Archive for John Cassavetes

Happiness is no Lark

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2019 by dcairns

Last full day of Il Cinema Ritrovato — I gave it a gentle start with Borzage’s STREET ANGEL at 11.15, entering Fox’s studio “recreation” of a smoky, crumbling Naples — 100% unlike the real thing but unbelievably beautiful. This was with a Movietone soundtrack, which at first seemed to impose a distance between me and the film, though having sat near the entrance I was also getting a distancing effect for free from all the latecomers stumbling in. (Cinema etiquette at Bologna is not quite as exemplary as one might hope.)

But, as with SUNRISE and TABOO, the music and film seemed to come closer together as the film went on, and the miraculous climax saw sound and image in perfect harmony.

Also: I think that was Josephine the capuchin monkey, star of THE CAMERAMAN and THE CIRCUS, nestling in Janet Gaynor’s arms, making this a hat-trick for the celebrated simian.

Lunch was followed by Dick Cavett’s Show — having failed to read the programme, we expected this to be a documentary about the eminent talk show host, but it was actually the episode where John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara turned into the Marx Bros. to promote HUSBANDS, which was screening in a new restoration. I think the sales tactic didn’t work because we didn’t rush over to the Cinema Arlecchio to see it, instead dropping in to three shorts by Franju, which seemed a nice circular way to more or less end a festival that began for us, more or less with his NOTRE DAME, CATHEDRAL DE PARIS.

I’d seen EN PASSANT PAR LA LORRAINE and found it weirdly boring — being an English-language version and a ratty print didn’t do the uninspired travelogue any favours. Joseph Kosma’s music was the only poetic element.

LES POUSSIERES, a short film about DUST, was not as dry as you’d expect. Jean Weiner, the reappearing pianist of Rivette’s NOROIT DUELLE, provides a spooky, beautiful soundtrack which I want to rip off someday. The subject is broad enough to allow Franju some room to be strange and poetic.

LE THEATRE NATIONAL POPULAIRE was a bit flat by comparison, but we got to see an extract of Maria Casares playing Lady Macbeth — every bit as intense as you might expect, and a revelation to me since my main references for the role are the Welles and Polanski film versions. In the hands of a powerhouse professional, the role is transfigured.

We SHOULD have stayed in our seats for SANGEN OM DEN ELDRODA BLOMMAN, a 1919 Mauritz Stiller with Lars Hansen, but we were fading, so we went out into the blazing sun, ate at the flat, and separated, Fiona finally managing to stay awake through WAR OF THE WORLDS (not an easy one to fall asleep in, you would have thought, but then have you experienced Bolognese weather?), me heading to the Piazza for LE PLAISIR, a favourite Ophuls now magnificently restored — the grain was imperceptibly fine, the images radiant and impossibly detailed. Each time I see it I’ve seen more French films, so actors like Gaby Morlay, Madeleine Renaud and Paulette Dubost mean more to me.

This was sort of the last Piazza Maggiore screening of the fest, so I forgave the loquacious Gianluca Farinelli his tendency to talk, untranslated, for twenty minutes at a time. A movie like LE PLAISIR makes up for a lot.

In the Zone

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by dcairns

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Our nightly Twilight Zone viewings prompted me to suggest a screening of SADDLE THE WIND — we’d watched a few Zone episodes with western settings, so a Rod Serling-scripted oater seemed worth a punt. Didn’t go too well — might be a while before I can persuade Fiona to view another cowboy flick.

(My mother LOVES westerns, so I grew up thinking this was normal. Women like westerns. Men like musicals and horror movies. It seemed so reasonable.)

STW is one of those wretched “part-works” (Douglas Sirk: “I have no interest in these part-works.”) Robert Parrish is the credited helmer, but John Sturges also did some of it, I have no idea what. There IS a noticeable tendency for expressive location shots to be interrupted by nasty, obtrusive process-shot “exteriors” and these often come along just when a scene is looking promising. So my guess would be somebody did too interesting a job and the producer wanted it watered down.

It isn’t Serling’s story, so he’s mainly the dialogue man, I guess. It’s noticeable that these cowboys tend to express themselves in florid similes and metaphors, some of which are pretty entertaining. “Keeping your brother under control is like putting hot butter in a wildcat’s ear, it just can’t be done.”

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The story is hopeless. The very strange trio of Robert Taylor, John Cassavetes and Julie London are at the centre. I thought these three would be bound to produce something of interest, but Taylor is such a wet blanket, God love him. He’s also a detestable hero: his little brother, Cassavetes, evolves into a psycho-killer in the course of two days, and Taylor does nothing except bully a poor farmer (Royal Dano) whom his brother later kills. London is brought in as Cassavetes’ girl, and within minutes three different men have referred to her as a “thing” — this turns out to be preparation for her insistence on personhood, which is good to see, but after the first act she’s left with nothing to do. Serling could be considered an artist who found a freedom and creative scope in TV that the movies couldn’t grant —

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Which may be the only grounds for comparing him with Red Skelton.

Jazz Police

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2014 by dcairns

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I saw John Cassavetes’ GLORIA when I was a teenager, at the school film society (a formative influence — do such things exist anymore?) and didn’t know if I liked it or not. And then I didn’t really see any Cassavetes until… now, basically, when a job came up that required me to become instantly expert, at least in the early phase of his career. So I plunged in, optimistically.

One of the fascinating things about JC is the split between SHADOWS (consciously disjointed improv that retroactively explains all the bits in MEAN STREETS that don’t quite work — in SHADOWS, the freeform stuff knows what it’s doing) and his TV work, notably Johnny Staccato, in which the reptilian demiurge plays a kind of jazz detective, pianist turned P.I.

Staccato tackles the cases too cool for the ordinary police.

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Muscle: Cravat.

The first episode we ran was enjoyably ludicrous: Elmer Bernstein’s bombastic score turned everything into a Big Moment, even if it’s just JC loping across a lounge or standing on the subway. Nick Cravat played the heavy (only opposite a lead as short as Cassavetes — sure, he looks lanky, but he’s basically a tall man scaled down to one-third size — could the pint-sized tumbler serve as suitable menace) and there’s a moment when J-Cass turns on the charm at a sexy secretary which is simply indescribable — a cringe-inducing irruption of hepcat suavity less likely to make the poor girl swoon with desire than to carry out an instant pre-emptive hysterectomy on herself using her eyelash crimper.

The whole thing basically made me suddenly understand how accurate a parody of TV tropes Police Squad! was. It’s just that they were mocking TV shows before my time. (Seems like nobody has yet done a spot-on pastiche of the likes of Petrocelli or Quincy, probably because it would be too dull.)

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Muso: McGraw.

BUT — when Cassavetes slides into the director’s chair, there’s an upsurge in quality and, dare I say it, conviction — there are guest stars such as Charles McGraw (OK, improbably cast as a crooner — I can picture albums entitled McGraw Snarls The Blues, With A Mellow Growl, and Songs for Gravelly Lovers) and Elisha Cook Jnr — as a hapless victim signally ignored in the obligatory happy ending. And we get members of what would soon be the Cassavetes stock company — indeed, the show’s producer is Everett Chambers, who played a loathsome agent in TOO LATE BLUES.

It’s still ridiculous in places, but very entertaining, and the noir approach gives vent to J.C.’s expressionist tendencies, which found unexpected outlets in his movies. The most overwhelming moment came when J-Cass played a scene with a nubile Martin Landau.

Me: “This is too much! You can’t have two Picasso lizards in one scene!”

Fiona: “The world won’t come to an end just because Cassavetes and Landau appear onscreen together.”

Yet, twenty seconds later ~

Fiona: “The world is coming to an end!”