Author Topic: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies  (Read 774 times)

I've only talked to Ray Carney online, but he's given me some fine movie recommendations, and he's a genius who writes so great about subject matter.. If the "pre-approved" credit card I just received goes through, I'll be sure to buy this book - the reviews are great, and you can "Look Inside". I'll paste a few fine reviews.

I had the advantage of having Ray Carney as a professor at Boston University. By some stroke of genius (possibly by administrative accident), all entering film students were required to take a survey course from him on film art before taking anything else. Carney started with warhorses like Hitchcock's "Psycho" and made the roomful of us (vocally) do exercises during the screening that exposed the highly polished but rather ridiculously superficial artifice of the "classic film". We all thought he was crazy. Here was this man -- that one friend described as a combination of Andy Warhol and Orville Reddenbacher -- unsubtly undermining a number of the most globally revered films. He then paraded a host of highly experimental films (many from the library of Congress that practically noone outside of a Carney class has ever or will ever see) before us that were appallingly difficult and often downright confrontational. It's pretty safe to say that practically none of us really "got it" until long after that semester, possibly years. At some point I did. Carney loves film just like we all do, however he had recognized something that we (and, most likely, you, too) had not, that film can be so much more than anything we had imagined (or yet been exposed to). That's largely what he wanted to show us in this class. Film is still a nascent art, highly immature in scope and depth. So far, Cassavetes -- one of the EASIER filmmakers Carney introduced us to -- is one of the handful of film artists that has done something deeply new with the form since its inception. If you develop an interest in Cassavetes, you will find this book essential, and you will return to it after every screening.


This book changed my life. It wasn't a pretty experience, either. I argued with it. I dismissed it. I fought it tooth and nail. But in the end, reading this book and seeing the films it discusses represented the single most important educational, emotional, and artistic experience I've ever had. I tell you, the thing is a mental a-bomb. I broke down. It literally caused me a crisis of the faith regarding everything that I though I knew or held dear about filmmaking, and maybe even the world. I lost friends. Not only does this book chronicle in deep, loving detail the films, working methods, and world-view of one of the most important (yet underappreciated) filmmakers in American cinematic history, it is a manifesto, articulating and illustrating an entirely original and brain re-wiring theory of flimmaking, present in the films of John Cassavetes; a theory at odds with 99% of the films EVER MADE. Everything you though you knew is suspect in the glaring light of Ray Carney's prose. Forget Citizen Kane. Forget Cassablanca. Forget Vertigo. They're like fingerpaintings next to a Piccaso. Neither lightweight nor academically verbose for its own sake, Carney's tone is as friendly as if he were chatting with you over a beer, yet what he says is nothing short of revolutionary. It was simple: I was blown away. Finding precedent for Cassavetes' work in the long-standing American Romantic tradition of Walt Whitman, Emerson, William James, John Dewey and others, Carney's book gives film its proper due as the greatest 20th century artform. An artform, it suggests, still in its infancy. What Cassavetes' films did to me was simple and profound -- they showed me a new way to expereince the world. A new attitude. A new awareness. Carney did the same thing, articulating those ways, and celebrating them with the reader. I read a lot of film books, but this is the beat-up, dog-eared one I go back to time and time again. No plain-jane film text is as insightful or inspirational. Read it and you will never be the same again. I wasn't.

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2019, 01:48:39 PM »
I watched Husbands recently, really enjoyed it, but preferred The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2019, 08:24:44 AM »
Ray Carney seems quite militant in his opinons. Comes across very anti cinema-as-spectacle. And why won't he give Mark Rappaport his films back?

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2019, 12:05:16 PM »
For some reason I'v never gotten around to watching any Cassavetes, maybe some half remembered TV viewing in the 90's I spose if it ever got shown. Any recommendations? Chinese Bookie seems to come up most often although I'd guess maybe because it has some trappings of genre cinema?

Really it seems like you have a significant divide in a lot of scholarly opinion on cinema between art and entertainment. The latter I would say generally tends to build up position opinion over time where as the former is more recognised in its own era. I mean I spose it makes sense in a teaching environment especially since grand ambition need not be the intended goal so much as competence within an art form, I'v certainly seen a lot of film students with rather mundane taste lionising someone like say Ron Howard. Hitchcock does definitely seem to be the one who benefits a lot from this viewpoint, John Ford being another and you could argue perhaps Kurosawa somewhat as well although I think he has more of a foot in both camps.

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2019, 01:12:58 PM »
For some reason I'v never gotten around to watching any Cassavetes, maybe some half remembered TV viewing in the 90's I spose if it ever got shown. Any recommendations? Chinese Bookie seems to come up most often although I'd guess maybe because it has some trappings of genre cinema?


Chinese Bookie, Woman Under the Influence, Gloria - are all good introductions to Cassavetes.  A Constant Forge is a good doc on him, it's on the Criterion Five Films set. Also, Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes is a neat read if you like stuff like that. But he really should give Mark Rappaport his films back.

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2019, 01:49:18 PM »
Chinese Bookie seems to come up most often although I'd guess maybe because it has some trappings of genre cinema?

Only relative to a Cassavetes film.  So barely.


Basically everything he did with the exception of Big Trouble (his last film) is aces.  His Columbo episode (which he directed and starred in) is one of my favourites of the entire lot.

If I absolutely had to pick a favourite it would either be Husbands or Minnie and Moskowitz (co-starring the recently departed Seymour Cassel).  Chinese Bookie is great, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think some of the nightclub sequences could do with further editing.

Blumf

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2019, 03:04:43 PM »
I've only seen Chinese Bookie, which I liked, but what exactly is it that makes his films so great? I suspect I'm missing it.

Sin Agog

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2019, 03:23:30 PM »
I've only seen Chinese Bookie, which I liked, but what exactly is it that makes his films so great? I suspect I'm missing it.

Might need to watch a few more before it hits you in the face (Chinese Bookie's a bit of an outlier), but whatever the opposite of misanthropy is, Cassavetes had it. He was utterly enamoured with his actors and his characters, with all their obvious flaws and egos, to the point where he spent almost every penny of his acting earnings making opportunites to spend more time with them.  A lot of his characters would probably be Cancelled today, and it's not always all that fun spending time with them, but it's worth it to remind yourself that it's still possible to connect with almost anyone on a human level if you want to, the way little children do.

Remember to give him and Falk in Elaine May's Mikey & Nicky a watch as well.  Might be my favourite thing he's been involved in.  And yeah, the Cassavetes on Cassavetes book is great, in spite of Carney's smudged fingerprints being all over it.

Blumf

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2019, 06:39:22 PM »
I might dig out Mikey & Nicky, been meaning to watch some Elaine May since reading this joyous review of her first film:

http://exiledonline.com/great-obscure-films-1-a-new-leaf/

chveik

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2019, 09:57:07 PM »
you should start with Shadows I reckon.

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #10 on: April 15, 2019, 10:48:17 PM »
Start with Shadows or Faces

Sin Agog

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #11 on: April 15, 2019, 10:49:34 PM »
I like how each of his films invented a different indie sub-genre.

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #12 on: April 15, 2019, 10:50:44 PM »
Also the 1978 cut of Chinese Bookie is the better version

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #13 on: April 16, 2019, 04:18:31 PM »
I might dig out Mikey & Nicky, been meaning to watch some Elaine May since reading this joyous review of her first film:

http://exiledonline.com/great-obscure-films-1-a-new-leaf/
A great movie that was sabotaged by studios... Finely written, fine acting by Cassavetes and Falk.

As for most directors, I'd start chronologically.. Many are on YouTube, or other sites.

the science eel

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2019, 08:39:17 PM »
Husbands is absolutely phenomenal. It blew me away. I'd say more but I find it hard to talk about things I'm so impressed by. I was surprised it wasn't improvised (apparently that's a common misconception - only one scene in the entire film isn't scripted).

I had the opportunity to see a couple of Cassavetes' films recently at a retrospective at the Champo cinema in Paris. First time with Opening Night, which was a total joy.

I need to see that Columbo episode.

the science eel

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #15 on: April 17, 2019, 08:40:38 PM »
Start with Shadows or Faces

I wouldn't recommend Faces as a starting point, myself. It's a talky, confusing kind of film and could put prospective fans off.

Shadows, for sure.


Sin Agog

  • Dogs fucked the pope; no fault of mine
Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #17 on: April 17, 2019, 08:52:49 PM »
Johnny Staccato, that series he shot in the '50s where he plays a jazz pianist private dick is quite a joy.

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #18 on: April 17, 2019, 09:37:03 PM »
It's a talky, confusing kind of film and could put prospective fans off.

Heh heh you could say that about any of them!

Johnny Staccato, that series he shot in the '50s where he plays a jazz pianist private dick is quite a joy.

It absolutely is. Well worth tracking down, as it's one of the coolest TV shows of all time

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #19 on: April 17, 2019, 10:04:14 PM »
Loads of the golden greek's stuff on dailymotion https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4zpvfg

Ballad of Ballard Berkley

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #20 on: April 19, 2019, 03:52:02 AM »
Thanks to the recommendations in this thread, I'm looking forward to dipping a toe into Cassavetes' oeuvre.

I've toyed with dabbling before, but I've always been put off by the embarrassing drunken antics of Cassavetes, Falk and Gazzara on that notorious episode of The Dick Cavett Show. They come across as such a bunch of tiresome, bullying pricks. Cavett, with his dry, witty ad libs, is so much funnier than they are.

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #21 on: April 19, 2019, 03:59:18 AM »
Oh god yeah I remember that show, they seem incredibly full of themselves and their own private group energy

Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #22 on: April 19, 2019, 08:53:00 PM »
Thanks to the recommendations in this thread, I'm looking forward to dipping a toe into Cassavetes' oeuvre.

I've toyed with dabbling before, but I've always been put off by the embarrassing drunken antics of Cassavetes, Falk and Gazzara on that notorious episode of The Dick Cavett Show. They come across as such a bunch of tiresome, bullying pricks. Cavett, with his dry, witty ad libs, is so much funnier than they are.
Yeah, that was a drunken mess. Disappointing. Basically, they re-enacted the movie "Husbands", but every other interview is quite fascinating. Here's one with Cassavetes and Co.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePptcNqXRJA - entitled "TV SUCKS" -- they were talking about the movie, "Opening Night" which is really good, especially on the 2nd viewing (like almost every other Cassavetes directed movie)

Twit 2

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Re: The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
« Reply #23 on: April 19, 2019, 09:58:08 PM »
Interesting OP. I kinda think you could make a similar case for any number of interesting filmmakers. Watch something like Andrei Rublev and realise how few people could even conceive of doing something on that level, how it represents a whole way of exploring cinema that is its own universe.