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.
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.
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.
Wonderful introduction, Mr. Prokow. You emphasize Cassavetes’ editing style and it’s a very important point. Apt description as “jazzy” as well, there was an improvised (not only in cinematography, but the editing style itself) quality to it (and Cassavetes’ work in general) and a reliance more on “feeling” than on “theory.” Opening Night is, as you say, a fantastic character study, and certainly the most focused of Cassavetes’ career. We of course have Rowlands as the protagonist once again, and again, she depicts (as she did similarly in A Woman Under the Influence) a woman who is finally coming to grips with herself in her (relative) middle age.
There were some interesting, but odd developments in the film. Such as the little-explained former relationship between Rowlands and Cassavetes’ characters or even the history between Rowlands and Gazzara’s characters.
I do regard the “slapping scene” as one of the most visceral and symbolic in (fairly) recent cinematic history. It is incredibly simple, but impacting. The relationship between Gazzara and his wife added a bit of density to the story and, as an interesting side note, apparently Cassavetes had a live audience “acting” as the crowd during the stage scenes and their actual reactions (as they were unfamiliar with the script) were included in the film.
There isn’t much more I can add that Stephen hasn’t already covered. Personally, my favourite Cassavetes film. A+
great one Stephen. i’d only like to add that i think Cassavettes attention to certain detail like colour is often overlooked in appraisals but overall, i agree with pretty much everything you wrote.
my third favourite Cassavetes film. Woman Under The INfluence is first.
For anyone familiar with both works, it might be worth the your while to think about the various relationships between Opening Night and All About Eve which, to me at least, seems to be the obvious jumping off point for Cassavetes film.
I will comment later. The film is coming in the mail today
I’ll comment in about an hour. Thanks for getting this started Stephen!
Opening Night, what a movie! I loved it, for all the reasons mentioned by Stephen and Deckard (above). My favorite shot was when Myrtle visits Sarah late at night and begins thrashing her body against the wall. The amalgam of factors: angles, lighting, Sarah’s reaction, Myrtle’s body movements and expression, the stillness and lack of action/sound, together all pointed to perfection. It conveyed other people’s support and concern for Myrtle as well as vividly illustrating Myrtle’s dejection and battle within herself. Again, the ghost/delusion was also a creative way to personify Myrtle’s internal struggles and bring them strikingly to the viewers’ attention.
Now I want to turn my attention over to Gena Rowlands character Myrtle. I have to admit that at first I was really connecting with her, I felt her struggle, I empathized with her, and I related to her. I think that her struggle is an authentic one. I thought she possessed the tenderness of heart and strength which would allow her to get through her dilemma. As the movie continued though, I started to find her increasingly and infinitely pathetic and selfish. She repeatedly made a spectacle of herself. The numerous sordid scenes of self-abuse and destruction were aggravating. She was taking the stereotypical artist temperament to the next level. She magnified her self-importance. What was even more frustrating was that everyone kept enabling it. They paid her excessive flattery, put their own relationships on hold to fawn over her needs, and spent an unreasonable amount of time dealing with her issues. Ironically, I think she was behaving very childishly over her struggle with aging. I did not feel happy for her at the end for pulling off the play successfully. Rather, I felt relieved for everyone else that was involved.
That is not to knock anyone’s performance! Gena Rowlands as Myrtle, Myrtle as Virginia (Gena’s birth name), Cassavetes, Gazzara, Lampert, etc etc. I really appreciated everyone in this film.
“I did not feel happy for her at the end for pulling off the play successfully. Rather, I felt relieved for everyone else that was involved.”
Isn’t Cassavetes great! The bittersweet taste of Cassavetes – make a good shirt perhaps?
Rowlands was incredibly brave to stick to such a role. Most actors/actresses would’ve insisted that the character be a little more sympathetic (such as near the beginning of the film), however, this would have been unrealistic as well, considering the journey this character needed to take. She put the character first in all its flaws, and she’s a better actress for it.
@Greg: Good idea recommending All About Eve, these two films would make an interesting double bill.
Stephen I like what u wrote. I do not know if the girl is a ghost (no one seems to really react to her except Mrytle) but I agree about her symbolisizing youth (since age is a factor in this film) as do certain scenes where the lead looks into her dressing room mirror.
This is a nice film; it is not my favorite Cassavetes maybe because it is a bit too dour and the pacing is off, it feel four hours long, whereas Faces and Minnie… are fun and brisk. That being said, there is so much great dialogue here: all of the play scenes (“I was Dean Martin without any charm”) for instance. And some of that speak foreshadows what comes, “I seemed to have lost the reality of the…reality.” Plus, in the best sense, you really feel that what is going on onscreen reflects offscreen as well
Rowlands is amazing. Another Woman (1988) was obviously inspired by this film, right down to the casting and the theater scenes that reflect what that character Marion is feeling or thinking. I do love the Woody film a bit more and Someone to Love (a Henry Jaglom film obviously inspired by Cassavetes and this one in particular) a lot more. But this film has some truly nice work in it. I think the crowd scenes are evocative and the feeling of haze that permeates certain sequences is very well handled.
“Another Woman (1988) was obviously inspired by this film”
Uh, have not seen that one. Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother also seems to be partially inspired by Opening Night (If not mistaken it was was also in Almodóvar’s Fav films list)
Will post my thoughts later.
“Rowlands was incredibly brave to stick to such a role. Most actors/actresses would’ve insisted that the character be a little more sympathetic (such as near the beginning of the film), however, this would have been unrealistic as well, considering the journey this character needed to take. She put the character first in all its flaws, and she’s a better actress for it.”
Yeah I agree!! It made me like the film more for the conflicted feelings it made me have over the main character.
Indeed, the death scene from “All About my Mother” is certainly influenced by “Opening Night”. I agree with the previous reviewers that the flawed main character played by Gena Rowlands makes the film fascinating, and this is also one of the main aspects Cassavetes-expert Ray Carney points out to distinguish Cassavetes’ Independent Films from the Hollywood mainstream.
I think that a certain alienation effect can be found each time we see Rowlands and Cassavetes on the theatre stage and look at them with the eyes of the spectators, making us aware that both are playing a role inside a role.
The little “ghost” girl was a weaker aspect of the film in my opinion, maybe because it wasn’t as elaborated and ambivalent as for instance in Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” which might have been an inspiration.
I thought the ghost character took away from the truthfulness of the film. It was a little showy and forced, but at the same time, like I mentioned earlier, I liked that I was given the opportunity to see Myrtle’s struggles personified.
I thought the ghost character was perfect, even though Cassavetes could have possibly portrayed his symbolization of Myrtle’s youth in a different way. However, I do feel that the point Cassavetes kept that scene in the film was to give a big fuck you to the mainstream film industry. Here he goes, does something that takes the truthfulness out of the film (as you said Natasha), but I think that was his purpose as I said to give a big fuck you to the industry and to the people watching his films. I watched an interview once, and I think he said something about wanting the audience to dislike or disagree with his films because it means they get it (maybe I’m just making up words for him by my own rationale). His cliched rebellion is what I admire most about him and he is certainly an inspiration towards my hopeful film-making career.
Also, thanks everyone for your replies and contributing. :)
Let me get some thoughts down before I read the other posts:
I enjoyed the film and thought it was good. (75/100)
The film reminded me of Ibsen’s Doll House or Hedda Gabbler—indeed, in the last act, Myrtle reminded me of a combination of Nora and Rocky Balboa.
A part of me felt like the story of a woman struggling with her old age was a little bland; the use of the death of the young girl and her presence and second death seemed a bit heavy-handed. (And I still feel a little like that.). But Rowlands’ performance and her character redeemed the film for me. She’s a strong woman, but not in a cheesy Hollywood way. She’s still vulnerable and her way of dealing with the age issue was triumphant, without being sappy or unbelievable. What was her triumph?
Well, she really deals with the aging issue—and the despair that the play associates with aging—within the play. The solution works in the play but will it work in Myrtle, the real person? My response is that, for Myrtle, her work is her life, so dealing with the issue in the play was equivalent to dealing with it in real life. (She refused to play the character as written initially because of her hang-ups with age, and she refused to deal with aging in the way the playwright did—ie. without hope.)
One of the things that I loved is Manny’s wife’s reaction to Myrtle’s performance and her role in the film. In some ways, she’s in the same boat as Myrtle, but she’s observing the way Myrtle handles the situation. Obviously, she loves the way Myrtle deals with the issue and I found the end (where they’re hugging each other) really touching.
I like that her solution occured via improvisation—outside the confines of the playwright and director. (There’s a scene where the director, playwright and producer are watching like the play like Olympian gods.) In some ways, I thought the movie’s subtext was commentary on actors and their relationships with directors, producers, and playwrights. Also, in some ways I wonder if the playwright/director/producer represent social norms, specifically society’s ideas about women, aging, self-worth. Myrtle’s defiant and rejects these notions (that an older woman should feel despair).
Btw, I really love that last performance between Casavettes and Rowlands.
That’s all for now. I’ll got back and read the other posts soon and comment.
some very good points jazz.
Yr last paragraph summed up the film nicely
OK, some comments on the posts above:
Den said, “That being said, there is so much great dialogue here: all of the play scenes (“I was Dean Martin without any charm”) for instance. And some of that speak foreshadows what comes, “I seemed to have lost the reality of the…reality.” Plus, in the best sense, you really feel that what is going on onscreen reflects offscreen as well.”
I really agree with both of these comments. I started watching this pretty late at night, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the film, but the opening sequence (of Casavettes and Rowlands rehearsals) hooked me. Very few people mentioned the way the play represented real life and vice-versa; indeed, there were moments (at least at the beginning of some earlier scenes) when I didn’t know if I was watching rehearsals or the offstage lives of the actors.
Re: the slap “epiphany”
I didn’t find this scene so pivotal, but I should try and watch it again. However, I disgaree that this is the point where Myrtle accepts her age and begins to act youthful again as Stephen mentioned. After the scenes, she’s still dealing with the age thing. I also don’t think the play is about or her trying to act youthful. The play is getting older and basically the play’s (playwright’s) attitude towards this is rather bleak. It’s this last part that I think Myrtle is not comfortable with and rejects. Why? Because Myrtle’s world and life occur with in theater, within her roles. To play the role this way would be to tantamount to the real Myrtle adopting this attitude. Therefore, I don’t think Myrtle’s problem is simply with lost youth, but the attitude towards losing one’s youth and getting old —i.e. that it is a condition of despair.
Myrtle’s last scene rejects this whole notion of despair. She takes on a more cavalier attitude towards aging (“just be happy” or something to that effect.) In real life, this is a rather hollow and trite solution that wouldn’t really work, but in the confines of the play it works—because the play is entertaining. Indeed, it’s interesting that Myrtle and Casavettes’ character turn the play into a comedy (effective at that).
So this is a triumph for Myrtle, not just the rest of the cast—and it’s a triumph for older woman and a triumph for actors. If there’s an “fuck you” moment, to me this is it. Myrtle—representing actors—is saying fuck you to the playwright, director and producer and winning because the audiences loves what she does. I love that.
Re: Myrtle’s annoying qualities
I can understand the way people she her behavior as narcissistic and spoiled, etc. but I didn’t see it that way. I saw the play/playwright representing social norms and conventions—specifically: this is the state of middle aged women. This is what Myrtle was struggling against and she has to overome this by herself—as a person and through her gifts as an actor.
Re: the “ghost”
To me, this was one of the weakest aspects of the film—not because it’s “untruthful,” but because it seems sort of obvious and cheesy. Depicting Myrtle’s struggle with age by showing a young woman who is an imaginary figure/ghost seems…well, lame. I don’t know what else to say about that.
Oh, I’d like hear more analysis/examples about the editing. When I focused on the editing, I didn’t find it very uncoventional at all, but I wasn’t watching the film like this for very long.
“To play the role this way would be to tantamount to the real Myrtle adopting this attitude. Therefore, I don’t think Myrtle’s problem is simply with lost youth, but the attitude towards losing one’s youth and getting old —i.e. that it is a condition of despair.”
very well put since she says at one point, to the writer, that if she plays this role, certain roles are all over for her.
Yes, and there’s another crucial comment I forgot to mention. The playwright asks Myrtle what the play doesn’t have or something to that effect. Myrtle’s respone: “hope.” Later the playwright affirms this by saying, in regard to that remark, that Myrtle is not dumb (or something to that effect).
Did know one else see the film as an exploration/commentary on the life of theater/movies—in a similar way to films like Last Metro and Day for Night? Wait a minute, you guys did mention All About Eve, but the two Truffault films (and Casavettes’ Killing of a Chinese Bookie, to mention another) the films are about the artists and the relationships between directors, actors and writers.
“This is what Myrtle was struggling against and she has to overcome this by herself”
Perhaps in the end she did overcome it by herself, but in the process she threw her struggles in everyone’s face constantly. I couldn’t relate to the degree of the struggle, though I could appreciate the internal conflict itself. Put very simply and crassly— it was just a play. I wanted to yell at her while watching the film, “Get the fuck over yourself, it’s not that serious!” Why did she even accept the role if she had so many qualms with it? Did she start realizing her issues as she became more acquainted with her character? I thought she was a big baby about it. We all grow old; her dilemma was nothing new. The fact that she was drinking herself into an embarrassing stupor and throwing herself at the men involved in the play just showed how desperately she was seeking to escape reality. I thought it made her seem very insecure. I was more inclined towards the character she created in the play rather than Myrtle herself. I think that irreverent and comical attitude towards aging in the play was better than how she dealt with it in real life.
“Did know one else see the film as an exploration/commentary on the life of theater/movies”
I did that is why I compared it to the great film Someone to Love (1987) which is also concerned with these things.
You said, “…very simply and crassly— it was just a play.”
Right but to her it wasn’t. The lines between her “real” life and the play were definitely blurred (as portrayed by the film), don’t you think? There’s two scenes where actors tell her, “You’re not a woman.” The first time it happens I believe Maurice says this to her (after she kisses him) and he follows that with, “..you’re a professional.” So within the framework of the film, the play sort of represents real-life or is real life to Myrtle at least.
You’re right that she lets her problems interfere and ruin the play for everyone else, but I gave her some slack given the circumstances (ie. play=her reality). Also, I think the play and the people supporting it, represent social conventions—society telling middle-aged woman that they’re washed up; they’re unattractive; men will leave them for younger woman and that their situation is hopeless. This last part is what Myrtle can’t accept and this is what she struggles with. Wouldn’t you agree that Myrtle should struggle against this?
Oh. I don’t know anything about Someone to Love.
Btw, what do you guys think the film was saying about Myrtle and her relationship with Maurice? What was Myrtle trying to do in reaching out to Maurice? (She does this twice.) Someone I sense there was something more than just simple escape from her problems.
Gena Rowlands plays the role of Myrtle Gordon, a Broadway actress who rehearses for the part of “The Second Woman”, a play about an aging woman, witnessing the death of a young fan makes her realize her own vulnerability. She is more and more left alone in trying to find herself in a role that does not make sense to her.
The director and her co-star often come over more patronizing than sympathetic towards Myrtle; and any compassion they do show towards her is more in sake of the play; which after having worked in theatre for years I can well understand; the play has to come first and no matter what happens “The Show must go on”. However this does not justify the cruelty and lack of understanding. I’d even go as far as to suggest, that both the Director (Ben Gazzara) and her co-star Maurice (Cassavetes) initially take pleasure in setting her up as a victim and become harsher towards her as the story progresses.
In a way every character is only playing a role and the play that is “Myrtle’s break down”. The catastrophe for an actor or actress is to be completely absorbed and transform into the character he or she plays and the death of the girl triggers something that vanishes the border between reality and acting (which is why she didn’t want to be slapped on stage. The pain and the humiliation are real, even if the hand didn’t strike her)
Myrtle also cannot accept that she has aged and that her career will be more limited if the audience accepts her in the part of an older woman. Myrtle beautifully explains the play’s message being about the “gradual lessening of my powers as woman as I mature” the reality is that there is nothing gradual about this transformation, it hit Myrtle as hard an unexpected as the car that killed the girl. Myrtle is being told twice early on in the film that she is not a woman, first by Maurice when he tells her “You’re not a woman, you are a professional” and only moments later Gazzara echoes this sentiment to her over the phone. It is not age alone that takes away her femininity, but those men in her life who lesson her powers (especially since both played a part in her personal life and know her weaknesses).
Sara the author of the play is even worse when she implies that her time has passed and later in the dressing booth continues to patronize her and assaults her with underlined cruelty and lines such as ‘It made me realize that you are not completely stupid’. Rarely have I despised a character as much as I did that old crone of a writer at first; but was surprised by her later on when she understood that there was something with the dead girl.
Myrtle continues to lose the ground under her feet and seeks refuge in the dead girl who becomes her alter ego and eventually turns against her. The only characters who seem to understand and shows true compassion towards Myrtle is Kelly and partially the Producer.
Rowlands is truly explosive (as always). There are those moments of pure tenderness in a kiss or an embrace that only Cassavetes can do so well, but I still think that “Opening Night” is in many ways one of his harshest films.
“She’s a strong woman, but not in a cheesy Hollywood way. She’s still vulnerable and her way of dealing with the age issue was triumphant, without being sappy or unbelievable”
Well said, Jaz!
I also have to agree with Stephen, the ghost character was perfect!
Yes yes! You’re right there is a definite blur between real life and acting, and that is apparent throughout the movie.
“This last part is what Myrtle can’t accept and this is what she struggles with. Wouldn’t you agree that Myrtle should struggle against this?”
Again, yes! I was not at all implying that she should not struggle and even fight against it. And I like the way she eventually took matters into her own hands and modified the script. I think that was a positive way to deal with it. I guess, just to repeat myself (and I’ll stop after this), I am the kind of person who is totally annoyed by people who make their problems everyone else’s problems. She walks around with this miasma of negativity and conflict. She says herself she hates that she can’t even go to the bathroom without being spied on, but she called this upon herself by behaving in strange, unstable ways. All I’m saying is that I wasn’t totally sympathetic to her character.
Anyways, I know you wanted to talk more about editing…can’t contribute in that area as I don’t know much about it and wasn’t paying too much attention to it.
“However this does not justify the cruelty and lack of understanding. I’d even go as far as to suggest, that both the Director (Ben Gazzara) and her co-star Maurice (Cassavetes) initially take pleasure in setting her up as a victim and become harsher towards her as the story progresses."
I think you are right, but for some bizarre reason I actually enjoyed when they treated her cruelly (maybe a little odd for me to say considering I’m a woman myself. I wish I was more sympathetic). I think it’s the way she goes about it. Sometimes, when people try so strongly to get others to understand them, they actually turn people off from their struggles. Does that make sense? But I totally agree that Rowlands was “truly explosive”! Well said.
“I guess, just to repeat myself (and I’ll stop after this), I am the kind of person who is totally annoyed by people who make their problems everyone else’s problems. She walks around with this miasma of negativity and conflict. She says herself she hates that she can’t even go to the bathroom without being spied on, but she called this upon herself by behaving in strange, unstable ways. All I’m saying is that I wasn’t totally sympathetic to her character.”
Right right. I understand this, and it makes complete sense. In my response to you, I guess I’m also trying to understand why her behavior didn’t bug me as much. I guess I felt she had a legitimate (versus petty or simply narcissistic motive) motive for behaving the way she did.
Apoc’s post also brought something else to mind that I want to throw out there: can we view the men in her life as representing pressure from society—perhaps even producers, directors, Hollywood industry—on older women to accept mid-life as miserable and hopeless for women? I say this because they (and the screenwriter, too) accept the hopelessness of the Myrtle’s character; they don’t challenge or question the validity of portraying Virginia (Myrtle) in this way. They certainly don’t understand Myrtle’s objections. In effect, they’re telling Myrtle to accept middle-age as a hopeless state.
Along with this, I think Myrtle might view the slapping as symbolizing this helplessness and willingness to be treated brutally. (There’s talk from the men about how woman in plays are often slapped.) But because theater and real life are equivalent to Myrtle, she can’t accept this.
(Just thinking out loud. I apologize if I’m repeating myself.)
I felt like the producer kind of understood her qualms. When they were arguing in her room and she asked, “What is the play even about, what does she stand for?” (something like that), and the director seemed to agree that the character was lacking. I think all the other people don’t have enough depth and insight (especially Sarah) to understand Myrtle’s objections as valid and significant. And they are significant because Myrtle isn’t only talking about her own fight against hopelessness; she’s attempting to change social norms regarding how women in this age range are viewed and treated.
Yes! I like the idea of the men representing pressure from society. I do think it is unjust (today and back in the 70’s) for women, and people in general to just “accept” things as they are, so from that angle I really appreciate Myrtle fighting and taking a stand against it. The men do represent how society views many issues—- in a nonchalant, dismissive manner, and I suppose to go against my previous posts, history has shown us the only way society seems to welcome change is after huge catastrophic outbursts and opposition.
(oh, and to answer why she bugs me more than you; I just have a hard time with that kind of display of emotion and loss of control in general. I don’t deal well with it)
Thanks for your input Salem, I didn’t read that until now lol.