Indie Icons: John Cassavettes
Never having heard of John Cassavetes, or any of his movies, before receiving him as my Indie Icon, I was dubious about about his work. I went to Blockbuster, with an open mind, looking for any two of his movies. Prepared with a list of five or six titles, I journeyed to blockbuster only to find that they did not carry a single one. This did not enhance my confidence in Cassavetes. I was able to find A Women Under the Influence (only in VHS) and Shadows at Eckerd’s Library. I have not used a tape in eight years, it was a stroll down memory lane.
Not knowing who Cassavetes is did not matter; I was blown away with A Women Under the Influence. Mabel, played by Gena Rowlands, is constantly trying to fit her role as a mother and a wife. A bit on edge and not quite understood, things escalate. When Mabel is placed in a mental institute and months later brought back, the film shows the effects on the family.
I became exceedingly involved with the story. There I was sitting in the Library (only place I know that has a VHS player,) jaw down, eyes wide, starring at the TV only inches away from me. It is no wonder Rowlands won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress and Cassavetes was nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay.
Cassavetes attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts during his high school years. After graduation he continued acting and met future wife Gena Rowlands, who stared in many of his later films. Cassavetes began teaching acting workshops in New York City. It was during an improvisation exercise that Cassavetes was inspired to begin writing his first film Shadows.
Shadows was the second filmed by Cassavetes that I viewed. It revolves around three siblings lives revealing their different stories and how they all connect. Love, racism, anger, and success are the common themes that run throughout the characters lives. I found one of the sibling’s story, Lelia, was more intriguing than the others. If you are looking for a happily ever after ending, this movie is not for you. The ending doesn’t truly conclude any of the relationships or problems, forcing the viewer to think and finish the stories for themselves. It was entertaining to contemplate what the ending meant and why Cassavetes chose to it that way. Although, it would have been more enjoyable have someone else to ponder with.
While filming, Cassavetes will commonly use a style of improvisation. This differentiated Cassavetes to other independent directors and is one of the reasons modern directors still look at his work for inspiration and direction. Cassavetes is still an influential director, so much so that his three children, Nick, Alexandra, and Zoe have followed in his foot steps. They have directed movies such as, The Notebook, Alpha Dog, and Broken English. It is a family that has made impacts are going to continue affecting the entertainment industry.