Archive for John Cassavetes

In the Zone

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

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-08h27m07s110

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.”

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-08h29m35s646

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 —

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h02m21s378

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h05m37s053

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h13m54s712

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h14m35s534

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h14m40s751

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

Advertisements

Jazz Police

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

vlcsnap-2014-05-21-11h49m02s122

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.

vlcsnap-2014-05-21-11h51m51s14

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.)

vlcsnap-2014-05-21-11h49m33s171

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!”

Almost Too Late

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 14, 2014 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2014-05-14-11h40m54s255

I got an invitation to contribute to the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of TOO LATE BLUES. Somebody had dropped out and they needed it in a week. Unfortunately, I was preparing to go to Toronto in LESS than a week. And I had never seen the film. And did not consider myself a Cassavetes expert by any means.

But I watched the film and halfway through I knew I had to say YES. So I went on a binge of reading and viewing to make myself more familiar with my subject. I induced two students from Edinburgh College of Art’s film course final year (thanks, Anna & Mario!) to shoot and record me talking about the film in front of projected frames, and I think it turned out pretty good.

You may pre-order here —

Too Late Blues (Masters of Cinema) (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray + DVD] [1961]

I had a little more thinking time for this one, which is a film I’ve screened almost annually at the college —

Harold And Maude (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray) [1971]

But oddly, the TOO LATE BLUES piece I did may actually be the better of the two.

If…. (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray] [1968]

Finally, I wrote an essay for the booklet of this one. Like H&M, this is a film I know well from way back. I supplemented my own musings by interviewing Brian Pettifer, a Lindsay Anderson stock company star who remembers it all very fondly, though alas Paramount wouldn’t let us include any of his observations about the film’s sparse budget…

If you click on those links and buy something, you will be supporting Shadowplay, which is to say ME. Secretly, I think this is a good thing to do.