The thirteenth entry in an on-going series of audiovisual essays by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin. MUBI will be showing John Cassavetes' Gloria (1980) March 23 - April 22 in the United Kingdom.
You can tell a lot about filmmakers and their attitudes from the way they choose to frame a child—especially when there is also an adult in the same scene. To whom does the scene pay attention at any given moment? Whose viewpoint is covered? Who is privileged in the scene? Whose position is occupied by the camera? Shall we go the conventional shot/reverse shot route of looking down at the child from a high-angle (i.e., the senior POV), and gazing up from a low-angle at the adult?
John Cassavetes’s Gloria (1980) offers a veritable treatise on these questions—and its response is quite unlike any other film that centers on a roughly similar relationship, from Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon (1973) to Erick Zonca’s Julia (2008).
Like every socially conventional, acceptable linkage between people in Cassavetes—parent and child, brother and sister, the bond of friendship, the contract of marriage—the mother-son figure is at once questioned, discarded, transcended, scandalized, universalized, and finally reaffirmed in its vital, one-to-one potential.
This is the meaning of the great speech by little Phil (John Adames) when he comes around to admitting all possibilities in his tie to Gloria (Gena Rowlands), including the forbidden: “You're my mother, you're my father, you're my whole family. You're even my friend, Gloria. You're my girlfriend, too.” The word that, in some sense, covers all these possibilities in Cassavetes's cinema is family—but family comes to mean many things, both as an ideal and as a reality.
Gloria is an inexhaustibly rich film. Downgraded by some devotees of the director as a merely commercial assignment, it in fact represents a fertile cross-fusion of generic movie elements with the singularity of Cassavetes’s style and approach.
Our audiovisual essay Tensions draws upon Alain Bergala’s idea (most recently expressed in his essay collection La création cinéma, Yellow Now, 2015) that mise en scène in cinema is a matter of staging the simultaneous, multiple, ever-shifting intervals (or distances) between people, things, and the camera—and shaping this interplay into an expressive totality.
Beginning from that natural, simple disparity between the respective heights of child and adult, Cassavetes in Gloria delivers an entire world-view of human relationships.