In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section John Cassavetes

  • Introduction
  • Overviews of Life and Work
  • Book-Length Scholarly and Critical Writings
  • Essay-Length Scholarly and Critical Writings
  • Cassavetes as Actor
  • Interviews with Cassavetes
  • Cassavetes in His Own Words
  • Cassavetes and Collaborators
  • Interviews with Scholars of Cassavetes’s Work
  • Reference Books
  • Bibliographies and Lists

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


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.

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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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