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Accidental Genius: How John Cassavetes Invented the Independent Film Paperback – December 13, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To most film junkies, the late actor and director John Cassavetes (Faces, A Woman Under the Influence) is an independent film icon. To everyone else, he's either the evil husband in Rosemary's Baby or the guy who directed wife Gena Rowlands in Gloria. And that is Fine's motivation: "I wanted to write the book that I longed to read...the one that explained to a mainstream audience why they should know and care about the work of John Cassavetes." The good news is, the book is not an impenetrable academic tome. Rather than engage in esoteric film criticism, Fine gives us a blow-by-blow account of how Cassavetes's fierce will led to the birth of independent film. The director's desire to go against the grain is highlighted throughout, such as when he told higher ups at the Actors Studio: "Screw you. I don't want any part of you. I've got my own school and I'll drive yours out of town." For a Cassavetes devotee, this is manna. But if Fine's goal is to convert the uninitiated, he's missed the mark by taking it for granted that the reader will be as enamored of his subject as he is. And Fine's fetishistic description of every Cassavetes project progresses at a merciless grind so tedious that the merely curious would do better to rent a Cassavetes film.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Fine stints on critical analysis yet convincingly argues that mainstream moviegoers ought to care about maverick director Cassavetes (1929-89) as the progenitor of today's American independent film movement. Cassavetes stumbled into making his groundbreaking first film, Shadows, which evolved out of workshops he conducted as a young actor in late-1950s New York. Other challenging, uncompromising works followed over the next decades, including Faces, Husbands, and A Woman under the Influence. Fine details Cassavetes' struggles to finance and distribute his resolutely noncommercial films, which he funded largely from his earnings as a performer in others' movies, such as The Dirty Dozen and Rosemary's Baby. The loose, sometimes messy nature of his own films led many to believe they were improvised. All derived from tight scripts, though Cassavetes espoused spontaneity and called planning "the most destructive thing in the world." Fine talked with members of Cassavetes' inner circle (though not with his wife and frequent collaborator, Gena Rowlands) as well as other directors, such as Martin Scorsese, who were influenced by his approach. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Miramax; Reprint edition (December 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401360130
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401360139
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,206,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I just saw one of John Cassavetes' early films as a director, 1963's "A Child Is Waiting", which he apparently disowned once producer Stanley Kramer edited it to make the story of mentally disabled children in a state-run institution a more sentimental movie. Despite Cassavetes' misgivings about the finished product, what remains has some truly unexpected moments of emotional honesty. Author Marshall Fine, film and TV critic for Star Magazine, has written a thorough, sometimes effusive biography of the film auteur who died in 1989. Cassavetes is most definitely a worthy subject for a comprehensive book, as he was a groundbreaking filmmaker who made gritty, low-budget independent films well before Sundance.

His style was polarizing, but there is no getting around the fact that he dared to go to places other filmmakers feared, primarily the dark spaces where self-pity and hurtful actions were predominant. Even though his favorite director was ironically the supreme optimist Frank Capra, Cassavetes liked exposing the chaotic nature of life among the middle classes and refused to tie up loose ends for the sake of a happy ending. Fine does an illuminating job of showing the filmmaker's psyche at work and how he kept the focus constantly on the actors, especially as he created an intimate environment where spontaneity was encouraged and prized. Lacking the desire for a more formal process, Cassavetes employed a hand-held, semi-documentary style to elicit the naturalism he wanted to capture even when it meant constant script rewrites.

The author also explores the downside of the filmmaker's work techniques: his quick temper, his megalomania, his lack of savvy in dealing with studio bosses.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Biographer Marshall Fine (Harvey Keitel and The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah) introduces us to John Cassavetes by describing a 1954 night on a deserted New York street when the actor frightened away four thugs by "pretending to be a madman having a full-blown psychotic episode."

From this incident we learn as many would later discover that Cassavetes was someone who enjoyed turning things around, he loved spontaneity. Later he would become known as a gifted actor, an innovative director, the man whom many consider to be the father of independent films.

Although she declined to be interviewed, responding as she always did that John did not want a biography, Cassavetes' widow, Gina Rowlands, did give Fine her approval and access to many of the actor's close friends and associates. Thus, we are rewarded with an intimate portrait of this enigmatic individual who so changed the way we view and think of movies today.

After success as a star in 1950s television, Cassavetes began his highly acclaimed motion work work and made his first film, Shadows (1959). It was while he was serving as director of an acting workshop that he came up with a blueprint for films other than the ones made inside the then accepted system. In order to do this he tackled subjects other film makers wouldn't touch - race relations in America, marital relationships.

Faces, which many consider to be one of his finest works, received three Academy Award nominations, one of which was for best screenplay by Cassavetes. Later, Woman Under The Influence garnered an Oscar nomination for Gina Rowlands as best actress in a leading role and Cassavetes was nominated Best Director.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MORTY S. TASHMAN on April 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
After years of either being forgotten by the genral public or written about in the most pretentious, yawn-inducing dirges, author Marshall Fine finally got it right in his bio of actor/director John Cassavetes. The author's style is accesible, his subject fascinating and the theme is undeniable. Cassavetes is to independent cinema what Elvis Presley was to Rock and Roll: Neither one invented their respected venues but they definitely created the way in which they are percieved today.

Not only does the author give the man his due, but the freshly recounted anecdotes of Cassavetes' cohorts certainly brings the man back to life. No, it's not like having him in the room with you -- it's more like being at the Irish wake in which friends recount with a glass held high what it was that made the man so great.

To the naysayers who have already written about this book, what did you guys read?? Fine does not state that Cassavetes 'created' independent American films but is the progenitor, as in laying down the groundwork that others have followed. Before Ruth Orkin and Morris Engels, there was also independent black filmmaker Oscar Michenaux and Kenneth Anger, and countless others but the original consistency of effort and undeniable style belonged to Cassavetes alone. All hail the Acciental Genuis!!

One quibble: Why no index? It makes looking up remebered moments MUCH eaiser to find.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Edward Gubman on January 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Fine has given us a terrific, indepth view of Mr. Cassavetes, truly an original of the American cinema. I can recall, as Mr. Fine does in his book, being moved the first time I saw a Cassavetes film--there was nothing like it, even in the great film decade of the '70s. The author does a wonderful job of capturing both the power of the films and the struggle of Cassavetes to bring his vision to the screen. Students of the creative process will appreciate how Fine brings that to life also. He shows Cassavetes thought processes, including how he values the input of his friends and creative circle. Mr. Fine has a very accessible writing style that makes the reading enjoyable and easy. The sheer volume of facts covered in the book suggests that the author is an accomplished journalist as well as a movie lover.
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