JOHN CASSAVETES: A TRIBUTE
Spike Lee. David Lynch. Jim Jarmusch. Hal Hartley. Gus Van : Sant and many. many others owe a . major debt to actor-directorJohn I Cassavetes. Although most t moviegoers will remember him as i one of The Dirty Dozen or as Mia I Farrow‘s devilish husband in i Rosemary '5 Baby. the retrospective i currently touring regional film I theatres provides confirmation that his true legacy is his work behind the camera. Cassavetes can accurately be called the father of American independent filmmaking because he i was the first to get out there and do it , all by himself. ‘ From 1959s Shadows onwards. he :
financed. wrote. directed and distributed a series of film dramas whose emotional intensity — the deeply personal expression of a troubled soul — could never have been produced within the confines of the traditional Hollywood system. Too rough-hewn for the studios. too serious and uncomfortable for the exploitation trade. Cassavetes's lengthy explorations of the turbulent depths of human relationships made him the great outsider ofthc
na Rowlads inJ-ohn Cassavetes‘s A Woman UnderThe Influence
American screen. Although Martin Scorsese for one has long acknowledged his confrontational 3 style as a prime inﬂuence on his own films. (‘assavetes‘s groundbreaking
work is screened only too rarclv. It is highlyenterprisingofPalace ' Pictures to put together this package of five ofhis movies. also set for release on video later in the year. Described by the director as ‘the film I love the best — simply because it was the first one and we were all so young'. Shadows set the pattern for what was to follow. Shot for $400,000 with an amateur crew and later to win a total of five awards at the 1959 Venice Film Festival. it makes a fitting choice for the opener ofthe (‘assavetes season at the Edinburgh Filmhouse. Bankrolled with the money he was then earning from the Johnny Staccato TV series.
Cassavetes‘s debut is an edgy chronicle of racial and familial tensions amidst the bohemian fringes of the west coast beatnik scene. gaining much in atmosphere from a moody (‘harlie Mingus soundtrack.
Developed from an actors‘ workshop he‘d been teaching in LA and highlighting the truthfulness of performance over narrative drive or technical finesse. Shadows shows the ('assavetes manner at its rawest. yet emphasises how little his essential conception of moviemaking was to change over the next 35 years. Allowing actors like lifelong partner (iena Rowlands. l’eter Falk and Seymour (‘assel to bring much of themselves to their semi-improvised roles. (‘assavetcs’s scripts offered the barest outlines. which the cast would then develop by dredging their own experience and finding the requisite emotional insight.
The results are occasionally overstretched and perhaps even self-indulgent. but at their best. (.‘assavetes's films achieve a pitch of sheer naked relentlessness that comes closer than many to matching the penetrating powerof psychological revelation found in the work ofan Ingmar Bergman. Later pieces like 1976‘s strip club saga The Killing ofa ('hinese Bookie or the theatre-set ()pening.\'ight(1978) may try the patience at times. but provide a platform for quite magnificent performances from Ben (iazzara and one-time Hollywood glamour girl Joan Blondell. (‘assavctes died in February 1989. aged 5‘). (Trevor Johnston)
The John ( 'ass‘at'etes retrospective gets underway with Shadows on Mon 16 and Tue [7. and continues with A Woman (.t'nder The Inﬂuence on Sun 22 and M on 23 . Fares on Sat28, The Killing ofa C ~hinese Bookie on Thurs 9 and Fri lllApril. and Opening Night on Wed 15 April. xi ll films will be shown at the lidinhurgh Filmhouse.
This lavish, old-fashioned and
ludicrous World War II melodrama
might have been called ‘Working Girl Goes To War’. Melanie Griffith plays Linda Voss, a plucky, half-Jewish secretary from Queens, New York, who through her job with lawyer and secret spy-master Ed Leland (Michael
Douglas) finds mystery, romance, ; adventure and a sense of purpose.
Hired for her German-speaking skills, Linda is on hand when a key spy is ‘ murdered, and volunteers to replace him in Berlin. The plan is to get herself hired as a cook by a prominent Nazi, then to microfilm secret documents and pass them to US intelligence.
In no other respect does intelligence, let alone plausibility, enter into it. The early scenes, in which Linda and her cold-fish boss edge towards a love affairthat is blown apart by Pearl Harbour, offer pure adult melodrama. Once the action shifts to Germany,
however, the thigh-slapping is not being done by blond-haired Aryans in
. Iederhosen, but by the audience. Each new plot twist or clunklng line of dialogue (‘Mein Gott, you've got guts’) is greeted with gales of laughter and l
Shining Through: 'Iavish. old-fashioned and Iudicrous‘
howls of derision. The contrived plot, cardboard characters and daft suspense spiral into absurdity as our plucky heroine struggles to save the
Free World from prototype ‘doodlebug‘
In the midst of such nonsense, the
; fleshy but incongrously squeaky~voiced Griffith provides an
earthy counterpoint to Douglas's stern, forbidding father figure. Everyone else — Liam Neeson's wimpy, ineffectual Nazi officer, Joely Richardson's sympathetic German aristo, and John Gielgud's fey spy (code-named ‘Sunflower') — is just plain embarrassing. The only hope is that writer/director David Seltzer‘s crass travesty of Susan Isaac’s novel will become the kind of camp late-night classic where audiences chant along with such deliciously daft lines as, ‘I know it was Friday when I said goodbye because the next day was Saturday.‘ (Nigel Floyd)
Shining Through (15) (David Seltzer, US, 1991) Melanie Griffith, Michael Douglas, Liam Neeson, John Gielgud. 132 mlns. Glasgow: Cannon The Forge, Ddeon, Grosvenor. Edinburgh: Ddeon. Strathclyde: Ddeon Ayr, Ddeon Hamilton. WMR Leisure Centre. All UCls.
The list 13 — 30 Match l‘N.‘ l7