A list where I rank my favorite films by John Cassavetes
Senses of Cinema:
“The central subject in all of the films is the exploration of sincerity and authenticity – what he called “phoniness” versus “honesty” or “truthfulness.” Though he cut it from most of the final edits, most of his scripts actually have discussions of “phoniness.” Cassavetes thought of himself as the least “phony” person in the world. And his work is an exploration of how we phony-up ourselves. How we fool ourselves or get mixed up about what we really need and want emotionally. How we lose track of ourselves, or what we are, in the Emersonian sense. And how we can “find ourselves” again, if we are lucky. Look at the salesmen and the housewives in Faces. That’s what they are depictions of. How we fool ourselves about who we are. How we tell ourselves self-protective, self-deluding stories about ourselves. That’s McCarthy in a nutshell: “Jeannie, Jeannie, I’m a nice guy.” It’s Louise: “I come from a musical background. I know how to dance my way.” It’s Tony in Shadows. “Tell her I love her. Tell her there’s no difference between us.” Cassavetes is interested in how our pride and sense of dignity get in the way of being real. We lose track of ourselves by trying to look good. Or by caring what people think of us. That’s Nick in A Woman Under the Influence. Or Cosmo in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. We wear masks to hide from others and protect ourselves from being exposed. That’s Hugh in Shadows, Zelmo and Jim and Minnie in Minnie and Moskowitz. It’s Maurice in Opening Night or Robert in Love Streams. That’s the master plot of all of Cassavetes’ work. Exposing fraudulence and self-delusion. Finding out what someone really is. It’s not about events; it’s about character. About the layers of performance we try to hide behind. About the way we try to live by some fraudulent internal script, and about his attempt to get us off the page, onto the margins, to improvise – and in the process to really listen and see and respond without a script. They are about change and process. They are about staying free, avoiding being limited by social rules and arrangements. About possibility and open-ended definitions of selfhood. About the difficulty of expressing your dreams and desires – and the necessity to express them any way you can. About taking chances and the need to open yourself to new experiences and make yourself emotionally vulnerable after you have been hurt or wounded. They are about the need to break free of the past and live in a present-minded state of flowingness. They are about breaking down emotional and behavioral patterns. About how daring to live in a state of not knowing can free you. About plunging into things without knowing where they will lead. About cycles of loneliness, solitude, and non-communication and self-inflicted isolation and pain."
- A short section from an interview with Ray Carney.
“Cassavetes’ supreme accomplishment is that as a viewer watches his films he actively participates in the same process of exploring, learning, wondering, and changing his mind that the filmmaker did in making them. If we are nimble and strong enough, we move through these experiences the way we move through life at our best. The films themselves are the closest thing to life lived at its most intense; they allow us the experience of fresh, growing, changing experiences. That is why, in the end, we remember them only to be able to forget them. We go to them only to leave them behind by moving beyond them in our own experience. They bring us back to life.”
(Excerpted from Ray Carney’s The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies)*Read less