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A Chronology of Cassavetes - related Events, 1979 - 2005
January: Ray Carney mounts a complete retrospective of
"the films of John Cassavetes" in a course at Middlebury College in Vermont. All of the works directed by Cassavetes are screened along with Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky. Prints of five of the films, including both versions
of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and the unreleased Opening
Night, are specially provided by the filmmaker for the event. In
the process of assembling the shipment Cassavetes discovers that he
has lost his only remaining 35mm print of Shadows. It has apparently
not been returned from a previous booking years before. He borrows a
copy from the National Film Archive in New Delhi,
Spring: Cassavetes completes One Summer Night for MGM, as a vehicle for Ricky Schroder. The script will eventually become Gloria. Cassavetes regards it as hack work and has written it strictly to sell. When he is offered the chance to direct it, he is reluctant, but agrees as a favor to Rowlands when she is offered the lead after Barbra Streisand turns it down.
Spring: Cassavetes' father dies.
December: Postproduction on Gloria is complete. Columbia does not like the film. Cassavetes is convinced that they do not intend to release it.
Summer: New York's Museum of Modern Art mounts a retrospective of Cassavetes' work.
November: Susan Streitfeld mounts a three-act play by Cassavetes called East/West Game at the Callboard Theater in Los Angeles. It stars Cassavetes' son Nicholas Cassavetes and Sandy Martin as the female lead. The production receives negative reviews, partly due to its four-hour running time and closes after a brief run.
John Cassavetes corresponds with Ray Carney by letter, on the telephone, and, near the end of the period, in person. According to Carney, Cassavetes is extraordinarily kind, thoughtful, and generous with his time and stunningly free and open in discussions about his life and work. He writes to Carney giving his views on art and life, reads excerpts from his work to him, shows him the manuscript of his unpublished Husbands novel, tells candid and revealing stories about his life, friends, and family, gives him new information about how the films were created (including major revelations about the making of Shadows and information about the two versions of the film), gives him copies of otherwise unavailable scripts and other writing, comments on Carney's books and essays, and generally encourages him and assists his research in every way possible. Cassavetes' personal assistants, Richard Kaye and Robert Fieldsteel, are also extremely kind and generous with their time. (Click here to read a section of an interview where Prof. Carney talks about how he got to know Cassavetes in the final decade of his life.)
Winter: Cassavetes makes preparations to mount an omnibus dramatic series called Three Plays of Love and Hate. He leases space at the California Center for the Performing Arts, rehearsing three plays simultaneously: Knives, The Third Day Comes, and Love Streams.
Summer - Fall: Cassavetes goes on location to act in Paul Mazursky's Tempest.
Spring: Cassavetes' mother dies.
Summer: Cassavetes films Love Streams.
Fall: Cassavetes produces and workshops friend Meade Roberts' play Thornhill.
February: Love Streams plays at the Berlin Film Festival and wins the Golden Bear for Best Picture.
Spring: Cassavetes takes over the filming of Big Trouble. He is allowed minimal input into the production. Columbia is unhappy with the final product. Michael Ventura completes Cassavetes Directs, a "making of" book about Love Streams commissioned by Cassavetes and paid for by Cannon Pictures. Though the manuscript contains a number of interesting anecdotes about Cassavetes' working methods, it has very little perspective on the man behind the films. It idealizes him and his methods and is part of the early "hero-worship" phase of writing on Cassavetes. It is indicative of the low esteem with which Cassavetes' work is held in his lifetime that no publisher shows serious interest in the book. It is not published during Cassavetes' lifetime. (See page 5 of the Chronology, accessible via the blue menus at the top and bottom of this page for more on this.)
March: Ray Carney's American Dreaming: The Films of John Cassavetes and the American Experience, the first book devoted to Cassavetes' work, is published by the University of California Press, five years after the manuscript was completed, after being passed on by previous publishers on the grounds that Cassavetes is not an important enough director to merit a book. Cassavetes receives an advance copy and reads parts of it out loud to his staff. He tells Ray Carney about the book in a letter: "You've found me out in my films."
September: Freundlich Books commissions a biography of Cassavetes from Ray Carney. Carney begins researching and writing it, but when Cassavetes tells him he is uncomfortable with such a work being published in his lifetime, Carney honors his wishes and kills the project.
January: Ray Carney mounts a second retrospective of the films of John Cassavetes at Middlebury College in Vermont. Cassavetes provides his personal copies of six prints for the events: Shadows, Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, both versions of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and the still unreleased Opening Night. Cassavetes is invited to attend, but declines due to problems with his health.
Spring: Big Trouble is released. Many critics praise the film as Cassavetes' best work.
January: Laurence Gavron and Denis Lenoir's French - language John Cassavetes is published by Editions Rivages in Paris. The book contains a large number of factual mistakes about Cassavetes' life and work.
Spring: Woman of Mystery is performed.
Summer: Cassavetes talks to Ray Carney about making Shadows, about collaborating with Robert Alan Aurthur on the scripting of the second version, and describes the loss of the first version. Carney begins his search for the print. Click here for a discussion of the difference between the first and second versions of Shadows and click here for a year - by - year account of Carney's search for the lost movie.
1987 - 1988
Rowlands leaves a sick Cassavetes alone in Los Angeles in order to go to New York and act in Woody Allen's Another Woman. She remains away for almost a year. Cassavetes is lonely and miserable and bitterly complains about her absence.
Spring: Maria Viera mounts a week - long retrospective and discussion of Cassavetes' directing work at the California State University at Long Beach. Rowlands, Bogdanovich, and Cassel attend and participate, but Cassavetes is too ill to attend. Excerpts from the panel discussions and post - screening question and answer sessions are subsequently published in the "John Cassavetes Special Issue" of Postscript magazine, Volume 11, number 2 (Winter 1992), organized and edited by Ray Carney. It is available for sale on his web site.
January: As news of Cassavetes' impending death spreads, the United States Film Festival (the precursor to the Sundance Film Festival) and Rotterdam Film Festival rush to mount retrospectives. Cassavetes is invited to both, but is too ill to attend. Ray Carney provides his personal print of Minnie and Moskowitz for screening at Sundance when it is discovered that no other screenable print exists. He also contributes the keynote essay "Waking Up in the Dark: Learning from John Cassavetes," for the Sundance Film Festival program.
January: Cassavetes is rushed for emergency treatment to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.
February 3: Cassavetes dies at the age of 59
of cirrhosis of the liver. At the time of his death, the importance
of his directorial career remains largely unrecognized by American film
critics, reviewers, intellectuals, and academics. Excluding the work
of Ray Carney, there is not one piece of serious,
scholarly writing about him in English. His work does not merit more
than a passing mention in standard film history texts, and no major
American scholarly journal has published an essay about his life or
work. None of his independent films is available on video in the
February - September: Ray Carney contacts more than fifteen American newspapers about contributing a "retrospective" feature piece on Cassavetes' life and work, and more than ten American film magazines and scholarly journals about organizing a John Cassavetes "memorial issue." He is turned down by all but two on the grounds that Cassavetes is not an important enough director to merit that sort of treatment. The two positive responses are from Film Comment and The Kenyon Review. The first creates a "John Cassavetes Midsection" in its May - June 1989 issue, to which Carney contributes two essays - one an overview of Cassavetes' films, another a discussion of his unfinished work, based on the unproduced scripts and prose pieces Cassavetes gave Carney before his death. The second publishes a memorial essay written by Carney. Both pieces are available for sale on his web site.
May 1989 - September 1990
Under the sponsorship of the Walker Art Center and Pacific Film Archive, Ray Carney organizes the American national tour of the complete films directed by Cassavetes along with Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky. To support the events Carney creates an 8 - page souvenir program and 88 pages of program notes, gives lectures, and organizes and moderates panel discussions with members of the films' casts and crews and friends of Cassavetes. The program travels to fifteen cities. Attendance and audience response are strong but the series receives little or no press coverage. Click here to read the eight-page program Ray Carney wrote for the tour.
During the planning stages of the retrospective, Bruce Jenkins at the Walker Art Center commits to publishing an early version of Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes to accompany the screenings, but due to costs Jenkins changes his mind and decides against publishing the text at the last minute. No American publisher is interested in picking up the project. In the course of the next ten years, Carney gives away more than a hundred free Xerox copies of the manuscript to anyone who requests it. A black market grows up in which more than 1000 other copies are pirated and passed from hand to hand by young actors and directors. (Click here to read a humorous account of the pirating of an early draft of Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes manuscript.) Meanwhile, Carney continues to revise and augment the text as he discovers new facts.
July: Ray Carney curates a retrospective of Cassavetes' work, moderates panel
discussions about it, and writes catalogue copy for screenings at the
Sixth Annual Program of the French-American Film Workshop in Avignon. While
he is in
August: Carole Zucker announces a call for papers on Cassavetes' life and work for the Spring 1990 Society of Cinema Studies convention, the annual gathering of American film writers, reviewers, and professors. In six months, she receives only two responses, one from Maria Viera and one from Ray Carney. The panel is held at the spring 1990 convention in Washington, DC, where Ray Carney also screens the rarely seen, long "first version" of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Only approximately 20 people attend.
December: Thierry Jousse publishes John Cassavetes (Paris: Editions de l'Etoile/Cahiers du cinema), based in large part on conversations with Ray Carney during his stay
1990 - present
Between 1990 and
the present, Ray Carney plans, organizes,
and participates in more than 100 Cassavetes screenings and events in
In the years following the filmmaker's death, on a variety of occasions and events, Gena Rowlands presents a relentlessly upbeat version of her husband's life, denying that Cassavetes ever experienced a negative emotion, was disappointed with the reception accorded the films, or was depressed about personal problems or his inability to secure backing for new productions. She also refuses to discuss his life with her, making it a condition of all interviews that his personal life or their marriage is not to be gone into. When biographers approach her, she refuses to provide any factual information whatsoever and declines to help them in any way, telling them that she does not want anything written. She asks family and friends to check with her before agreeing to interviews.
Over the course of the next fifteen years, Ray Carney offers to assist Rowlands in publishing Cassavetes' personal papers, unproduced works, screenplay drafts, and play texts, to help her make arrangements to deposit them in a film archive or library, or to assist her in otherwise making them available for scholarly use. He offers to advise her and contact publishers on her behalf. She declines all of his offers and keeps the work suppressed and unavailable.
Carney makes a special appeal that Rowlands publish Cassavetes' Husbands novel or make it available for scholarly study. She expresses her desire to suppress it and keep it from being read.
Former producer Al Ruban is put in charge of the business and financial side of the estate and enforces Rowlands's wishes by taking punitive measures against anyone who writes or says anything questioning her statements or actions, or deviating from her wishes. When Carney expresses his disagreement with Rowlands's decision not to make Cassavetes' papers available, or expresses reservations about Ruban's subsequent management of the estate, Ruban writes to Carney's publishers making threats and attempting to keep Carney's books from being published. Ruban also argues with Carney at public events and works to have him removed from panels saying that critics have no right to express opinions if they were not present when a film was made. (Click here to read accounts of Ruban's behavior at public events.) When Rowlands learns that Ray Carney is looking for additional rare or unknown Cassavetes material, Ruban is charged with contacting archives and libraries and telling them to deny him access to Cassavetes material.
A fire destroys many of the original elements of Cassavetes' films, including the magnetic soundtracks to Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, and other works. The post - 1994 prints employ reconstructed soundtracks that differ from the originals.
From this point on, many of the films are available only in cut or mutilated prints. 11 minutes are missing from all prints and videos of Husbands struck or issued after Cassavetes' death (including the "restored" UCLA print); four minutes are missing from all prints and videos of Minnie and Moskowitz; seven minutes are missing from A Woman Under the Influence; The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is made available to video releasers only in the 108 - minute re - edited version and not in the original 1976 135 - minute running time; Love Streams is not available on film or video. Click here to read more on this subject. And click here to hear the audio of twelve minutes that were cut at the end of the singing scene and the beginning of the men's room scene in Husbands.