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John Cassavetes: Five Films (Shadows / Faces / A Woman Under the Influence / The Killing of a Chinese Bookie / Opening Night ) (The Criterion Collection)
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A sensation in 1968, Faces earned Oscar nominations for actors Seymour Cassel and Lynn Carlin. Improvised and shot in an edgy, hand-held fashion, the film examines the disintegration of the marriage of a couple in mid-life doldrums. Each seeks solace elsewhere: husband John Marley with prostitute Gena Rowlands, wife Carlin with a free spirit played by Cassel. But neither finds anything approaching the fulfillment they feel is missing from the marriage. Indeed, in Cassavetes's probe of raw emotions, these people discover that, just maybe, the problem lies not with their spouse but with themselves.
The long, free-form drama A Woman Under the Influence is best appreciated as a good showcase for Rowlands, playing a woman whose sanity literally appears to be shattering as different aspects of her personality eclipse others at various times. Peter Falk plays her struggling, blue-collar husband, trying to understand the phenomenon and sometimes losing his patience. As with most of Cassavetes's works as a director, one can't help but find one's attention drifting in and out, but Rowland's performance is a key reason the film has been declared a "national treasure" by the Library of Congress.
The title of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is the only commercial element in this fascinating character study by writer-director Cassavetes, who once again finds his cinematic soulmate in actor Ben Gazzara. The film uses verité technique to tell the story of Cosmo Vitelli (Gazzara), a Hollywood strip-club owner whose growing debt to a local gangster can only be erased if he agrees to kill a rival Chinese gangster. As usual, Cassavetes employs his favorite actors (including Seymour Cassel and the fearsome Timothy Carey) and vivid improvisation to give Chinese Bookie a tense atmosphere of emotional urgency.
Gena Rowlands stars in Opening Night, Cassavetes's drama of an aging, alcoholic stage actress in the days leading up to her latest Broadway opening. Like all of her collaborations with her writer-director husband, Rowlands is a woman on the verge of collapse, this time a lonely alcoholic whose very life is a performance. Overlong at 144 minutes, the film's long, loose scenes build through uncomfortable small talk and slow, tentative confrontations. Some of the scenes are edgy and thrilling, though many find this facet of Cassavetes pretentious and self-indulgent. Ultimately it's a matter of taste: if you like his style, you'll love this discomforting drama.
The eight-disc Criterion Collection set is filled out with the 2000 documentary A Constant Forge: The Life and Art of John Cassavetes, plus numerous interviews, a second version of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, a commentary track for A Woman Under the Influence, a 68-page book, and various other features.
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The Shadows disc features an interview with one of the film's stars, Lelia Goldini, who talks about how she met Cassavetes and her impressions of the man. She also covers the improv exercises that he would stage and how they developed into the movie. There is also an interview with Seymour Cassel who reminisces about how he met Cassavetes and how he got a job on the crew making Shadows. A real find is never-before-seen silent footage of rehearsals for the film in Cassavetes' acting workshop. Also included is featurette examining the painstaking restoration process that transformed the original print into this new glorious version. Finally, there is an excellent behind-the-scenes still gallery and a trailer.
Faces features an alternate opening sequence that was originally screened in Toronto and rearranges the chronology of scenes. "Cineastes de Notre Temps" is a French TV program that interviewed Cassavetes in '65 while he was making Faces and then again in '68 after it had been screened. The first interview finds him in a playful mood as he jokes about making a musical of Crime and Punishment.Read more ›
For those who are not familiar with John Cassavetes, this set will introduce you to the work of one of film's greatest artists. The authenticity and honesty of Cassavetes' approach to filmmaking are apparent in every shot. These films are as cutting-edge and fresh today as they were thirty years ago and they will make you think and feel in ways you never have before.
For those who know and love the work of Cassavetes, this set is a much-welcome improvement over previous releases. I can't say enough about the quality of the transfers. The extras are generous and informative and they help give a better understanding of the man behind the camera and his revolutionary filmmaking techniques.
Although this set would have been further enhanced by the inclusion of the legendary first version of Shadows as well as commentary tracks and essays by Professor Ray Carney (the world's leading Cassavetes scholar), "John Cassavetes: Five Films" stands alone as the best introduction/compilation of Cassavetes' work and is an important addition to any film library.
Plot, while not absent from any of Cassavettes films, is less important to him than the task of painting portraits of the fragility of human relationships and human needs. "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" is probably the one in this collection that, on paper and plotwise sounds most like mainstream cinema. But the story, of the owner of a strip club who is coerced into killing a bookie in order to pay off the debt he borrowed from the mob in order to finance his operation, is much less important here than is the honest depiction of a man who sees that the dignity he has tried to achieve and build up for himself, the respect he has come to feel he deserves, is crumbling around him and he is fighting in the only way he can see, not so much for his life as for the sense that he matters, and that his life is not worthless.
All of these films have something special and unique about them, and they are beautifully rendered in this exceptional collection. My personal favorite is "A Woman Under the Influence" and especially the unforgettable performance of Gena Rowlands as a woman who is easily classifiable as mentally unstable.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a must have for film buffs. The only negative is the love-fest for John Cassavetes, as has been stated, Ray Carney's fuller bio is missing. Read morePublished 24 days ago by stephanie
Probably John Cassavetes was the greatest film director ever. A genius. And Gena Rowlands is one of the greatest, and *the* most underrated, actress of all times. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Rick Woodward
What can be said of cassettes and his regular cast? He is genius and rowlands is his muse!Published 11 months ago by E. Punch
What a great filmmaker and the documentary as well as the two versions of The Killing of Chinese Bookie make this a good buy.Published 11 months ago by Solitary Man
Beautiful collection. I've seen 4 of the 5, but really only remember "Killing of a Chinese Bookie" well. Looking forward to seeing them all again.Published 19 months ago by Berigan Taylor
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