August 2018, arsenal cinema

„To risk everything to express it all“ – John Cassavetes

SHADOWS, 1959

Thanks to the uncompromising nature of his oeuvre, John Cassavetes (1929-1989) is regarded as one of the founding lights of American independent filmmaking and set lasting standards with his consistent disdain for artistic restrictions. It was at a workshop for unemployed actors in 1956 that Cassavetes developed his ideas on filmmaking as a group endeavor. This produced his first film SHADOWS in turn, which was improvised and made on a tiny budget, yet opened up the doors of Hollywood to him nonetheless, although his attempts to assert his working methods and aesthetic ideas in the studio system led to disappointment. As a result, Cassavetes set up his own production company and consistently positioned himself outside the orbit of Hollywood. Working in close, steady group contexts became a central aspect of Cassavetes’s method, who preferred to work with a fixed ensemble of actors – mainly Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, and Seymour Cassel, to say nothing of Gena Rowlands, who he married in 1954. His cinema lives from their total physical commitment to their roles and their unconditional openness to personal fears, yearnings, and insecurities, creating a cinema of intensity and of the unflinching dissection of feelings. His stories are just as incalculable, hard to grasp, and erratic, with excesses and eruptions taking the place of predictable narratives. Uninterested in crafting traditionally beautiful images, his films resist standard patterns of seeing and are entirely constructed around people, focused on their faces and bodies. Cassavetes often earned the necessary money to make his films by acting in other directors’ films. There too, he often sought out the boundaries and explored the extreme states of human behavior, often playing bad guys, while also shining in quieter roles. We are showing all of Cassavetes’ films on 35mm prints together with a selection of his work as an actor.

SHADOWS (John Cassavetes, USA 1959, 27.7. & 17.8.) Cassavetes’s debut emerged from a series of improvisation workshops and is set in the artists’ milieu of the New York night life, centered around three siblings, their lives as Afro-Americans in a white society, and their search for identity and acceptance, while jazz musicians Charlie Mingus and Shafti Hadi improvise to their improvising. After a first film version, donations and the support of a distributor enable a second version to be completed, which is the one known today – one of the earliest examples of the New American Cinema.

TOO LATE BLUES (John Cassavetes, USA 1961, 28. 7. & 14.8.) was Cassavetes’s first attempt to work in the Hollywood system – the production company wanted a new SHADOWS, but less experimental and improvised. A white West coast jazz band has to decide between art and commerce, with Shelley Manne, Red Mitchell, Jimmy Rowles playing the music of sold-out dreams together with Bobby Darin. A touching love story taken from the lives of musicians, beset with artistic self-doubt, in the midst of hectic parties, in search of themselves

A CHILD IS WAITING (John Cassavetes, USA 1963, 29.7. & 13.8.) After Cassavetes worked for months with Hollywood producer Stanley Kramer on this film about a disabled boy in a psychiatric clinic, he was eventually replaced and the film was re-edited in line with Kramer’s wishes. Cassavetes: “I didn't think his film – and that's what I consider it to be, his film – was so bad, just a lot more sentimental than mine. The message of his film, which is that disabled children are alone and abandoned and should therefore be brought together with other disabled children, differs from that of my film, which says that disabled children can be anywhere at any time. Those of us who can’t deal with that must grapple with it and not the children themselves.”

FACES (John Cassavetes, USA 1965–68, 26.7. & 15.8.) Cassavetes’s first film about marriage difficulties was made after his sobering experiences in Hollywood. Direct sound and a light 16mm camera permitted a shoot that might be referred to as the “documentary recording of fiction at the moment of its creation” (Ulrich Gregor). A successful businessman spends the night with a woman he meets at a bar, while his wife, who looks for comfort at a nightclub, spends the night with a stranger. Despairing relationship discussions, an attempted suicide, and considerable disillusionment leave no doubt that the marriage is in ruins.

HUSBANDS (John Cassavetes, USA 1970, 8. & 23.8.) shows three grieving husbands. After the death and burial of a joint friend, they flee into alcohol, and as it doesn’t make everything like it used to be, because nothing was ever like it was supposed to be anyway, they just keep on fleeing, sporadically at least, from their marriages and their everyday lives. This all ends in disaster, namely the realization that the deepest of longings can perhaps no longer be fulfilled. In HUSBANDS, Cassavetes didn’t just direct, but also took on a role in one of his films for the first time, that of the third husband alongside Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara.

MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (John Cassavetes, USA 1971, 4. & 19.8.) For once, Cassavetes allows loneliness to be overcome: a museum curator (Gena Rowlands) and manic car-park supervisor (Seymour Cassel) manage to conduct a relationship in spite of all social contradictions and all conventional possibilities regarding aura and attraction. A wedding party and many children are the crowning conclusion of this fairy-tale love story.

A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (John Cassavetes, USA 1974, 5. & 21.8.) Mabel, who lives with her husband and three kids in a typical lower middle class neighborhood, would like to be what everyone expects of her. Yet she’s unable to keep her role as a lover and a mother under control. Gena Rowlands is the woman under the influence – in a portrayal of disturbing corporeality, she channels neurotic spasms, pent-up anger, and oppressive motherly care.

THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (John Cassavetes, USA 1976, 3. & 25.8.) Cassavetes’ first thriller deconstructs the genre in systematic fashion: after paying seven years’ worth of instalments, Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara) is finally the sole owner of the Crazy Horse West strip club in Los Angeles. What begins as a celebration of his new business status ends in disaster after Cosmo loses the Crazy House West in a poker game. To get it back, he is now supposed to kill the titular Chinese bookie. Cosmo’s journey into night leads him through an unreal world of dim locales and dingy factory storage halls, through spaces unsafe and disturbing.

OPENING NIGHT (John Cassavetes, USA 1977, 9. & 26.8.) Gena Rowlands is much-admired theater star Myrtle Gordon, for whom her life and her roles have fused into an inseparable whole. When she becomes the witness of an accident which ends the life of one of her young fans, the experience only increases her resistance against the current play she’s in and the role of the aging woman she’s supposed to act in it. The rehearsals and first test performances become an increasing battle, as Myrtle’s constant hysterical rebellions drive her to alcohol and her colleagues to despair. Performance on performance, discussions about aging – and a complex commentary on working with emotions.

GLORIA (John Cassavetes, USA 1980, 18. & 24.8.) is another trip into the gangster world, woven together with more personal themes. Gena Rowlands is once again at the center of the film, as aging former singer Gloria Swenson, who has been hardened by both life and her career. After a child witnesses his family being killed by the Mafia, Gloria takes him under her wing against her will and flees with him through New York.

LOVE STREAMS (John Cassavetes, USA 1984, 25.7. & 31.8.) At the end of a long path through all the scenes of a marriage, John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands appear in LOVE STREAMS as brother and sister, as a couple that have become like siblings. She moves into his flat after she’s unable to bear the loneliness of her divorce. He is an author of bestsellers about lonely women and alcoholic men and succeeds in pouring his own disturbing private life into his work.

BIG TROUBLE (John Cassavetes, USA 1985, 20. & 29.8.) is a sarcastic comedy about an insurance representative who gets caught up in a murder plot or rather cheats death to enable his triplets to study. Cassavetes’ last film is based on a script by Andrew Bergman, who was also supposed to direct. At the end, large letters shout out from the screen the very opposite: “Not the end.”

EDGE OF THE CITY (Martin Ritt, USA 1957, 27. & 30.7.) Drifter Axel North (John Cassavetes) finds work at New York harbor. After Axel is harassed by the foreman, African-American worker Charlie (Sidney Poitier) comes to his aid and offers the taciturn wanderer his friendship. His life having been marked by flight and traumatic memories, Axel is only gradually able to accept his new friend’s levity and joy. But when Charlie becomes the victim of racist attacks, Axel learns to defeat his fear and stand up for justice.

SADDLE THE WIND (Robert Parrish, USA 1958, 28.7. & 3.8.) A widescreen Western in Technicolor: former gunslinger Steve Sinclair now lives a peaceful life as a farmer on a cattle range. One day, his younger brother Tony (John Cassavetes) returns home after a long absence, with a bride in tow and, to Steve’s great displeasure, a new gun. Wanting nothing more than to win his brother’s approval and to step out of his shadow at the same time, Tony gets involved in one final deadly engagement. Vulnerability and brutality characterize Tony in equal measure, with the innocent child he used to be still able to be made out thanks to John Cassavetes’s nuanced performance.

THE KILLERS (Don Siegel, USA 1964, 31.7. & 18.8.) Two hitmen successfully shoot dead the man they were contracted to kill, a former racing driver named Johnny North (John Cassavetes). Put off by the fact that North allows himself to be murdered without any resistance despite being forewarned, the two of them become interested in the background to the killing, carry out investigations, and sense bigger trophies may be at hand. The trail leads them to North’s ex-girlfriend Sheila and the shady Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan in his last – and probably best – screen appearance). This color remake of Robert Siodmak’s 1946 film noir of the same name was actually shot for television and is colder and more cynical than the original.

ROSEMARY‘S BABY (Roman Polanski, USA 1968, 4. & 17.8.) Young couple Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) move into the old-fashioned Bramford House in New York, in which a circle of Satanists is supposed to have been active. After eating a dessert brought round by a neighbor, Rosemary passes out and later finds herself in a semi-conscious, nightmarish state being raped by a monster. Cassavetes plays his wife’s tormentor with diabolic glee, who has no qualms about entering into a pact with the devil.

GLI INTOCCABILI (American Roulette, Giuliano Montaldo, Italy 1969, 24. & 25.8.) Having recently been released from jail, Hank McCain (played by John Cassavetes with nervous energy) is entrusted with robbing the Royal Casino in Las Vegas, without realizing that it’s actually Mafioso Charlie Adamo (Peter Falk) who is behind the plan. Yet Adamo is reined in by his boss Don Francesco DeMarco (Gabriele Ferzetti) and now must try in turn to stop Hank. Director Montaldo skillfully weaves together the fates of these three men, supported by a sparkling ensemble – with a brief appearance by Gena Rowlands as a guardian angel of sorts. (al)
With thanks to the Austrian Film Museum.

arsenal cinema: 70 mm: PHANTOM THREAD

07:30 pm Cinema 1


Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread Paul Thomas Anderson
USA/UK 2017 With Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps
70 mm OV 130 min

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – Of Shadows, Sprits, and Supernatural Powers

08:00 pm Cinema 2


Vampyr

*Vampyr Carl Theodor Dreyer France/Germany 1932
35 mm German OV 73 min