films among a category of auteurs working outside conventional Hollywood structures. In terms of effects upon an audience, Land posits a trio of approaches—each marked by the word “hysteria.” The hysterical method, the hysterical figure, and the hysterical structure are all considered, particularly in relation to A Woman Under the Influence (1974).

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  • Messmer, Claudia. “Gena: Ein Rollenportrait.” In John Cassavetes: Diractor. Edited by Andrea Lang and Bernhard Seiter, 109–122. Vienna: PVS Verlenger, 1993.

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    A consideration of female characters, Faces (1968) through Opening Night (1977) — comparing and contrasting, in particular, the women that Gena Rowlands portrays in the films of John Cassavetes.

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  • Seeßlen, Georg. “Liebesströme, Todesbilder: Die Filme von John Cassavetes.” Kinemathek 81 (November 1993): 3–12.

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    An overview of Cassavetes’s work, and a consideration of his characters and his identity as an artist viewed through the stories in his films. Attention is given to his stylistic and directorial choices and to the performances that he gave in his own films and in those of others.

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  • Seiter, Bernhard. “Der Plan hinter hem dem Plan: Der Imaginäre Erzähler in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.” In John Cassavetes: Diractor. Edited by Andrea Lang and Bernhard Seiter, 31–44. Vienna: PVS Verlenger, 1993.

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    An in-depth look at narrative within The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), particularly along the lines of erzahler—the concept of a storyteller role. Attention is also given to the characteristics of genre within the work, and to numerous ways one might define and consider the character of Cosmo.

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