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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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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

This boxed set includes the following titles: • Shadows (1959) 81 min. B&W. 1.33:1 aspect ratio • Faces (1968) 130 min. B&W. 1.66:1 aspect ratio • A Woman Under the Influence (1974) 147 min. Color. 1.85:1 aspect ratio • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) 135 min. Color. 1.85:1 aspect ratio • Opening Night (1977) 144 min. Color. 1.66:1 aspect ratio • A Constant Forge (2000) 200 min. Color. 1.33:1 aspect ratio John Cassavetes has been called a genius, a visionary, and the father of independent film. But all this rhetoric threatens to obscure the humanism and generosity of his art. The five films included here represent his self-financed works made outside the studio system of Hollywood, on which he was afforded complete control. While about beatniks, hippies, businessmen, actors, housewives, strippers, club owners, gangsters, and children, all of them are beautiful, emotional testaments to compassion. Cassavetes has often been called an actor's director, but this body of work—astoundingly, even greater than the sum of its extraordinarily significant parts—reveals him to be an audience's director. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Shadows, Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and Opening Night in stunning new transfers. Includes Charles Kiselyak's A Constant Forge, a candid biographical documentary on the life and work of Cassavetes .


Improvised by the cast, shot in black and white, John Cassavetes's first independent feature, Shadows, looked like no other film of its time. Cassavetes, seeking to both deal with social issues and create a new kind of cinema, told a story about a family of black siblings in Manhattan trying to make ends meet. Though it meanders at times, it features the kind of spontaneous emotion Cassavetes most wanted to elicit in his films.

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.

Special Features

  • Eight-Disc Box Set includes the following films:
  • Shadows, 1959, 81 minutes, 1.33:1 aspect ratio
  • Faces, 1968, 130 minutes, 1.66:1 aspect ratio
  • A Woman Under the Influence, 1974, 147 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, 1976, 135 & 108 minute versions, 1.85:1 aspect ratio
  • Opening Night, 1977, 144 minutes, 144 minutes, 1.66:1 aspect ratio
  • A Constant Forge, 2000, 200 minutes, 1.33:1 aspect ratio
  • Bonus Features include:
  • New interviews with Cassavetes collaborators Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, Seymour Cassel, Lelia Goldoni, Lynn Carlin, and Al Ruban
  • Two versions of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie: Cassavetes' original 135-minute cut as well as his subsequent 108-minute re-edit
  • Faces alternate opening: 17 minutes of footage revealing the most significant differences of the two version's opening sequences
  • Cineastes de notre temps: an episode from the French television series dedicated to Cassavetes
  • Audio commentary on A Woman Under the Influence by sound recordist and composer Bo Harwood and camera operator Mike Ferris
  • Restoration demostration
  • Audio interviews with Cassavetes
  • "Lighting and Shooting a Film" vintage short
  • Biographical sketches
  • Stills galleries with hundreds of behind-the-scenes photos, publicity shots, and posters
  • 68-page booklet with new essays on Cassavetes

Product Details

  • Actors: Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, John Marley, Lynn Carlin
  • Directors: John Cassavetes
  • Writers: John Cassavetes
  • Producers: John Cassavetes, Al Ruban, Maurice McEndree, Mike Lally, Phil Burton
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Box set, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Special Edition, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 8
  • Rated:
    Parental Guidance Suggested
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: September 21, 2004
  • Run Time: 945 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0002JP2OS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,077 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "John Cassavetes: Five Films (Shadows / Faces / A Woman Under the Influence / The Killing of a Chinese Bookie / Opening Night ) (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
John Cassavetes was an artist who believed that filmmaking's salvation lay in "individual expression" and applied this belief to his own movies. He is often credited as the father of American independent cinema and to be sure without him there would be no Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch or John Sayles. For years, fans of Cassavetes' movies have had to suffer with grainy copies and substandard transfers on DVD (or, quite often no availability at all). The folks at Criterion have answered their prayers with a fantastic box set with five of the man's movies and Charles Kiselyak's epic documentary.

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.
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Thank you, Criterion-- you've done it again. An incredible contrast to the awful Pioneer "special editions" still on the market. Get this set now. What emerges is not just Cassavetes' incredible body of work, but in the 3-hour-plus documentary and the numerous vintage pieces, audio interviews, etc., we get a sense of the greatness of this flawed human being. His life and personality (as it comes through in the supplements) are inspiring enough to stand on their own, but placed in context, this set is both a bargain and a spiritual necessity for anyone who loves movies.
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I find it both ironic and strangely appropriate that "John Cassavetes: Five Films" was released on the same day as "Star Wars Trilogy" by George Lucas. These represent two of the most diametrically opposed styles of filmmaking ever screened: the bloated, glitzy and ultimately shallow films of Lucas against the lean, scrappy and completely fulfilling films of Cassavetes.

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.
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The theme that all of the indispensable films in this set return to is how vulnerable we can be. At bottom what each of us wants is to be respected, to be acknowledged and to be loved. Anyone who loses that vulnerability -- which is for Cassavettes an ability: the ability to feel to express and to allow oneself to be heard without the stifling of self-censor -- anyone who loses that vulnerability whether by yielding to habit or by repression or self-control, may manage to achieve power but does so at the cost of a core component of their humanity.

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.
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