A Word About Cassavetes

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A complete Cassavetes retro will be running at the Brooklyn Academy of Music July 6 - July 31. Check the schedule for details.    I always feel like I have to defend Cassavetes' body of work to strangers. Like if I sat next to someone who wasn't quite used to this kind of cinema they would be put off, uncomfortable, embarrassed or just find it to be too much. They would be right. It is too much. Too much emotion, too much life, too much madness. It's your family up there on the screen. Or maybe just mine.

The last film I saw of his was Love Streams about a year ago. It was the unofficial last "Cassavetes" film he made. It was double billed with a beautiful but melancholy documentary I'm Almost Not Crazy which you can see in its entirety here thanks to the generous nature of the internet. It's about the making of Love Streams. It was a very emotional experience because you knew something you almost shouldn't know. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver at the time and you could see it. He looked tired but you could see his genius was still at work. He was a fighter and you could see that in Love Streams. In the film, Cassavetes plays a playboy with absolutely no redeeming qualities who finds himself caring for his sister, played by his equally talented wife, Gene Rowlands. In turn his sister ends up caring for him when everyone in their lives has abandon them. It's jarring and devastating. The word "real" gets thrown around a lot when discussing Cassavetes' work. It's not. It's hyper-real then it transcends into the surreal. Look that up with your genre finder on IMDb.      

When I was younger and started following cinema, I wanted to be the masters I studied. I wanted to be Scorsese. Kubrick. Peckinpah. Pasolini. Kazan. But who I was, was Cassavetes. I mean that, when I look at the behavior in those films, the way people related to each other, the yelling, the hysteria, the way people lived their lives two inches in front of their faces, that's what I knew. The craziness, the hyper-masculine egos running amok. The unbalance. That's what I knew. That's why when I see his films I know there is truth there. And it's electric. That's why after I see a Cassavetes' film I don't feel embarrassed or that I have to defend anything. I feel like I'm on the inside and everyone else is just a bystander.