Opening Night is a film made in 1977 by director John Cassavetes. Cassavetes also wrote and starred in the film. The basic plot of Opening Night deals with an aging actress, Myrtle (Gena Rowlands), rehearsing for her latest play about a woman you is unable to admit that she is aging. Much to Myrtle’s surprise, she witnesses the death of a young fan and she begins to struggle through personal and professional happenings in her life. Myrtle copes to her aging, loneliness, and decline of success by resorting to alcoholism.
When I watched Opening Night (and it was a few weeks ago so I may leave out some parts) I found it to have lots of discussion points. The young girl who was hit by a car was an important point. Was she a ghost or part of Myrtle’s imagination? Another important point was the use of parallelism between the theatrical scenes and Myrtle’s overall life. The slap scene was another important sequence I noticed, and lastly John Cassavetes’ fantastic editing style.
First, was the girl imaginary or could Myrtle see ghosts? I am not superstitious and I don’t think Cassavetes wanted his film to be interpreted as superstitious. Does it really matter if the girl was imaginary or a ghost? Not really, in terms of symbolization, in my opinion. I believe the girl was there to symbolize Myrtle’s youth. She quickly saw this youthful girl full of life, drawn to the image of success which Myrtle had. And within a few moments, the girl was hit by a car and deceased. I think this symbolized Myrtle’s youth, how it had flown by so quickly. She is now an aging actress in a rut, which relies on damaging her own body to feel a sense of closure, youthfulness, and rebellion. Seeing the girl, rather it is her imagination or a ghost, furthered Myrtle to accept who she now is in a long, thorough process.
The parallel between the theatrical scenes (when the audience claps) and Myrtle’s life is wonderful. You really got to see Myrtle’s use as an actress, and her chemistry with Cassavetes’ character is charming (who was also Rowlands’ husband). Charming it may be, connecting these almost television-like scenes to the meaning of the film is interesting. I got the feeling that the only part of her life that Myrtle was getting enjoyment was doing these live scenes. It was like her high for fixing all of her depression-like problems. This, along with the girl getting killed, forced Myrtle to reevaluate her situation and accept herself.
The slap scene was interesting. Although, not much to add with it other than connecting to previous symbolization. I did, however, think it was the first key point of Myrtle’s acceptance. Up to that point she had seen the girl, washed herself down with alcohol, and flirted on the telephone with her director (Ben Gazzara). So, up to the slap scene, Myrtle’s was very cautious about her age. During the slap scene, Myrtle broke down in tears after she was hit. She said she didn’t like it and it was demeaning. However, I got the feeling she was lying and I think Cassavetes unofficially pointed it out later in the film (I don’t remember). She was crying because the slap started to bring her youthfulness back. I use the term youthfulness as ironic here, and actually it was the stem of her maturity and accepting who she was at that point. She thought she was acting youthful before this incident, but I feel this was her breakthrough or epiphany of finally accepting her age and her ability to continue to act young. Slapping women became a tradition in media (as Cassavetes pointed out), and I thought Myrtle felt that the play was asking her to be youthful even though she objected loudly to the slap. From what I have said, I think this scene was extremely significant.
Lastly, Cassavetes’ cutting and editing style. I think it would be pointless to discuss cinematography, camera angles, lighting, and the works in a Cassavetes film (although feel free to bring it up if you want). Cassavetes had almost kind of a jazzy style of editing, if that makes sense. He threw scenes out of order, he interrupted them with quick cuts, he showed them back to back, and more. I think this is interesting, and it kind of makes me as a viewer, continue my interest in watch his films. He wasn’t afraid of making something completely unconventional, and Opening Night was no exception.
For its day, no film was like Opening Night (well maybe other Cassavetes’ were similar). This film came out the same year as Star Wars and Annie Hall, and I think this film is in a completely different league than those films. Cassavetes made something different and broke filmmaking norms by, ironically, adding conventional theatrics to validate his style (or point or whatever you want to call it). Opening Night was a magnificent character study, a realistic portrait of accepting oneself, and a completely original piece of theater. Bravo Mr. Cassavetes.