random thoughts


 

A few Christmas’ ago I received the Criterion Collection John Cassavetes box set. For the longest time it sat on my shelf collecting dust, not for lack of interest, for believe me my interest was indeed piqued. I found this box set incredibly daunting for some reason or another, but recently, as I’ve been watching good films to aid in my staying away during overnight shifts, I decided to take on the Cassavetes challenge and have systematically watched all five of the films over the course of the past couple of weeks.

After the first film of the set, Shadows (1959) I had a slight idea of what I was getting myself into, yet it wasn’t until the next (chronological) film, Faces (1968), where I was introduced to the working relationship between Cassavetes and Gena Rowland that I really began to see the potential power of this American cornerstone director. While I truly enjoyed, and could go on and on about the emotional evocation of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), for me it was the duo of Cassavetes and Rowland that carried the most intense empathetic power. First in Faces and even more so in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Opening Night (1977) I found both Rowland’s performances and Cassavetes’ innately personal, beautiful and brutal treatment of his leading lady irresistibly and irreversibly pulling me deep into the inner workings of the disturbed yet average human mind.

In all three of the aforementioned films, but most especially on the latter two, Rowland portrays incredibly complex and inherently human characters. Cassavetes’ unflinching eye in cohabitation with Rowland’s’ no holds bared performances profoundly (and in many ways, disturbingly) moved me. While the characters and the situations were in essence very simple in execution they engulf the viewer in a very harsh, unstable and unforgiving world. Even when things seem to turn out fairly well the viewer is still left with an overwhelming feeling of being lost, while we may have weathered this storm there’s most certainly more where that came from.

While this effect is also achieved with many of the other characters through, what I’ve seen of, Cassavetes’ cannon and it seems to be his specialty of sorts, never before have I felt so insanely connected to characters as Rowland’s’ Mabel  and Myrtle (in particular). Upon finishing the viewing of these two films my mind was reeling, twisting and turning, overpowered and overcome by the immensity of the world. The often over the top yet perfectly warranted and subversivly subtle Rowland and the voyeuristic and up close and personal directorial style implanted a certain insanity within me, and one that only seems to grow upon further reflection.

Looking back my initial hesitation toward Cassavetes’ oeuvre, I was completely correct to see these films as dense and daunting, honest films, but having taken the plunge I’m forever altered and indeed enriched by the experience. Left now with haunting images of a bleak world of the past, that’s still directly relevent today, I was moved to attempt to put down in words the unsettling and amazing feeling I’m filled with. If you’ve been there I hope you’ve made it out okay, if you haven’t I strongly urge you to venture that way.

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This week, as part of my Film History class, I attended a showing of Jean-Luc Godard’s debut film A Bout De Souffle (Breathless) at the Ross theater. This was the second time I had the privilege of watching this film, which is in actuality my favorite film of all time, on the “big screen.” After having seen this film countless times, aside from the two aforementioned times, I have come to the conclusion that one of the reasons that this film has such an impact on me is the fact that the characters are based within the “real world.” While the action and the way in which the narrative plays out cater quite well to the cinema, the one aspect that I find quite intriguing is the way in which the world outside the narrative plays a distinct role in the character development. I speak mainly of the fact that in many films, especially films which one might consider cinematic landmarks, and in particularly films of which the story is based in “crime” (such as this film) pop culture and the outside influence of the world (esp. the world in which the viewer lives) is simply left out, or if included is completely irrelevant. However, with Godard’s debut he most certainly doesn’t glaze over these influences , on the contrary he revels in them. From Michel’s obsession with “Bogey,” to Patricia’s posters and reproductions of paintings (as well as her reference to Faulkner), to references to newspapers (the tribune and cahier du cinema) to the uses of music throughout to the simple fact that Patricia is a journalist who interviews a pop culture icon (in the film and outside of the film, since it is in fact Melville) this film is firmly rooted in cultural references of the times. This creates a character (Michel as well as Patricia) who, for me is easy to relate to, since as a human living in a world which is so consumed by culture (most of the pop variety) I am also influenced constantly by the forms of media around me (literature, cinema, music, and in this day in age television). While it isn’t a fault of most characters that they seem impervious to the influence of culture (and I most certainly do not speak ontologically about film, since what I say doesn’t apply to all film), I merely believe that the fact that Godard’s characters embrace the pop culture that surrounds the young people of their time provides a certain relatiblity to the characters.

… just a thought.