Self-financed. An “actors’ director” The father of American Independent Cinema. John Cassavetes is all of these, and more. And starting today, you can watch his feature films Shadows, Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night on Fandor! We’ll be publishing the best takes on Cassavetes in a future article, so go forth and watch, rate and review. Landmarks of American cinema await you.
Cassavetes got his start in front of the camera rather than behind it, with notable roles in Rosemary’s Baby and The Dirty Dozen. His dedication to the craft of acting, and his adherence to a Method alternative centered around muscle memory and improvisation, directly informed his auteur theory. After financing and directing two features, he formed a production company to continue releasing his uncompromising relational cinema. Here are the five essential titles, in chronological order, that we are now pleased to offer for streaming:
This is Cassavetes’ debut feature, and it brings late 1950s New York to life with jazz rhythms and a piercing, implicating cinematic gaze. It was with this film that Cassavetes established himself as a rising American voice, tackling a subject that was taboo at the time and is still deeply and heartbreakingly relevant today: the complexities of interracial relationships. This initial offering made a splash overseas despite not finding American distribution and was later brought back and released as an import after receiving the Critics’ Award at the Venice Film Festival.
Faces Combining the immediacy of verité-style shooting with the intensity of finely crafted drama, this film traces a failing marriage through mutual infidelity embedded in richly textured 16mm. It’s a long, hard look at gender dynamics on both a macro and micro scale and a slow-burning indictment of the state of modern coupledom. But don’t take our word for it! Over on Slate, Dana Stevens explains Why You Should Watch John Cassavetes’ Faces Right Now.
A Woman Under the InfluenceCassavetes was married to actress Gena Rowlands before his directing career took flight, and she was one of the regular players in his oeuvre (along with Ben Gazzara and others). This turn as mentally fraying wife and mother Mabel Longhetti is arguably her tour-de-force. But this film is about far more than a lady going crazy: it’s about societal conditions, ingrained patterns of communication and behavior and the messiness of life. Many critics put it in the top of Cassavetes’ cinematic successes.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Tinges of noir infuse this story of a burlesque club owner, played to the hilt by Ben Gazzara, undone by an addiction gambling. Here, it is the fragility of masculinity that is on full display. While Cassavetes clearly wanted to test his range by incorporating elements of action and intrigue, his consistent dodging of the narrative tropes of mainstream Hollywood make this a fascinating achievement, and a polarizing one.
Cassavetes’ ninth feature finds him starring opposite his wife and muse Gena Rowlands, who once again delivers a stellar performance as a stage actress blurring the lines between art and life. How far should we go to inhabit the roles intended for us? How do we persevere in the face of existential crisis? These questions are central to Cassavetes’ practice, and here they are writ large on the screen, with Rowlands’ portrayal of Myrtle as a stunning metaphor for the director’s own passion and struggle.
As Scott Smith puts it in an article about Cassavetes on Keyframe,
Before his untimely death, Cassavetes’s unique style was an institution. He was less interested in creating films with commercial appeal than in capturing something raw and immediate. He aspired to nothing more than putting two characters in a close space and leaving them to sort through an emotional puzzle while a nearby camera watched patiently for something to happen.
We are thrilled to bring the experience of Cassavetes to our Fandorians and look forward to the discussions that are generated from the viewing these five incredible movies!