John Cassavetes – The Godfather of Independent Film

john cassavetes, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, godfather of independent film, shadows, Faces, woman under the influence, indie film, filmmaking, guerrilla filmmaking, Love Streams, Opening night, Big trouble

John Cassavetes – The Godfather of Independent Film

What comes to your mind when you first think of the name John Cassavetes? One of his iconic films probably popped into your head, didn’t it? Cassavetes wasn’t afraid to push the envelope with his films, and many of the movies we see today owe a debt to Cassavetes’ work.

Provocative, daring, and unique, John was the true definition of a fearless maverick, and the independent film industry benefitted greatly because of it. If it wasn’t for John Cassavetes I really don’t know where independent film would be today. He was grabbing a camera and shooting guerrilla, improv feature films when people had no idea what that was.

The Maverick

A Woman Under the Influence is one of his most raw and outstanding independent films, and chronicles the life of a man (Peter Falk) trying to live a normal life with a 9 to 5 job. His wife (Gena Rowlands) is mentally unstable, though, and he has to commit her to an institution to protect their children. Gena Rowlands was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a mother slowly losing her sanity, while John Cassavetes himself was nominated for Best Director.

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His next independent film, Killing of a Chinese Bookie, further pushed the envelope. Centering around a man named Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie shows how far a man will go to pay off his debts and the lengths he’ll go to to save what he loves. Cosmo is the proud owner of a strip club, but after losing a major sum of money during a bout of gambling, he must resort to extreme measures to pay it off and save his beloved club.

John Cassavetes and Rowlands re-teamed for his next feature, Opening Night. Rowlands portrays an actress who suffers from emotional anguish after a fan dies trying to get her attention. As the opening night of her play comes closer, she must find a way to persevere through her grief. Films such as Black Swan and Perfect Blue come to mind when thinking of the impact Opening Night had on the film industry.

His next independent film, Gloria, would again see him cast Rowlands as his leading lady. Tasked with protecting her neighbors’ child from the mobsters who killed his parents, she must learn how to be a guardian for the young boy, while also confronting the demons from her past.

“Art films aren’t necessarily photography. It’s feeling. If we can capture a feeling of a people, of a way of life, then we made a good picture.” – John Cassavetes

The Later Years

Love Streams revolves around two siblings who come together after years spent apart. Robert Harmon (John Cassavetes) is an alcoholic womanizer who is unable to take care of his son; Sarah Lawson (Gena Rowlands) is divorcing her husband and suffering a mental breakdown. Together, they must heal and figure their lives out.

His final directorial feature, Big Trouble, is the story of an insurance salesman who has had enough: he’s raising triplets who all want to go to Yale, and he’s struggling financially. He meets a client who is having her own financial issues; together, they come up with a devious plan to make ends meet.

These are just a few of his acclaimed masterpieces, and his footprints are felt all over Hollywood. Many films have taken inspiration from Cassavetes, and the film industry is all the better because of his ingenuity and fearlessness. Watch his films today! They will teach you more about filmmaking than going to film school. Cassavetes shows you something they can’t teach…how to be real, raw and exposed. To be on the edge with no net. That’s true filmmaking. That’s true art!

After all is said and done, the reputation Cassavetes built up, and the legacy he left behind has resulted in suggestions he may just be the “Godfather of independent films.” It is hard to dispute such a claim, as there are only a few others who could challenge John Cassavetes when it comes to the quality of work he produced. We miss you John!

I’m Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes – the Man and His Work

Filmed in 1984, I’m Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes was released in 1989, the year of the subject’s death. Filmmaker Michael Ventura follows Cassavetes around as the actor/director labors on his final film, Love Streams. This is warts-and-all material; Cassavetes makes no attempt at diplomacy if something displeases him, nor are the actors averse to putting in their two cents’ worth. Cassavetes’ real-life wife (and Love Streams star) Gene Rowlands is among the peripheral characters in this stream-of-consciousness documentary.


John Cassavetes: The Art of Feeling

An influential figure in film history, John Cassavetes is known as the father of independent film. His self-financed films portray his interest in the human individual and his or her emotional experiences, while the works themselves exemplify the non-traditional ways that a filmmaker is able to take in order to bring a story onto the screen.


John Cassavetes talks filmmaking in 90-minute 1975 – Interview w/ Gena Rowlands

An amazing 90-minute John Cassavetes interview from the mid-seventies on filmmaking and his 1974 film ‘A Woman Under The Influence.’ With Gena Rowlands, and some Q&A with the public. Brilliant stuff!


The Ranting Of An Independent Filmmaker

A montage of interviews from over the years with director John Cassavetes illustrating his philosophy about art, film, and working in Hollywood.



100 Faces Of John Cassavetes – A Tribute

This is something I wanted to do since I finished The Academy, and finally found the time; to make something that shows how much the films of John Cassavetes have influenced me… For me he is one of the greatest film directors that ever worked.

The concept was to take shots from almost all of his films (every one that he made independently except “Gloria”), and put them together in a completely new way. To take his films apart and put them together and try to show the intensity, energy, honesty that his films have in a much shorter form. (the only film that isn’t his that I used is Elaine May’s “Mikey and Nicky” as a representative of his acting career). – PeraShsh


Making of John Cassavetes’s Faces


Cinefile – John Cassavetes

Great stories from Peter Falk, back in ’93. From a bunch of VHS tapes that I’m currently archiving – I haven’t seen this elsewhere. Sorry about the quality and occasional tracking.


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  • What if you never liked a single one of his films? Do the opposite?