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Prof. Carney has personally organized and presented many screening events devoted to John Cassavetes' television and film acting appearances. Click here to read a summary of Ray Carney's discoveries of previously unknown or forgotten Cassavetes acting performances. And click here to read about an event held at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York and Los Angeles devoted to Cassavetes' acting that includes some of Prof. Carney's previous discoveries.

Glimpses of Cassavetes' Soul

Interviewer: Can you talk about Cassavetes' acting in other directors' works? Which of his performances are worth viewing?

Carney: I'm glad you asked that question because even with the revival of interest in Cassavetes as a director, most of his best acting performances are still unknown. I've presented a lot of these works at film festivals and discovered that even programmers and festival curators are unfamiliar with most of the things Cassavetes' acted in.

Everybody knows about The Dirty Dozen and Rosemary's Baby, of course. In fact, if you say Cassavetes' name to the man on the street, those are the two films that people generally associate with him. They are much better known than the movies he directed. When I lecture at film festivals about Cassavetes' work as a director, I usually get a question or two at the end asking about one or the other from people who think he directed them. Then when I correct them and say he didn't direct those movies but wrote and directed The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, and Love Streams, the same people say they never heard of any of them!

Interviewer: Can you give us your personal list of Cassavetes' greatest acting performances?

Carney: I'll give you a guided tour of the best work Cassavetes ever did as an actor. Ray Carney's Viewing Guide to Cassavetes the Actor. When I screen the films at a festival, I call the event “The Unknown John Cassavetes.”

Interviewer: What do you show?

Carney: It depends on how many days I have for the events and how serious the festival is about doing it. I could start with the Polanski and Aldrich movies, since they are both pretty good pieces of acting, but to tell you the truth, I usually skip them since most people have already seen them and I'd rather shown them things people can't see anywhere else. I also skip a lot of the other well-known big budget Hollywood films for the opposite reason. They are either pretty awful or Cassavetes' performances in them are not very interesting. That leaves out Two-Minute Warning, Whose Life is it Anyway?, The Incubus, Devil's Angels, The Killers, and a few other things. Not really worth the time and trouble to include. Paul Mazursky's Tempest has a few good moments, particularly the party in the New York apartment when Cassavetes' character comes in drunk and does his version of the Mabel Longhetti part in A Woman Under the Influence. But it's a pretty bloated over-written movie, and could be also left off of the list if you were pressed for time.

So, with a bunch of works in the “skip them” category, and The Dirty Dozen, Rosemary's Baby, and Tempest in the “optional” category, that brings me down to the “must screen” category. The great unknown masterworks of Cassavetes' acting career. Are you ready? I forgot my trumpet or I'd play you a little fanfare.

There are three “must see” works on film. One astonishing. One very good. And one just plain fun. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. It's really pretty slight, not on the level of either of the other two works, but it's a charmer. Very sweet and gentle. As an actor with very few lines, Cassavetes shows how much you can do with a little.

If you wanted to round out the film series, not to leave any of his greatest performances out, you'd also have to include two of his own works: Husbands and Love Streams.

Interviewer: What about Opening Night and Minnie and Moskowitz?

Carney: You could include them, he does good work in both, but I'm not sure that they belong in this kind of series since he only has a tiny part in the one film [Minnie and Moskowitz] and a supporting role in the other [Opening Night]. In Mikey and Nicky, Marvin and Tige, Husbands, and Love Streams, on the other hand, he turns in complex, extended performances. He really spreads his wings and flies, constructing complex characters with a lot of different colors to them and working through some major changes and beat shifts. They are real symphonies of tones and moods.

On top of everything else, Mikey and Nicky, Marvin and Tige, Husbands, and Love Streams give you a really deep view of Cassavetes' personality. He's more or less playing characters in Minnie and Moskowitz and Opening Night. But he's revealing things about himself in the other ones – his manic con man bullshit hustler side in Mikey and Nicky; his charm-the-pants-off-you side in Husbands; the lonely lone wolf side of him in Love Streams; and the quiet introspective sad withdrawn side of him in Marvin and Tige. Weston's film has a real autobiographical rawness. Cassavetes decided to play a dying alcoholic at precisely the point at which he discovered he was dying from alcoholism. That's got to make for an interesting performance. And it does.

Interviewer: So those are the works you show in your “Unknown Cassavetes” event?

Carney: Well as I said it depends on what I am allowed to do. I've never been allowed to show all of these works at one film festival. But that's my dream team. Those are the films I'd like to show.

And I've only named the works on film. There are television works that are even less well known than the movies are. In fact, I may be the only person on the planet who has seen some of them! And they are almost as good as the best films. Do you want to hear about them?

Interviewer: Sure.

Carney: OK. The first thing to keep in mind is that the Golden Age of Television is a myth. TV shows in the fifties, sixties, and seventies were generally just as dreadful as what is on TV today. So there are a lot of Cassavetes performances out there that you want to avoid. Bad old Alfred Hitchcocks. Bad old Johnny Staccatos. That's the bad news. But the good is that there are five or six really great dramatic pieces that are worth screening. They are completely unknown and unavailable now, and it took me years to locate them. but since they are on video and relatively portable, they're easy to show and I've shown many of them at special events and film festivals. They all go over really really well with audiences.

Interviewer: Can you name a few?

Carney: Sure. I'd put a television show called To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in.
To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interview appears in. To find out Ray Carney's recommendations, buy the packet this interviewso he could get make some money to pay for Woman Under the Influence.

And, as with the movies, if you know how to watch and where to look in each of them, you get glimpses of Cassavetes' soul.

Interviewer: What do you mean by that?

Carney: As I said about the film roles, Cassavetes' strongest acting performances on television as well are always more or less direct emanations of his personality. What Polanski once said about him as a criticism was true as a compliment: He was terrible at playing characters but terrific at playing himself. That's true of all of his best acting work, both in film and television. Fortunately he had a very interesting self to play. So seeing these old pieces is a rare chance to try to get inside the heart and mind of the man who made those strange strange movies.

Interviewer: Is that everything you show?

Carney: No. As Frank said, the best is yet to come. Or at least the work the most revealing of Cassavetes personally. Though it might be a question of where you want to draw the line, dramatically speaking.

If I am allowed to, in my “Unknown Cassavetes” event I always try to show some nondramatic pieces. You know, talk show appearances and interview pieces. Because of Cassavetes' personality, these are some of the most interesting things he ever did. He was like Robin Williams or Richard Pryor that way – more interesting without a script than with one. The scripts were never as exciting as his improvisations. There is not a dull moment in any of the interview footage. And you get a real insight into Cassavetes the man – the Krazy Kat wild man con man.

Interviewer: What do you show?

Carney: Oh, lots of different things. I have more than I can ever show at any one event. I have a tape of Cassavetes cavorting around on Dick Cavett during the Husbands publicity blitz. He also did crazy routines on the David Frost and Joey Bishop shows. And one time on Johnny Carson.

I also love to screen some of Tristram Powell's footage showing him writing and workshopping Husbands. Working on scenes with Ben and Peter and the three young ladies. And I have the stuff André Labarthe shot when he visited Cassavetes while he was editing Faces. It's really great. And I also have some marvelous footage of Cassavetes doing an interview in a restaurant during the release of Opening Night that was shot but never broadcast. He talks about why he makes movies.

Interviewer: Where did you get all of these things?

Carney: Some from John, but for the rest I have had to depend on the kindness of strangers.

Interviewer: You say one of the interviews was never broadcast? How did you get it?

Carney: From a collector who pulled it out of a dumpster when the TV studio that filmed it was clearing out their vaults after an earthquake scare. [Laughing] It's an ill fault line that does nobody good!

There's a lot of wonderful material there. I'd put it on my web site if I had permission and server capacity, but I don't. My eventual goal is to bring it all out on a series of DVDs. But you'll have to stay tuned to see if that happens.

Text Copyright 2002 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.

This is only the "To Print" page. To go to the regular page of Ray Carney's www.Cassavetes.com on which this text appears, click here, or close this window if you accessed the "To Print" page from the regular page. Once you have brought up the regular page, you may use the menus to reach all of the other pages on the site.