a great gift you've given to young filmmakers everywhere. Your book,
Cassavetes on Cassavetes,
made me miss him even more. I didn't think it possible."Ben
Gazzara, the star of Cassavetes' Husbands
and The Killing of
a Chinese Bookie
God for Ray Carney's Cassavetes
on Cassavetes. It captures the man I knewthe most
vivid, colorful, intriguing, infuriating, fertile, man, child, artist,
actor, friend. It's all there. The passion, the craziness, the complexity,
the mystery. There'll never be another like him. It's a terrific
book."Peter Falk, star of Husbands
and A Woman Under
footage of the mind and heart of an American original."Kirkus
this book is like attending an extended master class at the Actors
Studio, a reminder of a rebellious spirit sadly missed."Stephen
Rees, Library Journal
For more than thirty
yearsfrom the late 1950s through the late 1980sJohn
Cassavetes, the spiritual father of American independent filmmaking,
steered a courageous course freelancing on the fringes of the Hollywood
studio system. During his lifetime, with the exception of A Woman
Under the Influence and Faces, his work was largely ignored
by reviewers (when it wasn't simply ridiculed), but in the years
since his death he has been re-discovered by a new generation of
viewers and artists. He has become a cult figure with millions of
young followers. He and his films are bigger today than at any point
in his lifetime.
Cassavetes on Cassavetes is the autobiography he never lived
to write. In his own words Cassavetes tells the story of his life
as he lived it, day by day, year by year. He begins with his family
and childhood experiences, talks about being a high school student,
college dropout, and drama school student. He describes the years
he spent pounding the pavement in New York as a young unemployed
actor unable to get a jobor even an agent. Then he takes the
reader behind the scenes to sit in on the planning, rehearsing,
shooting, and editing of each of his filmsfrom Shadows,
Faces, and Husbands, to Minnie and Moskowitz,
A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese
Bookie, Opening Night, Gloria, and Love Streams.
He describes the battle to get them made, and the even greater struggle
to get them into movie theaters. He talks about the reaction of
audiences and reviewers to his work, and responds to criticisms
of it. This is Cassavetes at his most candid and outspokenuncompromising,
humane, and passionate about life and art.
The tale is a personal one: of dreams, struggles, triumphs, setbacks,
and frustrations; of high-stakes financial gambles, crazy artistic
risk-taking, and midnight visions of glory. But it is also the story
of an artistic movement that extended beyond Cassavetes and defined
an era in film history. Between the lines as it were, these pages
chronicle the history of one of the most important artistic movements
of the past fifty yearsthe birth and development of American
independent filmmakingand the response to it by critics and
Cassavetes pioneered a new conception of what film can be and doa
vision of it as a personal exploration of the meaning of his life
and the lives of the people around him. He made his movies the way
poets write or painters paint. It was not about telling a hyped-up
dramatic story to take people away from their lives, but a way of
asking deep, probing questions about the world in which he lived,
and of asking viewers to explore the meaning of their experiences.
Cassavetes on Cassavetes traces the cultural trajectory of
that idea, and the wildly opposed responses it elicited: the incredible
energy and excitement it engendered among certain artists, critics,
and viewers; and the fierce resistance it met with from uncomprehending
studio heads, producers, distributors, reviewers, and audiences
fighting to hold onto their notion of the movies as "story-telling"
or "entertainment." Its not too much to say that
Cassavetes was engaged in a struggle for the soul of American film,
and that the battle is not over; it continues today.
Ray Carney, the worlds leading authority on Cassavetes
life and work, plumbs the depths of Cassavetes' soul, presenting
both a spiritual portrait of the artist and a soul-searching meditation
on Cassavetes' more than half-doomed attempt to create works of
art in a commercial medium like film. Carney says his goal was to
"get beyond the press release version" of Cassavetes
life. "I wanted to tell the real story of the predicament of
the American film artist.... to show what it really is like
to be an artist in a commercial medium like film and a business-oriented
culture like the one we live in. You read the film magazines and
watch the TV talk-shows, and they make being an indie
sound exotic and glamorous and exciting, but the truth is that anyone
who attempts to make films that are more than entertainment in America
is almost certainly doomed to be neglected or reviled by newspaper
and magazine reviewers, who are almost all under the sway of Hollywood
entertainment values. Every generation fools itself and thinks that
it is wiser than its predecessors, but the next Cassavetes, the
young artist trying to do interesting things today, is in exactly
the same situation Cassavetes was. Cassavetes still has a lot to
pages capture the spirits that possessed Cassavetes
soulthe filmmakers cultivated alienation, loneliness,
self-destructiveness, ambition, unpredictable fits of anger, desperation,
self-protective clowning, need to be the center of attention, and
inability to work as a member of a group or for anyone else. They
subtly hint at spooky similarities between the artist and his demon-driven
protagonists (all of whom are in states of emotional extremity,
most of whom attempt suicide or throw themselves into orgies of
self-destruction at some point in their films).
Carney spent eleven years assembling the text, editing it down from
more than five thousand pages of original source material. It was
based on extensive interviews with the filmmaker during the final
decade of his life, and on both new and previously published interviews
with virtually everyone who ever worked with Cassavetesfrom
stars like Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara to artistic
collaborators and friends like Ted Allan, Sam Shaw, Al Ruban, and
With Cassavetes on Cassavetes, Carney has created a contemporary
version of Stanislavskis My Life in Art for film and
for our time. It is a book that will enlighten and inspire drama
students, actors, filmmakers, and artists everywhere.
Illustrated with more than sixty pages of previously unpublished
behind-the-scenes photographs. 544 pages.
is the first time Cassavetes life story has been told (and
since he lied to journalists about many of the events in his life),
many of the facts Carney reveals have not been known outside the
inner circle of Cassavetes friends and family. Many facets
of the story will be unfamiliar even to someone who has read all
of the standard journalistic treatments and film encyclopedia entries.
A few highlights (all references are to book pages):
and twists in Cassavetes psyche and his embattled cultivation
of his "outsider" status are captured here for the first
brushes with the law, playing "chicken" on the Port Washington
sand-pit cliffs in his teen years, and feelings of oppression at
the narrowness and conformity of American culture when he was in
high school (pp. 10-11).
"crazy" behavior as an aspiring actor fighting for work
in New York and the "lone wolf" side of his personality
his flamboyance camouflaged (pp. 20-24).
occasional ruthlessness and "use" of people to further
his own agenda, with details about more than one lawsuit initiated
or threatened by his co-workers (pp. 73-5, 99-100, and 179-80).
legendary fights with Pauline Kael, his wife, Gena Rowlands, and
other actors and journalists (pp. 171-2, 246-52, 283-4, and 330-33).
are many uncensored, behind-the-scenes accounts of the creation
of the films. Some excerpts:
half-drunken "six-month traveling house party" that resulted
in Faces (pp. 144-8).
The first in-depth explanation of what Cassavetes actually meant
when he used the word "improvisation" to describe his
actors performances (pp. 161-6 and 323-7).
outrageous pitch Cassavetes made to a gullible Italian millionaire
that resulted in Husbands, committing Peter Falk and Ben
Gazzara to act in it, when Cassavetes had not yet written the first
word of the script or told the two actors that he was using their
names (pp. 204-8).
autobiographical basis of Cassavetes workits grounding
in his own life and relationships:
feelings of being an outsider to New York society and of "passing"
for something he was not at the point at which he made Shadows.
The deep similarity between the character of Ben in Shadows
and himself (pp. 58 and 257-8).
veiled self-portrait of his own commercial "sell-out"
after making Shadows that is woven into Too Late Blues
Cassavetes depiction of his own life and marriage in the central
couple of Faces, with the Maria Forst character originally
being written for Gena Rowlands to play (pp. 134-5 and 138-9).
The portrait of Cassavetes own courtship of Rowlands and the
differences in their personalities dramatized in Minnie and Moskowitz
autobiographical resonances of the marriage in A Woman Under
the Influence, but with a gender reversal that fooled the critics
who identified Rowlands with Mabel. In real life, Rowlands played
Nick to Cassavetes Mabel (pp. 362-3).
The self-portrait of the artist as a struggling repertory
theater company manager in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Gloria, the comical similarity between the midget macho-man
Phil and his creator (p. 448).
connections between Cassavetes and Robert Harmon in Love Streams,
Cassavetes farewell to filmmaking, made when he knew he only
had a short time to live (475-81 and 500).
financial gambles and bureaucratic struggles that went into making
and distributing the films:
near derailing of Husbands when financing was withdrawn only
days before shooting was scheduled to start (pp. 224-7).
fights with Columbia over the length of Husbands and the
"vomiting scene" (pp. 252-7) and with Lew Wasserman over
the publicity and distribution of Minnie and Moskowitz (pp.
probable use of porno-film "short ends" to make A Woman
Under the Influence (p. 319); Cassavetes "blackmailing"
the New York Film Festival to get the film screened (pp. 355-7);
his reluctant foray into self-distribution (pp. 358-61); and his
"Fuck em" response to the films Academy Awards
nominations (p. 364).
crushing defeats Cassavetes encountered when he attempted to self-distribute
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (pp. 397-400) and Opening
Night (pp. 426-31).
abortive attempts to get a series of cinematic projects off the
ground in his final years, his turn to play-writing and dramatic
production, and the gradual decline of his health as a result of
what he euphemistically called the effects of "too much artistic
living" (pp. 501-12).
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Ray Carney is Professor of Film and American Studies and Director
of the undergraduate and graduate Film Studies programs at Boston
He is the author or editor of more than ten books, including the
critically acclaimed The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World;
The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies;
American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra; Speaking the Language
of Desire: The Films of Carl Dreyer; American Dreaming; and
the newly published monograph on Cassavetes Shadows
for the BFI Film Classics series and the guide to his films:
John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity. He co-curated
the Beat Culture and the New America show for the Whitney Museum
of American Art in New York, is General Editor of the Cambridge
Film Classics series, and is a frequent speaker at film festivals
and special events around the world.
He is an acknowledged scholarly expert on independent film and American
art and culture.
CASSAVETES on CASSAVETES
is published by Faber and Faber (England)
and Giroux (US)
Copyright 1999-2001 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not
be reprinted without written permission of the author.
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