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Praise and reviews of – Ray Carney's
CASSAVETES ON CASSAVETES

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Harmony Korine, writer-director of Kids, Gummo, Julian Donkey-Boy
“THE BEST FILM BOOK EVER WRITTEN.”

The opinion of Xan Cassavetes, John Cassavetes' daughter and the director of Z Channel and other works, about Ray Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes, as relayed to Carney by a friend in Los Angeles (stars indicate omitted personal material):
"I am still in LA, working on *** , which is coming along. Real progress. This evening saw Z CHANNEL, a new documentary by Xan Cassavetes. *** I spoke with her after the screening. I thought you might like to know that she absolutely loves CASS ON CASS. Says she sleeps with it. Says it's enabled her to have conversations with her father she never had."

Roger Ebert
“[Cassavetes on Cassavetes] is a labor of love, scholarship, and detective work. From a chaotic mountain of primary and secondary sources, Ray Carney has shaped the story of John Cassavetes' life and work – using the words of the great director himself, and also calling on his colleagues and friends to supply their memories and revelations. 'This is the autobiography he never lived to write,' Carney says, but it is more: Not only the life story, but history, criticism, homage, lore. Like a Cassavetes film, it bursts with life and humor, and then reveals fundamental truths.”

Tom Dawson, Total Film (London), in a four star review, selecting Cassavetes on Cassavetes as “Book of the Month”

“A mammoth undertaking which clocks in at more than 500 pages, [Cassavetes on Cassavetes ] draws on an array of interviews, both with Cassavetes and with his regular 'family' of collaborators, who include his wife Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara. Carney has shaped this mass of material into a compelling narrative of an indefatigable outsider who constantly battled to get his films financed, shot and released. Cassavetes himself emerges as a contradictory, bloody-minded figure, driving those he worked with to distraction in his quest to explore human feelings on celluloid. This was, after all, a man who recut a film because it was too popular in a preview screening. But there's something heroic about his refusal to compromise his vision, and his insistence that an artist 'must try different things – but above all must dare to fail.'”


Stephen Rees, Library Journal
“Cassavetes was a self-described 'bigmouth' and 'troublemaker' as well as a prolific writer and talker. In Cassavetes on Cassavetes, he discusses his actor's beginnings, honing his craft in the golden age of live television drama, and his growing disenchantment with the studio system. He expounds on improvisation, shaping a film performance, favorite themes of love and marriage, and the eternal problems of independent film distribution. Reading this book is like attending an extended master class at the Actors Studio, a reminder of a rebellious spirit sadly missed.”

Ben Raworth, HotDog Magazine (London), in a four-star review, selecting Cassavetes on Cassavetes as the “HotDog Pick
“Drawing on extensive interviews with the director, Carney has written the definitive John Cassavetes tome. You get the real low-down, colored by candid conversations with those who knew him best.... Fascinating and instructive.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Film historian Carney (Film and American Studies/Boston University) explores the cinematic philosophy and practices of maverick actor and director John Cassavetes (1929-89). Carney did a prodigious amount of research to prepare this thorough, admiring, and even affectionate examination of Cassavetes' films. He interviewed Cassavetes many times, spoke with virtually everyone who had ever worked with him, viewed every inch of relevant footage he could acquire, studied every interview ever granted by the loquacious filmmaker, and read the multiple versions of Cassavetes' screenplays. A compulsive reviser, Cassavetes does not deserve, in the author's view, his reputation as a director of improvised productions. Instead, he was a ferocious, tireless worker, a man who would do just about anything to complete a film (or find a booking for it), a director who would manipulate cast and crew to achieve an effect he felt he could achieve no other way. Carney is less interested in the ordinary biographical facts of Cassavetes' life than he is in his artistic temperament and credo.... In most cases, Carney devotes an entire chapter to each film, beginning with Shadows (screened in 1958) and ending with Love Streams (1984). The author's technique is to let Cassavetes speak for himself whenever possible, so the text is largely an anthology of the filmmaker's published and previously unpublished comments on his life and work, intercut with Carney's transitions, explanations, and revisions. Fascinating footage of the mind and heart of an American original.”

Jason Wood, Kamera.co.UK
“Described as the autobiography Cassavetes never lived to write, [Cassavetes on Cassavetes is] a lovingly crafted, elegiac affair and a fitting epitaph to a man of ferocious integrity, determined to dictate the conditions in which he creatively toiled with scant regard for the conventions of Hollywood studio feature production.... Eschewing the narrative ellipticism for which Cassavetes was famed, the result of these labors is an exhaustive and thrillingly comprehensive peek into the life and work of the man.”

Eugene Hernandez, ifcRant
“In this definitive work, author Ray Carney captures the director's life and craft in his own words.... Conversations with many of the most important figures in his life – his wife and frequent collaborator, Gena Rowlands, and actors Seymour Cassel and Peter Falk, among others – flesh out the narrative and offer insight into a complex artist. 'He could be both maddening and inspiring, both brilliant and exasperating, childish and saintly,' Carney told us. 'That was the man I knew – the crazy, demonic Jerry Lewis the press releases covered up.'”

Tom Charity, Film Editor, Time Out magazine (London)
“I got my hands on a proof copy of your book on Friday, and have been poring over it all weekend. What can I say? It seems [in my own writing about Cassavetes] I have innocently perpetuated more than a few myths. I feel like having submitted an exam paper I've just been given all the answers to. I'm staggered by the depth and detail of your research. The book is a tremendous achievement. It absolutely justifies your comment in the Introduction, that even a Cassavetes buff will find something new and surprising, probably on every page. Not only is your research in another dimension to mine, but the portrait of the man himself has a complexity I only had glimpses of. I think you do him justice. I can't offer higher praise than that.”

Alistair Owen, The Independent (London)
“A friend, on hearing that I was writing this article, mused aloud: 'John Cassavetes. Wasn't he in an episode of Columbo?' Well, yes, but before his death from cirrhosis of the liver in 1989 at the age of just 59, he also wrote and directed a dozen movies, boasted the rare distinction of Oscar nominations as actor, writer, and director, and influenced several generations of independent filmmakers the world over. Yet most audiences, if they know him at all, still know him as the face from Columbo or Rosemary's Baby or The Dirty Dozen, roles he only took to finance his own work. Cassavetes on Cassavetes…paints a fascinating picture of the artist, whose challenging work provides an essential alternative to the mainstream. 'Now the big question is: can a picture make $100 million?' – Cassavetes once complained to an interviewer. 'If you're thinking that way, you're not making films, you're making money. If that's what it's come to, let the audience look at pictures of money, put money on the screen, and then rape it, shoot it, defecate on it – because that's basically what everyone is doing.' That was in 1974, and he would find even less to cheer about now.”

Gordon Flagg, Booklist
“John Cassavetes' gritty, personal, albeit commercially unsuccessful films, such as Faces, Husbands, and A Woman under the Influence, presaged today's American independent film movement, though Cassavetes was arguably more daring and uncompromising than, say, Tarantino or Sayles. Editor Carney shaped more than 400 hours of conversations with Cassavetes and extracts from previously published interviews into a narrative of the filmmaker's early days as a New York actor in the 1950s and his later struggles to finance and distribute his films. Probably best known for his intense acting in other directors' films (The Dirty Dozen, Rosemary's Baby, etc.), Cassavetes' frustrations as an actor originally led him to direct. Thereafter, he took most of his later roles to finance his own projects. Drawing on interviews with dozens of Cassavetes' friends and coworkers, Carney's extensive commentary augments the subject's remarks and fills in details. As complete a picture of the maverick moviemaker as we are ever likely to see.”

Lynden Barber, The Weekend Australian
“Cassavetes scholar and Boston University professor of film and American studies Ray Carney has spent 11 years compiling this exhaustive, deeply fascinating and frequently inspiring volume on the maverick filmmaker's life and career from interviews and conversations with the subject (he calls it the biography that Cassavetes never lived to write). His subject was a tireless and compelling talker, barely capable of uttering a sentence that didn't offer a challenge. Carney has also spoken to many of the director's collaborators, family members and friends and summarized their anecdotes, opinions and insights.”

Publishers Weekly
“'Cassavetes' films were quarried from his most private feelings and experiences,' writes editor Ray Carney in his introduction to Cassavetes on Cassavetes, and then illustrates his point with the writings, interviews, and recorded conversations of a beloved cult figure.... Fans and film buffs will delight in this rare look inside the mind of this talented, innovative and influential filmmaker.”

Gerald Peary, The Boston Phoenix
“There are two fabulous reasons to devour the huge book cover-to-cover, as I did: for the unordinary things that Cassavetes says, some totally nuts, some self-deceived, many wise and inspiring; and for the extraordinary insights into his production methods, which are beyond unorthodox, certainly off the charts for any other director who has ever made a film. Finishing this splendid read, I only wanted more.”

Sheila Benson, Seattle Weekly
“The voice of John Cassavetes ... rings clear in Cassavetes on Cassavetes, as the groundbreaking filmmaker discusses his philosophy and the tumultuous struggles required to sustain a 'marginal' vision over a thirty-year career. Editor Ray Carney shaped this massive, after-the-fact Q & A, a work he calls 'the autobiography Cassavetes never lived to write.' Out of 5,000-some pages of source material, primary and secondary. Cassavetes has his perfect filter in film professor Carney .... It's an enthralling, inspiring, enlightening book. ”

John Gianvito, Associate Curator, the Harvard Film Archive, Harvard University
“While of course I've known how long you've labored over Cassavetes on Cassavetes, seen amazing versions come and go (tossed aside altogether), and thought I knew pretty much even what the final version might be comprised of, to finally see it in its finished form, in all its chunky beauty, well – as Amos Vogel once said to me – if I wore a hat I'd take it off to you. God willing this book will outlive us all and continue year after year to find its well-worn pages in the grip of an endless succession of film makers and writers and enthusiasts eager to glean not just the wealth of insights delivered by John throughout the book but even more to glean some of John's infectious energy, his seemingly indefatigable spark and curiosity, his crazy love pouring out on every page. Worth every ounce of energy you expended (which goes far beyond anyone's idea of commitment to a writing project), every gray hair and ulcer. No one else out there could have done it, nor done it with a view as close to the inside of the man as I imagine is obtainable. Your commentaries are critical to the scope of the book. I thank God Faber and Faber who, if I recall, long ago passed on this idea, have finally seen the light. And what great pictures, Ray, fascinating all. It will rest assured sit alongside Sculpting In Time (sit when it's not in my lap) as one of the key books of my life. Thank you!”

Gadfly Online
“Ray Carney, the world's 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 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 teach us.'”

Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle
“As the compiler of Cassavetes' odd-job notes and scribblings, Carney does an amazing job; he knows when to stick his nose in and clarify, or correct, his subject's often meandering tone. (Cassavetes was an inveterate leg-puller, too, never averse to hyperbole and garnishing the truth when he felt it was necessary.) Carney, the dust jacket notes, spent a decade pulling together the various sources that eventually made up this book. Both Cassavetes and Carney are obsessive-compulsives in their own, unique way: twin maniacs seeking that same old elusive truth-thing.”

Michael R. Farkash, The Hollywood Reporter
“Cassavetes on Cassavetes is a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about an American original, a filmmaker who insisted on truth in performance and how 'ruthlessly' to get the most out of actors. It's a primer on getting your way on a film (assuming you're prepared to walk out). Additionally, the book amounts to a source of inspiration for filmmakers and provides many 'don'ts' if you want to get along with industry people.”

Dave Luhrssen, Shepherd Express
“With Cassavetes on Cassavetes, film professor Ray Carney assembles the story of his subject's life and career from the many interviews the director conducted from the '50s through his untimely death in 1989, and from Cassavetes' own scattered writings. It's as if Carney collected the notes for an autobiography Cassavetes never intended to write. What's helpful is Carney's cross-checking of facts, which places the filmmaker's statements in context. Cassavetes on Cassavetes is an interesting journey through the director's life, from his formative Greek-American childhood through his final films.”

Michael Koresky, Film Comment
“Compiled from more than ten years of research, Cassavetes on Cassavetes is as exhaustive as Cassavetes' films are exhausting. With professional Cassavetes enthusiast Ray Carney filling in the blanks, this (mostly) first-person account chronicles the development of a filmmaker determined to transcend what he deemed trendy cynicism by placing emotions center stage.... Cassavetes reveals here why he rejected irony and how he pushed his films to emotional extremes and devastating catharses. There are plenty of anecdotal gems, including run-ins with inquisitive Faces PA Steven Spielberg and the director's vengeful theft of Pauline Kael's coat following a particularly acerbic review. Fiercely independent in spirit, belief, and work ethic, Cassavetes finally comes across as less a tyrannical maverick than as an artist simply trying to get noticed.”

Jim McKay, director of Girls Town and Our Song, in Filmmaker Magazine
“[As I directed my own film] Ray Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes sat by my bedside like a bible. Late at night, while obsessing over some concern about tomorrow's shoot, or the next day's credit-card bill, or an upcoming meeting with a distributor, I'd open up the book to a random page and read. Just a passage or a page, it never took much. In those pages, I found the strength, support and spirit to go on.... In its pages I found some of the most inspiring thoughts about film, art and life that I'd ever read. It quickly became the most important book on my shelf.... Sound a bit over-dramatic? Well, if you're a filmmaker or a film fan interested in cinema outside the Hollywood system, pick up the book for yourself and start reading. You'll see.”

Christos Tsiolkas, Senses of Cinema
“Ray Carney's work on Cassavetes is ... an exemplary case of what the best criticism can do: He has ensured that work too long ignored and marginalized has been given renewed life. It is due to people like Carney, to their personal and intellectual commitment to championing Cassavetes' work that the director is finally receiving his due. His is a labor of love and it shows in the writing and in the incredible care that he has taken to record Cassavetes himself, to allow us access to the man and his thoughts.”

Scott Wannberg, The Road Less Traveled/Independent Review Site
“Ray Carney is a man alone in the wilderness singing the good song, well, in this case, the song of John Cassavetes, actor, but foremost, writer and director. Once upon a time in the world of film, John Cassavetes checked his rhythm, found it unable to be played in the stereo equipment of commercial Hollywood, and embarked on film project after film project direct from his heart/soul/nakedness. For the most part, could not buy five seconds of light and air from distributors and money people. That was then, as he lived, fought, sung, dreamed, and danced. Now, that he has been gone for some years, his films appear regularly on Independent Film Channel, and they make the rounds [at theaters].

”Whether you dig Cassavetes, dig him and don't dig him, Ray Carney's large collection of John's own direct words will take you into yourself. It will take you deep into the ongoing moment of love, for his films, finally, are about love, the loss of it, the gaining of it, self love, love of other, and the process that gets us there. The process that is and was Cassavetes, and his family, and his friends, for he always sought to work in the process with family and friends. For him, the shoot was an active participatory exploration. He would write his films (people erroneously think his work is based in improvisation)and then constantly rewrite on the set, after feeling his actors in their characters, for him his characters were not locked on the page, he would let the actors explore, take him into their search, and from that search would come even new insight into the characters and rewrite he would. He would also do it in the editing.

“There is the great story where the Columbia moguls were so happy with the first cut screening of Husbands he showed them, so ecstatic about this comedy that would garner Ben Gazzara an Oscar nod. Then Cassavetes turned to Gazzara, and Peter Falk, after that screening, and said, 'Remember what you just saw. You will never see it that way again.' To him, Husbands was not a comedy, and he took it into the editing room and reshaped the entire thing, and when Columbia looked at it again some time hence they were aghast.

“There is the great Shadows Charlie Mingus riff. Cassavetes wanted Mingus to write the score for Shadows. Mingus needed somebody to help clean up the cat shit in his apartment. Cassavetes sent over people to clean Mingus' place. Afterward, Mingus was very depressed and said, 'I miss the cat shit.' As Cassavetes sums it up...he finally did write the score...two years after the film was released.

“If anything, Cassavetes is a director who attempted to take us into the moment of his characters. He would have constant wars with his crews. No masking tape, no specific 'Hey Actor Move Over Into This Light.' He wanted to give the actors and their exploring first billing in the process. He would expect his camera crew to delve into their own particular exploring rooms and be ready to go where the actors of the piece they were photographing began to flow toward. Technical rehearsals would only deprive the actor from his ongoing search.

“His process does show in the immediacy of the behavior of the people in his films. And acting is nothing more than human behavior on film. Cassavetes on Cassavetes is a resonant gift for anyone you know who loves film. It is a must for anyone who believes in the creative process.

“Ray Carney is at Boston University is fighting the long and good fight. Like Cassavetes, he has trouble finding distributors for his material. He tells me that the various publishers of film books have an A list of directors that they turn to, but if the subject of your film book is not on that list.... He did try to pitch a book on FACES, Cassavetes' first actual film away from the studio system after SHADOWS, but the publishers felt it wasn't worth the effort, though they did grace him with an okay on SHADOWS, as SHADOWS had jazz and Afro-Americans as a subject matter....”


Patricia Bosworth, the author of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift: A Biography, Ruth Orkin, and other works
“What a great, great book you've written on John! It's just fantastic. Truly wonderful.”

JASON GARGANO in City Beat at www.citybeat.com
“Director/provocateur Harmony Korine calls it the best film book ever written. Remarkably, that's dangerously close to the truth. Cassavetes on Cassavetes exhaustively examines the dilemma of moviemaking: How can an art form that relies on so many people and so much money remain true to its creator's original intent without ending up a compromised, watered-down piece of studio product? This is how. Carney spent more than a decade researching Cassavetes on Cassavetes, interviewing the filmmaker several times and talking to virtually everyone associated with his dozen, little-seen films. The result is a penetrating first-person account of a man and his endless pursuit of emotional truth. John Cassavetes believed in movies as an art form. After reading Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes, you will too."

A scholarly book review by Todd Berliner, Professor of Film, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, printed in The Quarterly Review of Film and Video. Vol. 20, Issue 4 (Oct./Dec. 2003), pp. 292-295.

When film scholar Ray Carney asked filmmaker John Cassavetes why he turned down a deal from Sony in the mid-1980s to release his films on video, the filmmaker said to his future biographer and most tireless critical champion, “You think I want to be popular? You think I want them out on video? I want millions of people to see my movies? Why would I?” (510). The statement, reported in Carney’s new book, Cassavetes on Cassavetes, reflects the unorthodox values of this elusive filmmaker, who regarded commercial success as a sign of artistic failure, the death of creative freedom and personal integrity.

A crash course on the fiercely independent filmmaker, Cassavetes on Cassavetes describes, largely through Cassavetes’ own words, his ventures into personal, passionate, and commercially self-destructive filmmaking. Carney calls his book “the autobiography John Cassavetes never lived to write” (ix), but the book is a better autobiography than Cassavetes would have written himself. Always fascinated by the roughness of the creative process, Cassavetes would have written an autobiography as disorganized and out-of-focus as one of his films. Carney, however, has shaped a compendium of quotations into something that reads like the story of a man’s life.

Until recently, critics have mostly considered Cassavetes a minor filmmaker, and, except for Faces (1968) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974), his films never made any money in his lifetime. But he created some of the most original movies in American cinema and greatly influenced many of his contemporaries (Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, and Elaine May, to name a few), ever since his first film, Shadows (1959), helped to burst open the independent-filmmaking scene.

While a lot of viewers find Cassavetes’s movies unwatchable, he has nonetheless gathered a loyal following and some critical praise, especially since his death in 1989. The past decade has seen more Cassavetes film festivals than in the filmmaker’s entire 30-year career as a director and writer of artistically uncompromising independent films. Despite Cassavetes’s refusal of Sony’s offer to bring out his movies on video, since his death all his films (except for Too Late Blues [1962] and Love Streams [1984]) have become available on videotape and most are also on DVD. Those who like his movies consider him a genius, a maverick filmmaker who did things with the cinema that no one else has had the talent or audacity to do. The people who do not like his movies call him self-indulgent. Most people know him only as an actor, if they know him at all. Carney’s book attempts to bring Cassavetes out of obscurity and into the mainstream that eluded the filmmaker, partly by his own design, while he lived. Unlike some of the other books in this Faber and Faber series, Carney’s feels comprehensive as a biography, an autobiography, and a collection of the filmmaker’s statements about his life and art.

Cassavetes on Cassavetes describes in detail the circumstances surrounding each of Cassavetes’s films – from their conception, to their creation, to their distribution (or failure to obtain distribution), to their critical and commercial reception – and it does so mostly through quotations from Cassavetes that Carney culled from published sources and his own personal interviews with the filmmaker. About the “realistic” sound in his groundbreaking Shadows, for example, Cassavetes has this to say: “We recorded most of Shadows in a dance studio with Bob Fosse and his group dancing above our heads. . . . So when we came out, we had Sinatra singing upstairs, and all kinds of boom, dancing feet above us. And that was the sound of the picture. So we spent hours, days, weeks, months, years trying to straighten out this sound. Finally, it was impossible and we just went with it. Well, the picture opened in London, they said, ‘This is an innovation!’ You know? Innovation! We killed ourselves to try to ruin that innovation!” (97). We learn that some of the most interesting effects in Cassavetes’s films emerged as happy accidents, a consequence of his loose shooting style, which, unlike the rigorously premeditate Hollywood productions that the filmmaker spurned, encouraged creativity and innovation on the set.

***

At a time when it was fashionable for films to make bold political statements, Cassavetes fashioned his own intensely personal dramas that dealt less with social issues than with relationship between particular, idiosyncratic individuals. Both Faces and Husbands (1970) could have satirized male machismo and middle-class values, and both received criticism for not doing so. More interested in understanding his characters than condemning their faults, Cassavetes always respected his creations and gave them a chance to justify themselves. Shadows presents a scenario that could potentially address the politics of mixed-race relationships, and A Woman Under the Influence seems primed to condemn the institution of marriage as oppressive to women. However, the relationships in Cassavetes’s movies always seem too individualized to represent any institution, his characters too singular and human to stand for their race, their gender or their class. “I’m sure we could have had a much more successful film,” Cassavetes said about A Woman Under the Influence, “if the picture were rougher, more brutal, if it made statements so that people could definitely take sides. But along the way I’d have to look at myself and say, ‘Yes, we were successful in creating another horror in the world’ “ (367).

Whereas many of today’s independent filmmakers want to expose the depravity, simplicity or ridiculousness of their characters, Cassavetes sought to understand his characters’ complexities. Today’s independents make mostly sardonic films – Flirting with Disaster (1996), Happiness (1998), Your Friends and Neighbors (1998), Election (1999), American Movie (1999), American Psycho (2000, Best in Show (2000), Bully (2001) or anything by the Cohen brothers – that stand so far above their characters that audiences have little chance to feel affection or empathy for them. Cassavetes, however, didn’t allow us the smug pleasure of feeling superior to characters designed so that we could feel superior to them. “I absolutely refuse to judge the characters in my films,” he tells us. “I refrain from leading people by their noses by imposing a stereotyped moral vision in my work” (158).

The book shows the under-appreciated artist failing to reach even a modestly respectable audience for some of his quixotic productions. For instance, in its entire first run, only about 500 people saw Opening Night (1978), perhaps Cassavetes’s best movie and his most disastrous commercial failure. Cassavetes pronounced the film dead. “I will never play it for an audience. I will not humiliate myself and the film by begging anyone to attend it” (432). But rarely do we see Cassavetes give in to the disappointment that would have stymied a less passionate or self-assured artist. His saddest statement comes after the commercial failure of Opening Night and after his inability to find an American distributor for his re-edited version of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (originally released in 1976, re-edited in 1978): “I’m prepared to go on making pictures in my own way and hoping they’ll relate to other people’s experience. It gets harder every time, I can tell you. Harder to go through all the shit of setting them up, then making them, and then, maybe, having them ignored. . . . Anyway, I’m glad I’m not a success, because then, though you think you have greater freedom, you in fact have a great deal less . . . I guess I’ll stick to being a well-appreciated failure” (435).

Although clearly written by an affectionate fan, the book does not refrain from revealing some of the filmmaker’s unattractive qualities. For instance, after insisting to the principal actors and crew of Shadows that the film belonged to them and not to him. Cassavetes made a distribution deal with British Lion that reduced their shares by almost 90 percent. Carney writes, “It was a classic bait-and-switch. Cassavetes promised them the moon, told them that he would fight anyone to the death to defend their ownership of the film – and, once he got what he wanted from them, made a deal that vitually cut them out” (99). The book reveals Cassavetes’s lies to those who could help him with his career, and the difficulty his actors had working with him as a director, because of his manipulative treatment of them. However, Cassavetes also emerges as an unexpectedly generous man, one who would gladly risk his career and money for an artistically brave project – acting in student films, helping his protégé Martin Scorsese, giving jobs or money to friends in need.

***

Cassavetes scholars will happily mine the book for quotations and Cassavetes on Cassavetes will become the starting point for anyone who wants to read or write about the filmmaker.Cassavetes on Cassavetes is a portrait of a man whose artistic integrity and whose pleasure in the creative process condemned him to a life of professional frustration. But the book shows us that, time after time, Cassavetes willingly chose to lead exactly the life he led. Indeed, reading Cassavetes’s own descriptions of his “personal madness” as a filmmakers makes it seem perfectly sensible to risk everything one owns and devote oneself to a life of creative expression in order to become a largely underappreciated artist and a commercial failure.

© Todd Berliner and The Quarterly Review of Film and Video. Copyright 2003. All rights reserved by the copyright holders.


María Moreno El amante perfecto

"Hay seres a quienes es mejor leer que encontrar. Hay otros a quienes es mejor encontrar que leer. Hay autores muertos que parecen tan vivos como nuestros amigos y hay autores vivos que parecen tan muertos como el que “escribió” con pinturas en las cavernas de Lascaux.Pero cuando el autor es realizador cinematográfico siempre puede hacerse presente.

Entre mi escueta colección de admirables, John Cassavetes es el único hombre al que me hubiera gustado conocer. Alguien que, habitante inaccesible de un país lejano, y cuya lengua desconozco, me hizo amarlo en ausencia y esfinge. Pero amarlo es un sentido más preciso que el de erotizar su rostro estilo El Cerebro Mágico –una imagen que decoraba un juego de ingenio de los años cincuenta–, sus cejas en forma de acento circunflejo y sus labios cuya carne parece oponerse al ascetismo de un esqueleto que simula estar a flor de piel. Quizá lo que amo de él es su forma de amar a una mujer –haciéndome identificar con ella–, a la suya propia, Gena Rowlands, a quien dirigió en varias de sus películas (Gloria, Torrentes de amor, Minnie y Moscowitz, Una mujer bajo influencia, por citar las que más se sostuvieron en la carteleras de Buenos Aires). Sobre todo en Torrentes de amor, adonde él la acompaña como actor en un vínculo lo suficientemente ambiguo como para que el espectador ignore si los protagonistas son dos hermanos o dos ex amantes. ¿Un chiste privado entre los integrantes de un matrimonio de larga data? En esa película, John parece decir: el enamorado es animista a su modo; el dolor de amar se materializa allí, en el interior del cuerpo, en el océano de la sangre, de sus ríos adonde –según la filosofía hematológica– cada ser es único a pesar de sentirse intoxicado totalmente por el otro. El amor no podría alojarse en las vísceras (continentes bajos), ni siquiera en el cerebro y en el corazón, que deben estar regados por la sangre para conservar su función mítica. El amor es un torrente... sanguíneo. Las metáforas son precisas y vienen de lejos: “lo escribiré con sangre”, “me has herido”, “quisiera abrir lentamente mis venas”, “El torrente para”, le dice el psiquiatra a Sarah Lawson (Torrentes de amor). Ella le dice que no, que no es posible. Si el torrente pasa, ya no queda aire en los pulmones, ni pensamiento en la mente, el cauce está seco. John suele filmar a Gena como una loca de amor, pero no desde el lugar de la ilegítima o de la amante sino de la esposa, de alguien que sostiene el amor al extremo, el derecho a vivir como desollada viva o enhebrando uno tras otro momentos supremos en el interior de la familia: Sarah Lawson y Mabel Longhetti (Una mujer bajo influencia) oscilan entre el hogar y el manicomio. John sugiere que la pasión no se opone a la familia, y además filma con parientes propios y de su esposa. Gena a veces trabaja en compañía de su madre Lady Rowlands y de su hermano David. Lady Rowlands es la madre de Minnie en Minnie y Moscowitz y de la de Mabel Longhetti en Una mujer bajo influencia; su hijo, el psiquiatra de Sarah interpretado por Gena en Torrentes de amor, donde Alejandra Cassavetes es la corista del bar nocturno. Otros nombres familiares insisten en los créditos de las películas de Cassavetes, sus primos (los Papamichael), Diana y Margaret Abbot, los Gazzara, los Cassel. Katherine Cassavetes es la madre de Nick (Peter Falk) en Una mujer bajo influencia. John trabaja con los de su sangre en una mezcla de tragedia griega y magia italiana. También ha dicho a menudo –y sus personajes– que toda mujer tiene un secreto y que lo interesante es que ella lo entregue voluntariamente.

“Yo no dirijo a los actores”, se jactaba. Es cierto: era un amo más feroz, quería enfrentarlos con quienes son, hacer emerger sus deseos más ocultos. Quizá porque difícilmente las mujeres reales entreguen su secreto o mientan, esto le sirvió para seguir filmando. Para el común de la gente, la mujer con más secretos es la que pasea por la ciudad con todos sus despojos hogareños en un changuito, envuelta en una frazada, sin lugar a donde volver. Poco antes de morir, John Cassavetes escribió una obra de teatro titulada A Woman of Mistery. Es sobre una de esas mujeres sin techo. Lleva dos valijas con sus cosas, camina. Le dio el papel a Gena como si le anticipara: “Muerto el jefe de familia y con una casa inestable, ¿qué te queda sino la calle?”. Una muchacha llamada Georgi conoce a la mujer misteriosa y afirma que ésta es su madre, quien la habría abandonado al nacer. La ama y como si el amor fuera contagioso (y lo es): un hombre y luego otro se enamoran de la homeless. Al igual que en los cuentos de hadas, ésta pasa de la calle y los andrajos a una velada de gala en donde luce un vestido de satén negro. A la larga, Georgi probará que su certeza no es una ilusión. Pero esta mujer, la mujer misteriosa, no puede retribuirle su amor. En la última escena vuelve a estar sola con sus valijas. En la calle, John le ofrece así a Gena la profecía de una resurrección, a la manera de la familia, por el reencuentro con un lazo de sangre. También le profetiza que, muerto él, ya no sabrá amar. Pero, mediante una transacción, la libera: en realidad, la última escena no prescribe la soledad sino la continuidad del misterio. Como si dijera: “Si se nos ha amado, se nos volverá a amar”.

É se es mi tipo.

Comments from actors:

Steve Buscemi, actor in Fargo, Trees Lounge, and Pulp Fiction, and other films
“Thanks so much for the Cassavetes on Cassavetes book. I'm really enjoying it and getting a fuller picture and a less romanticized notion of who he was. It's fascinating stuff. You deserve the highest praise for keeping the flame going.”

Peter Falk, the star of Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence
“Thank God for Ray Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes. It captures the man I knew – the 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.”

Ben Gazzara, the star of Husbands and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
“What 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.”

Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes' wife and the star of Faces, Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, Opening Night, Gloria, and Love Streams
“It's wonderful to know this book exists. Many thanks for your devotion to John.”

And from ordinary (and not so ordinary) people – reviews posted on Amazon.com:

Arch-i: My Way

"Ray Carney's done a great service to film fans by bringing Cassavetes' scattered talks and interviews together into a coherent statement on art. Carney shows how Cassavetes' whole process of filmmaking was tied to his outlook on life. Combative, spontaneous and deliberately amateur, he aimed for situations where writer, actor and viewer are all left without direction, forced to respond to the story as individuals rather than reach for pre-approved 'social codes'. He savagely edited his films to defy audience expectations, usually rejecting versions that the studios, his collaborators and even his wife liked best. Some of Cassavetes' statements made me wonder if he did this to edit some part of himself – the Greek immigrant son made good, with the blonde wife and kids and Hollywood home. In some ways he was an insider desperate to stay on the outside. Conflict was fun for him, he thought America needed more of it, and the messy collaborative 'families' he built around each film were his alternative to the button-down corporate society he fought against all his life.

"As Carney presents him, Cassavetes wasn't out for the money, the glory, the ego or ultimately maybe even the art. He wanted fun, he wanted friends and he wanted people to really live as individuals. Are there folks like this around anymore? We need them more than ever."


Go man van Gogh: Possibly the best book about any director
"My half-hearted browser's interest in Cassavetes needed a kick in the seat of the pants, I now realize, and reading this book shows me how much I failed to appreciate him while we were lucky enough to have him around. The format is eye-opening. Cassavetes speaks, and then the author. The constantly shifting P.O.V., and the frisson between the truth Cassavetes himself presented, and the unvarnished truth as discovered by the author, makes this book constantly stimulating and endlessly arguable.

"Cassavetes life and films are worth a serious look-see – and this book is an EXCELLENT place to begin that – if only because he is that rare individual who absolutely refused to accept mediocrity in himself and others, both as an artist and a committed liver of life. He went for the burn every time out, and could often be an ornery s.o.b. when he detected that people were simply going through the motions in their life or art. (The book is rife with anecdotes that literally make you wince and leave you wondering 'Could I have long tolerated this behavior in a friend or family member?') He seems never to have thought 'I'd better not burn my bridges here', or practiced any of the other forms of incremental, over-thought cowardice that most of us do.

"Cassavetes was driven like no one else; he never made a lazy, easy commercial film. He let his life and films commingle, letting the cameras roll for hours, shooting thousands of feet more film than he could use, afterward sculpting it into a shape that could be released. (He said film stock was the one part of his film making on which he would never scrimp.) His films were, probably more than any other director's, explorations of life.

"Cassavetes lived life so completely that it might be truthful to say he did something the average person would call foolhardy nearly every day of his life, in some way or other. But in spite of this, or because of it, it's impossible to come away from this book without an awakened admiration for him."


Tom Stamper, Orlando, Florida
“A Great Interview Book! If you're intrigued at all by the work of John Cassavetes, this book is well worth your time. The book itself is a collection of interviews Cassavetes gave through his entire life, edited into chapters that correspond to the movies he talked about. The excerpts themselves are pretty interesting, but it is author Ray Carney's commentary in between quotes that really makes this book worthwhile. Carney gives us the back story, and fills in the missing parts, but he also sets things straight when John rambles into fiction. It's easy to see that Cassavetes liked to talk about his work. There are over 500 pages on roughly a dozen films. ... John Cassavetes' passion for making movies shines through in this volume. Ray Carney's insight tells the rest of the story. If you are interested in independent film making, this book is a must.”

Matt Reed
Truly inspirational! Ray Carney's "Cassavetes on Cassavetes" is a wonderful introduction to Cassavetes' work. I found it to be a great read - amazingly free of academic jargon or fancy terminology. It was hard to put down! And with incredible photos of the wild-man at work. A must for every fan of indie film as well as aspiring directors and artists - and also for students of life! If you want to know even more, I'd also recommend Ray Carney's massive web site devoted to Cassavetes and indie film. Any search engine will take you there. It has wonderful behind-the-scenes information about the making of Cassavetes' work. If you want a volume to provide ongoing daily inspiration and encouragement regarding the artistic process, buy this book. It is a book you will go back to again and again and again...

A reader from New York, NY
“A fascinating look at America's most advanced filmmaker. A superb autobiography pieced together from spoken interviews. Carney neither fawns over Cassavetes, nor does he paint an unqualified portrait of a dark, tortured soul (as most artist biographies tend to do). Instead, Carney gives us insight into a new type of artistic genius, one whose life may not have been rife with passionate love affairs and bouts of madness, but was nevertheless rich and intense. A man whose artistic goal was not to tap the furthest depths of his soul, but instead to revel in the sheer awkwardness, goofiness, and comedy of lived experience. An eye-opening experience.”

Scott Berman, Los Angeles, CA
“A consciousness-shifting treasure. Ray Carney has done it again: years of research have culminated in a wonderful examination of Cassavetes, by Cassavetes: his life and work. Carney's take on the important independent filmmaker – his mischief, guts, growth, and ups and downs – are to me, an inspiration. You get a deep look here at a way of living, working, and risking that is not about ambition, power, or money, as is so overwhelmingly the case in the American film industry and other walks of life. Carney carefully lets Cassavetes tell the story in his own words, chronologically following the director's experiences from his childhood to his early career struggles to his groundbreaking independent films. There is much new information.

“Throughout, family and love are front and center: these were so deeply important to Cassavetes and were primary themes in his films. I also take away from this experience – because that is what this book is to me – a new inspiration to try to find a way to live and work that places things like security, conformity, and even acceptance in a more healthy perspective.

“Anyone contemplating the arts, film theory or technique, criticism, or just personal or professional growth should read this book. It is a delightful, consciousness-shifting walk through another way to be creative and just to be.”


Ray Carney, CASSAVETES on CASSAVETES Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Faber and Faber (ISBN 0-57120-157-1)

Rights for German, Spanish, and Japanese language-editions already sold.

This page contains reviews and responses to Ray Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes. To learn how to obtain the book, please click here.

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Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.