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.
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.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
His next independent film, Killing of a Chinese Bookie, further pushed the envelope. Centering around a man named Cosmo Vitelli (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 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!
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 (everyone 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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Thank you letting us have the film but more specially I want to thank both of you for being with us this hour of the evening. I think the film is one of the most impressive pictures made this past year particularly because of the tremendous honesty that I sense in it, the relationships that are involved and the intensity of the performances which brings these out before us.
And it is so different from the conventional film in terms of concept in terms of the whole creative style of it, it is very difficult to know exactly where to begin in term of discussing the film. I don’t want to take too much time because I am sure there are many, many questions out here but basically what I would like to ask both of you is the difference in approach if there is one, between the way you have made this picture.
The kind of values that you were reaching for in making the picture and a, quote “an entertainment movie”, I am not saying this is not entertainment but entertainment on quite a different level from the towering inferno.
Gena Rowlands: Well I think there is a small part of us that have any kind of value, I think there is a small part of us that says that we would like to say something better than what is usually said on the purest level and the rest of it is con man and struggling people just like everyone else and where you are constantly humiliated to go through your life even when you are not humiliated thinking you are and you get very lucky and you meet a group of creative people who are very much like you and who were locked up in their own cells trying to come out trying in some way express something that is very personal to them.
And you meet these people and I married one of them and friends with the other one and friends with all the people who make the film, and somehow we don’t know what we are doing, there is no way of knowing what you doing.
I think that the basis of making a film where it is more of a community effort, but a community situation of creativity there can’t be any bargain to that so have to deal with people on their own level one to one and not feel you making anything not feeling you doing anything and then suddenly one thing develops and then another thing develops and Gena has a fantastic day, and we respond to it.
Peter has a fantastic day and the rest of the actors come in and they want to do something and it all happens out of a day by day situation. The commitment comes and grows more and more into something that, that little part of you that is a con man and all of us gets better as a result of making that picture and the picture then become has no importance really until you then see it.
Or someone sees it and says yes, that’s alright that is good or somebody is very touched that somebody is bitter and then ideas that we have never had seen collectively never had seen suddenly someone else sees, and I really feel that this script is then written by what you can get out of it and how much it means to you and if it means nothing to you then we start again and try to put ourselves up and try to communicate with you that way.
What was your question?
John Cassavetes: I think Jenna might be a bit more objective about it than you because you work with many other directors both on stage and on the screen and are there different values different levels of emotions that John is going for other directors that perhaps because they don’t have the time or concern tend to ignore it.
Gena Rowlands: Well I am in the frontal position because.
John Cassavetes: Oh I forget that you are married to him.
Gena Rowlands: I mean it sounds scratching his back when I say at work it is really true it sets a creative atmosphere that is unlike any that I have ever worked in. he makes the actor the most important person or you feel like you are the most important person involved.
You that you have all the entitlement perfect freedom to developed your character without a lot of technical things like hidden marks on the floor and standing for lights and things that are normal procedures on most pictures.
The atmosphere is so much different that I think that, and also from my point of view it is the greatest part that I ever had in my life so that makes a great difference to me.
John Cassavetes: Another thing before we go to the class, you spend. How long did you spend shooting it?
Gena Rowlands: 13 weeks.
John Cassavetes: How long did you spend editing it?
Gena Rowlands: Oh, 13 months.
John Cassavetes: What happens in the editing room? Because I know there is a great deal where this picture really
Gena Rowlands: Well we looked at Jenna the we looked at Peter and the rest of the characters and then we pray that we don’t screw them up in some way because Gena was a miraculous actress and I think Peter is a miraculous actor and you can’t really tell until you see take after take of these people being just absolutely true, true to themselves they break your heart in every take and it is a terrible responsibility to come in and have the fear the terrible fear on all of our products that we will screw up something .
So then we start to go to work with our preconceive notions of how the scene is going to play well and we do it and all of us take a shot of it and at it maybe there are 5 or 6 people working in the editing room and all of us wanting to get at the scene and trying, you know terrible excited by the materials that we had and it is a lot of material, seven hundred thousand feet of film there.
John Cassavetes: 35 millimetre films?
Gena Rowlands: Yes 35 millimetre films thank good this time, so what happens is you realize that you can’t edit the film anymore than you can direct that film or that it is really a product of a group of people coming in and interpreting their roles, really truthfully interpreting their roles.
Everything that Jenna did she did herself, everything that Peter did he did he did it himself, everything that all of those other actors did they did it themselves. I give a lot of those if any credit to be given it is to the people that worked behind the camera who were the dames crew because they really were for the actors and put themselves second and if the saw something wrong they just went like this but didn’t let anyone else see it you know.
We were liked generally, liked the whole picture generally all the actors play it to the best of their ability and then in the editing, the editing was a terrible trial and error and in which we screwed up the movie put it together screwed it up, had a nice version tried to fix it screwed it up, tried to fix it screwed it up and eventually this is what came out and they rhythms and the ideas of what happening aren’t dictated by movie terms because this is a movie.
John Cassavetes: It seems to me that one of the biggest difficulties you face with all that footage and with actors and actress performing at each level was to find what was the center of each of those scenes and not say we will go with Jenna because she is brilliant at this point and kind of wait for Peter when it is Peter scene, that kind of problem. You probably have play it over and over again.
Gena Rowlands: The way I shoot, yeah, let’s see what questions are out there.
Q: Inaudible (10:20-27)
A: yes he was an imposter oh in the story yea,
(10:33-40) I think you are right
Q: Inaudible (10:43-50) thank you. 11:00-11:43)
A: Well I didn’t have to look too far away from home to find neighbour actually, it is a question of finding things in yourself and development to a different level and really that’s the only clue I can give to how I studied because I don’t have clearly defined way of studying, it is more instinctive than orderly. And I just you know got the part and after I got over the amazement.
That stunning moment when I realize that it is actually there in black and white in my hands and nobody can get it away from me, I just read it and read it and read it and then I just went around muttering to myself for some time and it just developed sort of way you know.
When you have a great part I mean you can’t do anything with a stinking part, you really can’t you can anything if you lucky but this is truly an actress’s dream this part and I had a good actor, who should go nameless.
John Cassavetes: Let me ask me anonymous over here, the reverse of that question is when you were writing it did you have Jenna in mind and how much of the character did you created was Jenna’s as you were writing it.
Gena Rowlands: All the family folks making movie is part vengeance if you don’t like what you doing you shouldn’t do it, no, the truth is Jenna told me to write something for here, I think I am an obedient person.
Gena said to me if you go out to dinner with Jenna she never wants anything and then the minute you order something she likes she will eat it. This whole move is personal what you talking about, so the idea is Jenna really wants to do a play on Broadway and I had always fantasy that I could write a play so I was very delighted.
She said now look deal with it from a woman’s point of view, deal with it so that I have a part in this thing so I said okay and then I went off and I had been thinking about if for a year anyway and had taken about 7 or 8 tries at bad plays and came up with this play which was not the play the movie was but it was based on the same characters and generated and from my point of view she said no she wouldn’t do it and so I was very stubborn.
I didn’t realized that she liked the part but on the stage to play that every night would kill her I had no concept of that because we were obsessed as you know everyone was obsessed that was in this stupid film, and so I wrote another play on the same subject with the same characters, deepening the characters and making it even more difficult to play and I gave it to Jenna and she says I like that tremendously.
I liked the first one too but I don’t think I can do that one Broadway so I wrote another play so now there are 3 plays and quickly took the plays after Jenna read them and took them to New York and I got a producer to produce the plays on Broadway I thought it was a terrific idea to do these 3 plays on consecutive nights with my name you see.
Gena has 3 kids, we have 3 kids and a family and Jenna is not a particularly an ambitious woman in the trade as it goes, although if she sees a good part she will kill herself for it, I mean kill herself performing it but not getting it, I mean it is either given to her or she will play with the kids or do something else or go out.
Gena Rowlands: I am not sure I like my portrait.
Gena Rowlands: So the idea is that I don’t like plays anyway I have always been hooked on movies. So Peter and Elaine May and I were in New York and were about to make another movie of Mike and Nicky and Elaine said let’s read your plays, so this is what we do instead of going out to restaurant and things.
We sat down and read the plays and Peter said I would play the husband and I said Peter I don’t know if you could play this what kind of part is that for you to play, its heavy you are the most loved character in the world, lying I wanted him to play, if you say Peter please play this, he won’t play it, so got to say Peter you don’t play it you can’t play, then he want the part, what you mean I can’t play I can play it.
So it is not all lying, but anyway he then got an offer from Mike Nichols to be in the fish picture, the whole, after he committed so he said but John you don’t have a date and I said we do we have a November date and Jenna is in you are in it and we are going to have a reading and we are going to get all these people are going to read it now.
John Cassavetes: He should be eternally grateful for saving him.
Gena Rowlands: Oh he couldn’t do it because he had already committed, he says what you mean you can’t start you don’t have the money so I made him put up half the money and we started, we just started to make the picture and I forgot the question again I am sorry.
John Cassavetes: It was how much of the character you had.
Gena Rowlands: Somewhere there you know.
GENA: Don’t think about it.
John Cassavetes: While we are on the subject would you tell the class a little bit about your relationship with the American Film Institute for making good film because this one is not done by universal, universal this time didn’t have anything to do with it.
The American Film Institute as far as I know is a place where some illegal act is taking place somebody had killed some I knew that in the Grey stone mansion.
Gena Rowlands: It was before George Stevens took over.
John Cassavetes: Then I found out that there are some, there are fellows there that give up fellowships and we didn’t have any money and in any way to make the picture, so I thought I am an American this is an American Film Institute I am a student no one has ever accused me of being professional, so we went to the American Film Institute had a talk with everybody and I said I would like to be a fellow of here, they said fine that would be wonderful.
You mean you would like to, I said yes, we just like some housing and a place to work and some editing rooms and they said and a telephone and we put in our own telephone and had our own people and the teal was we were supposed to allow the people to come and voted for the movie, come and watch how the movie is being made.
I can’t let somebody just stand there while we are making the movie, it makes me uncomfortable, make everyone uncomfortable so we asked to work or get out then I realized that most of the people at the American Film Institute were directors and really quite knowledgeable and were there to make their own films and so we became friends instead a lot of people at the American Film Institute we became friends.
We screen their work they screen our work and we snored equipment they snored equipment we got everything that we, I don’t know relationship with the institute is one of a 2 year relationship we were there really as students really being there taking advantage of the place the way everyone else was.
They were very cooperative everyone was nice, I think the only thing wrong with the American Film Institute is that it isn’t bigger and it doesn’t have greater facility and that it is such a very, very tight business and I see everyone that is going into it and I don’t know where all the room is going to come from.
I mean the dedication of what you do has to come from the work that you put into it and I don’t know how, there is so many universities in this country they all have film as a background and as classes, there must be I promise you there must be a million or two people interested in the film careers and they all want to be directors and there isn’t going to be any crew and for sure there aren’t going to be any writers unless there is some understanding of the value of writers to film and some understanding of actors to film and some understanding of women’s role to film and some understanding of men’s role to film.
At people not just as a commercial outlook because no one is going to be able to make that much money because you divide one million by and you are going to be able to make it. Actually I don’t know anything about the American Film Institute this maybe since you left but they have inaugurated an acting course now with Peter and also writing program which being done in association with the writers gill and they have two professional writers.
Lois (22:46) and I forget who the other one is and the work directly with the students in developing script which is a very necessary thing. More questions.
Q: Just curious (23:00) how the children how do you work with those children (inaudible) being your children and is more director (23:12) I want to know how you work with the children.
A: Well you know children don’t belong on a set you know.
GENA: Those weren’t our children by the way those 3 children weren’t our children.
Gena Rowlands: There was a terrible woman that was there from the union that was watching those kids and she probably wasn’t a terrible woman, she was to me because the little girl was only 4 and she could only work 15 minutes a day which she to explain to me for 2 hours.
Working with the children (name) 25:03) himself I don’t know if you know him who is (24:06) is a good actor and a good friend of mine of ours and his son played the oldest boy. The fellow on the beach Romaldie the fellow on the beach that walked around told the story about his brother being communist and all.
He had a daughter and he said my daughter can play the shit out of this (twine) and I said oh terrific bring her in and she is sensational she is a great actress who only act when it was a close up not act, not only will not act will ruin the shot and she knows it is a long shot how does she know this, she has radar and as soon as it is a long shot she goes like this but if it is a close up she breaks your heart.
She looks up does everything and the other boy is a professional actor Matthew (name 25:05) and those 3 kinds were, I asked Seymour what to do because he is really good with children and Sam Shaw who is our produce who loves children is a great photographer, he has taken over thousand of kid pictures and he just loves children he doesn’t care about movies or anything thing just loves kinds and he said don’t be cruel to these kid I know you will be cruel to these kids.
I will kill them or kick the, but I won’t (inaudible) 25:36) so we talked about it and we said the only thing to do with the kids is to keep them out of it keep it unimportant for them as long as we don’t have anyone so they just caught on, they caught on to the spirit were out playing whenever they could, whenever they came in we shot them individually until the last scene and the last scene somehow they just accepted the fact that it was a game and they were having fun while we weren’t , but they were having a lot of fun.
And when they came in and they saw Peter attacking their mother who they accepted to be their mother they in sustainable reacted in the way you saw them, I mean there was no direction there is no staging no anything it was just the fact those kids accepted the fact that Gena Longaty was their mother and Peter Faulk Nick Longaty was their father and they behaved in that manner.
John Cassavetes: How many takes on that one?
Gena Rowlands: You can do as many takes as you want as long as.
John Cassavetes: The situation plays over good.
Gena Rowlands: Yes because the kids didn’t hear you say let’s do it again they just know that it is still happening and so we must have done 5 or 6 takes.
GENA: That’s one thing that you did differently I would say he never said take or action or anything so that they were never aware and cameras were running except for Maria who always knew,
Gena Rowlands: But obviously they had to go up the stairs you know and Peter had to take them up the stairs so that’s his function to take them up the stairs. I say to Peter alright you have to get them up the stairs and that was his function to take them up and then they run down by themselves.
So and in that sense I think it is in provisional because it’s what happens you know and you either like what happens when you see what happens or you don’t, and I did I liked what happens.
John Cassavetes: Except you should make a point John this word in provisional that we were talking about earlier while the mass was looking at the film the word in provisional has come to mean much too much of just throwing the script away and doing your thing which isn’t the way you work.
Gena Rowlands: No, certain times we rehearse extremely hard for long periods of time maybe two days, I mean the table scene the spaghetti scene was rehearsed for a couple of days before we shot it and without the spaghetti and consequently the end scene where Gena came home with sitting around the table was rehearsed were two solid days.
Somethings can be loosed somethings cannot be and it all depends on what they are what degree of difficult it is at the point.
Q: (28:52-29:33) Inaudible )after the technical scenes and show more of a nature ,just curious.
Gena Rowlands: What the point I don’t know.
GENA: Did you make it after saving the tiger.
Gena Rowlands: Oh, after saving tiger. I haven’t gotten any idea we started two and a half years ago.
Q: It seems to me (29:52)
Gena Rowlands: I never saw save the tiger I am sorry, it’s in the air.
Q: Can you respond more on how you direct your character (30:08) how long before you started filming and what was it that you (inaudible 30:20).
Gena Rowlands: Oh I think every actor is different like every person is different but the main thing if you are an actor and you are standing there you don’t know what is going to happen you meeting 12 strangers and you see a bunch of people standing behind the camera and lights all over the place and obviously it has been lit for one specific area because all the lights are there so you see that and you don’t know what you are going to do.
So the question is at what point do you reveal what’s going to happen, my system is never reveal it, my system is to create as much confusion as I possibly can so the actors have the full knowledge that they are on their own that there is nothing that I am ever going to tell them, ever at any point in this thing except if somebody say I think I am going to far I would disagree with them.
Or if somebody would say let’s take a break I would disagree with them, you know or if somebody would smoke or in other words you are now to reveal your life you know and parts of your life and parts of your life that you don’t even know exists.
Gena reads the script and I tend to disagree with her saying it is the greatest part because it isn’t, she makes it the greatest part, but just give me a moment the idea is that she takes and interprets that woman as someone that is innocent. That’s not my interpretation, that’s not in the script you can interpret it as a person that fights it.
She interprets it as someone that’s innocent, she is crazy but she is shy too really she is not an outward person too really she is out ward she is outward because she thinks she is. She thinks she is supposed to be she wants to please somebody. All these things that are happening are revelations to me also.
I am saying Gena do this Gena is my wife now suddenly becoming Mable Longaty in those pink socks are becoming something that you see and those nice legs are becoming nice legs and he manner of insanity is recognizable and suddenly she is not insane and all these discoveries that are happening to her are also happening to us and so we are becoming a tuned and sensitive to what this person is trying to say.
So we try and make it easier for her to say that, you know easier for her to express herself, so if I see her doing something that maybe someone wouldn’t see it becomes terrible important that I shoot that and that we shoot and I don’t say let’s move the camera in and get her in that moment, you know the poor thing would be destroyed, that would destroy her and yet we must give those instructions, those are instructions that you have to give.
You have to be on that person at one time or another so I anticipate that and say okay wait a minute, we have no money but we are going to spend money in one area, we are going to shoot a lot of film, simply I am not going to stop and say let’s go back and get that moment of that woman or of that man or of this whole area or of work or endeavour.
When you multiply that performance by 12 performance by 14 performances each person coming in with something else, the doctor would say geez I don’t want to step on her performance, she is really good you know and I don’t know what to do and this guy Eddie Shaw is the producers brother who came in and we didn’t have anyone to play the thing and he said he would play it, it is the greatest thrill in his life to play this doctor.
So when he came in he kept on saying what do I do I thought that’s wonderful it is the great kind of a doctor to have, that’s the doctors that I have known this guy says where does it hurt, teacher what should I tell him and the mother played by mother who is Peter’s mother came to me and said I don’t want to play that part let me cast it for you.
I see a lot of people off in there they are really terrific, I say why you don’t want to play it, she say I am un sympatric why should I play that part, you know. so in my way she doesn’t know what I am thinking, I am thinking ha, has you don’t have to be my mother anymore you are an actress now from now on we are all equal, everything is equalized.
My father who played Adolph he says what do I do John, I say just be hungry dad that’s all she he head on that way. Gena’s mother who, Gena had came to me when we got married she said look, one thing I you got to get straight I got a mother complex and this is my mother and you got to be nice to her always, I say okay you got to be nice to my mother maybe more difficult for you so she played Gena’s mother and it was difficult because that was a committed part.
It was difficult because she had to be something, it was difficult because she had to not liked her, she lad to love her but not like her, it was very difficult because the relationship was both like and love and it was difficult for Gena because anything that her mother does is terrific.
So enjoyed terrible much making them not liked each other and I enjoyed the double cross that existed between these two people you know I enjoyed it I had a terrific time watching Gena’s mother not do that and yet in her way she found some understanding, she found terrific understanding of the character of getting on the bed of not liking somebody and loving them and having the privilege of doing that so that becomes a discovery and then you have to catch that whichever way you can.
And all these people sit there and they have to trust that whatever they are doing all these individuals they are doing all individual things and they are doing to the fullest of their ability they got to trust that somehow the end of it is going to be a movie.
So all I can tell you is what I did, all I can tell you is that I made that so un impossible for it to be a good movie that they just had to adjust themselves to the problem that they had because there was no possibility the way we were working anything could ever come out in a movie theatre.
You said that you had seen the movie before, right. It was a long involved painful and a long in many ways a mess, in many ways too painful and the only way you can make a good movie is to do things that you like. In the end all the ideas and I know that women would connect with the Mable character.
Well they might because Gena has given you something to connect with and i think that men can connect with the Nick character if they want to, if they want to admit that they real people but you don’t get a chance to see a guy like Nick on the screen very often.
A guy that really say I am going to be the way I am at home and not the way I am in front of people and not the way I want to appear to my girlfriend or to my wife or to the world at large. So a guy like Peter Faulk who could with a smile get out of any situation goes up there and in a great way speaks about the emotional ignorance that all men feel to all women and obviously he has got to be the looser.
He has got to be the looser because he does something wrong he double crosses this woman, you know so all and all when you start to make the film these are the things that we think about just in a short explanation, these are the things that we think about in making the film rather than the technical aspects and the crews are brought into these discussions and into these problems and they try to help solving them by making problems of the actors and these interpretations as easy as possible and we get into the cutting room and try to iron it out.
John Cassavetes: Before we leave this point didn’t he ever say to you, no, no you are wrong that’s not the way I see the character.
GENA: No never, he would I don’t think he would ever say that to any actor, what he says essentially is though is more humorous the way he puts it, it is essentially true he set a chaotic atmosphere on the set that you would think of it very difficult to work in but on the contrary it takes the pressure off you and he very seldom gives specific direction, very seldom.
And yet somehow I don’t know how you feel when you doing poorly and you feel when you doing well I am not quite sure how he gets that part I really not but he is not a pressuring type director that likes to break you down and build you back up again.
I think perhaps that he has perhaps the fact that he writes his own script and knows the actor who is going to play it to perhaps.
Gena Rowlands: And also loves you, you know in this sense. I love Gena’s acting above anything else about her I really, I mean that’s hard to say but I really feel that she is an exquisitely talented person and I couldn’t love her if she wasn’t a good actress it kills me but I couldn’t and I don’t think she could love me if I didn’t do that because we are freaks.
We are we absolutely freakishly obsessed with wanting to convey something that is very hard for us to express in our life and I see Gena around the house with the kids and with the things and I do tape record what I see, I do tape records things and exaggerate and blow them up and the incidents are not the same, but it just seems to me that women are alone and they imprisoned by their own love.
They are made prisoner, if they commit to something then they are committed to it then that’s a torture and its true, I mean I see it in our relationship and I feel it too and a man feels that also and nobody knows how to handle it, nobody knows how to handle it and so that if I say we are going to make a picture and we don’t know what we are doing.
I am absolutely straight when I say that I don’t think Gena has any idea when she comes on the set that’s he is going to break down have a commitment scene be frightened when she comes in and I see her when I come home at night and I see her on bed with the script and I see her going over thinking about it and relating to everything and preparing herself and asking me questions which I can’t answer.
Maybe superficial questions I could answer you know like what you are going to wear what you we will talk about that tomorrow and giver her specific answer but the idea is that suddenly you find that everybody is working towards one regard not because we all got together and say let’s go ahead and make the movie but because the questions that are asked are worthy of your time.
The questions that is asked in a movie like this is really worth of your time I don’t even feel embarrassed about it I don’t feel that it is a movie at all, I feel that it does connect with what, the mystery of a family, mother in laws and mothers and the fact that she is a mother and will be a mother in law too, you know the fact that we are all living in this crazy world where we hate and love at the same time is more important to me than seeing somebody shoot somebody in the eye than seeing the effect of the eye popping you know.
May not be as entertaining always, may not as entertaining and may not be the mood you want to see but it is enough to keep us going for two and a half years and enough to make us distribute the picture ourselves.
John Cassavetes: Obviously this is one of the mavericks that Olsen Wells was talking about the other evening whose name he accepted the award in the American Film Institute.
Q: (45:08-45:22) in audible.
GENA: I see anybody who loves as a woman even though it is torture and even though it may not be the right love it may not be the right person, it may not be the right, still there is something so amazing about love.
I thought that it was in the picture that there was a change in my husband, I thought that well maybe it was the way that the institution that you know how many of us have let somebody slipped through our fingers almost by mistake, I mean it is a mistake it is almost inadvertently they are gone and you did it and you can’t bring them back. Usually you don’t have a second chance and it is not till then that you realize the importance and I think that’s what happened to Nick, I think that he got tired of putting up with me and being aggravated by my eccentricity scenes and the differentness from his traditional life and its mood of lighting a fire to all the time so that he temporarily forgot his love for Mabel and let her go because I don’t think she would have to go to the institution.
I don’t think anything could have sent her to the institution except her feeling that he no longer loved her because that’s how she based her whole existence on, so I think that she realized while she was away her importance, I think he missed her and longed for her to be back and really did want her to be back and you know the things that amused him most of the time and various things when there were other people there and I think that he should and the scene where she goes to commit suicide and starts going back through that whole terrible scene and she starts to fall back into the (47:55) she was in and he will not wash his hands of her at that point.
He doesn’t call the doctor and say look you sent her back too soon take her back fix her up you when she is more acceptable. In essence everything he said though he said very ignorantly in many ways he really was saying I am not going to let you go I don’t care where you go I am emotionally in your head any place else I am coming with you I will not let you escape me because I love you.
Even though he doesn’t know how to say those things so that I think there was a turnaround not a big turnaround because a man who is traditional like that doesn’t make 180 degree turn, if he turns off it is very shaky and for Mabel that’s enough and I feel hopeful about it I feel there will be perhaps not your perfect relationship but for them I think that she is a winner and that.
GENA: Yes I think she realize that.
Gena Rowlands: I don’t think she was crazy when she came on was she.
GENA: No he means when at the end when I was committing suicide on the sofa you know.
Gena Rowlands: I thought she was just worthless.
GENA: You never understood the part.
Gena Rowlands: I know.
Q: (49:32) you think the director
Gena Rowlands: Well the answer to the first part of your question I wouldn’t play that part for all the money in the world and I think that I really (name) has more courage than all average actor because to play that part knowing, he is a very smart ring wise actor and to know that you are going in there and you are going to lose in the end it is not going to be your picture.
Put it in the crudest terms that you want you know that it is not going to be Peter Faulk’s picture and yet I never saw a guy capable of so much restraining himself and containing himself to the point where he is involved enough to when his wife is going to be committed and his own mother said to her you killed her to be able to have the same kind of sense of humour about his mother even in the most terrible situation to g, when I see Peter go like this I almost fainted and I really want people to do what they want to do but I almost fainted I had to hide it. What is he doing, click, click, click I can’t figure it out and yet Peter is a person he is behaving like a person, strange you know but then Peter is strange you know.
So he came to me afterwards and he says to me you think that’s too much and I went fine he said maybe I should be more sensitive to Gena and I said no, I thought it was fine and because you really can’t control a scene, you can’t control life.
What happens in family relationship if you really ever put a tape recorder to your emotions forget about what’s being said it could be said much more contained. Everything that’s said there in that commitment scene, there wasn’t one thing that was said there to be petty.
There wasn’t one thing said by anybody to be petty the only petty act that was committed in the whole film as far as I am concerned is when Gena said you made a jerk of yourself and Peter couldn’t take it you know so I figured everything.
Gena Rowlands: No I don’t.
John Cassavetes: Can I tell you something you said to me a long time ago I did an interview with Lawrence Olivia and he said that he would never direct himself in a film unless it is something that he had played on the stages so many times that he know that character inside out otherwise he wants somebody else to do the directing.
Gena Rowlands: (52:56) than the other actors anyway, it’s only fair to everyone you working with.
Gena Rowlands: But it’s unfair to those other actors because they are quite aware that you are looking at them, I mean if you were acting in a movie right now and I was your director and I sat there and I don’t have to say anything you always check with me I know that. I know that you want to please me and in some strange sense that every actor want to please the director that’s what we are trained for.
I mean somehow it is the form of motion pictures or stage or whatever the director is the only person that the actor can communicate with it doesn’t mean that they like the director or even have respect for him, but that’s where the anger comes from if you can’t have respect for the director you know.
So as a no matter how cool an actor is you are always aware that they want your approval you know and if you are playing with them at the same time it really becomes very difficult on the other actors much more so than the problem getting in front of the camera.
Q: How do you feel about the film husbands?
Gena Rowlands: Well I thought it was very much easier on everybody when it wasn’t so hard for me at least being away from Benny and Peter, but when I was with Benny and Peter I was never anything but a director and pushing the scene and doing that it was just like being on the stage and to the detriment, I mean many times I am in the picture I call Benny Ben I mean just no way out, awful on them.
Q: Is there anything that you consciously do to create (55:05) something that happen have you ever made (inaudible)
The question is, have you ever made a movie or rather is there anything special that you do to create a spirit within the crew.
Gena Rowlands: Yes there is one thing to do just never worry about yourself how you going to look or how you behave I mean, at one time I remember when we doing FACES Lynn Collin had not acted before and when she came on she wasn’t really a very good actress when she started on the pictures, not because of anything because she went home with the mother and the mother chewed her on her lines you know and John Marley.
I remembered John Marley said Jesus John we are going to put years of our lives in this dam thing and this girl can’t do this you know and she did read lines like this, “oh hello how are you, so and so” and I remembered looking at him and thinking I never thought of the fact that she is bad. You know I never dreamed that she is bad only that she would be better.
You know only that this is just the first stage and yet I realize that it is very difficult for him so I to fix him not her so I said she is great you are in trouble you know and he got furious with me and that made it right because he had no alia there to lean on and then I went to Lynn and said Lynn he hates you, this man hates you and there is only one way you can save yourself and she says tell me tell me. Hate him back.
In a way maybe that’s chicanery but it was true, it was true for the moment. The minute they played a scene well together they loved each other and I think the only way that I could ever get a spirit out of the thing is absolutely try to tell the truth in such a way that it will work, you know in such a way that it will work so that nobody I mean when you working on a movie everybody the crew the writer everybody is paranoid go with that premise.
It’s like a bunch of main people listening to the walls of glass to hear what’s happening in the next room, everybody wants to know everything everyone wants a credit for everything in the beginning, everyone want to show you how much they are doing and wants to show themselves and is mad at the other guy for not doing something or the other actors for not, I mean this is standard and this is very healthy because that means that everybody that is involved cares.
So you got to find some way to say to project into the future to know that what we want to do is to have everyone eventually working together and liking each other because they are doing a good job together and that they are winning they got to win.
You know so in the beginning it is always very tough to create an atmosphere I don’t try to create an atmosphere if I don’t see something where people are fighting amongst themselves I will be the heavy, I will say what’s the hell is going on here for Christ sake, what do you did you hear that did you hear it and everyone goes, you know and then I will say sweetheart…and then they will look at you and they will think this person is totally bananas.
And it’s true you have to do it because you can’t worry, I have gone for 10 days on a set where people look at me like this and you can’t worry about it because those same people will like you if you do a good job you know I want to be liked just as much as the next person, also the actors want to be liked the writers want to be liked the camera man wants to be liked.
You talked the actors and the camera man says you every going to come over here, everyone one wants an approval so the whole thing is not to give anybody an approval on a lousy sense, you know to give everyone just exactly what they give you and no more. Somebody wants to give you something and you give back to them in the same manner as open as somebody else would be with you.
Because what we are trying to do is trying to open people up to where they can express themselves to you as an audience and if they hold back they are not expressing themselves to you as an audience. So the script to me is a blue print of what we have to work with and then everyone on our crew came in, knocked on our door and said, I have terrific experience I have worked on a lot of films and I would like to very much work with you.
Money is no consideration I would really like to work with you. You don’t hear that you just know that they are there and they wouldn’t be there no matter how they are behaving unless they wanted to be there. So the way I cast a crew is to say the first people that comes up to ask for the job those are the people that are going to be the crew.
Because it was the first people that were concerned and when they don’t want to be there anymore they are going to leave you know and the only way that they are going to leave is if they have no stake, because if the work is too hard and you have a stake in it. I think the same thing holds through for actors.
I think there should be a course on how to deal with stars because if anyone here is going to be a director you know who is interested in direction or producing the hardest thing is to make that communication with people that are not your peers, really that they have accomplished something in their own mines or through the industry mines.
You know working with a super star camera man working with people when you yourself have not earn that right to work walked freely you know and I think the only way that you can do that is to not be concerned with what you are. However right or wrong that is you got to be yourself because if it is not good enough it is not going to be good enough then you just going to fail, but you can’t faulter yourself for anybody.
In other words Polansky has a way of dealing with actors it works for him. Al Wallace has a way of dealing with writers it works for him everyone has their own way. I have never seen a successful person in this business artistically successful that gives way on important issue and that considers themselves beyond the picture that you doomed.
Because you just got to be prepared in one way or the other that you don’t say it because it is too corny to say you got to be ready to die for the movie that’s it, there is nothing else because you will. My first job as an actor I jumped from here to 20 feet and the director said jump, jump and there was a tug boat going out with propellers going out I didn’t realize that I just want to make the jump look good you know.
So I jumped over the thing Marty was the director came up to me and punched me right into the face because his whole career went out the window, twenty years of waiting to directing that picture went out he was prepared to kill. I would be prepared to kill, to be prepared to steal prepared to lie to the outside world prepared to do anything to make that movie and if you not you will never make it, because you will be polite and you will fall into a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with what you doing.
John Cassavetes: While we are still on the crew since your actors are free to move about they don’t have to hit a mark that creates problems to the camera man and creates problems for the sound man, don’t you have to set up some kind of a closer rapport between yourself and them than the normal pace to anticipate in other words.
Gena Rowlands: Yes they watch, in other words everyone always rehearses they rehearsing for hours they rehearsing or walking around doing this scene for hours if ever you are out playing cards, if you are out talking or making points with the producer or a lane may come on a set and you want to get her coffee go ahead and get her coffee then you blow the scene.
You know if you really are interested you have lots of time to know what’s happening it’s much easier for an operator to follow action that’s free and natural than stage action you know every move the, to give you an example. Here is the way an actor who is running the stage, impossible to follow I mean it’s just impossible, when I first (1:4:55) how can you not fall in you so concentrated on what’s happening that there is no way to do it wrong.
But if the action is wrong and you don’t believe it you not zeroed into it and its phoney and it stinks the photography stinks, you know because and so you don’t like it and you want to do it again and you missed it and I think that’s a policy and it’s a nonsense rule that has been passed down and a very uneducated guess as to what it is like.
I think it is much easier not to stage and much easier, of course you must be prepared, the sound must be prepared the film has to be in the camera the focus puller has to know exactly what his distances are. Okay we are in a room here and I have a camera and I got to shoot everybody in this room that’s the problem.
You want to be a good technician measure everybody and mark it down if you want to be a better technician and be better at your job you have got to have depth perception to be a good focus puller you got to have good depth perception you got to know that this is approximately 12 feet and you got to know it is 12 feet you check it by yard and you go there it is 14 that’s 156, 18 so you know how many rows there are.
One two three four and you count them and if you are good at your job you will do your own home work and you won’t wait and say now here is this whole group and we are doing this scene here that’s all it can be we are in three chairs here and you are in your chair not one is moving around it is the easiest thing in the world to do, so the lightning man has got to figure out before everyone comes in to light it.
Now if he has an adjustment no one cares you know you got to walk in and say put everyone where they are going to be. Now we are going to move everyone out of here and we are going to put everyone and someone is going to walk around and say you are in seat one, you are in seat two you are in seat three you are in seat four you are in seat five and it can go on indefinitely.
That’s what they do to get their technical perfection, now who the hell cares whether you are there or you are there it doesn’t make any difference the lightning still has to be the same, and what they are really saying in their way is give me a lot of time to be lighting I do want to be pushed because I don’t want this to look bad so Bobby Evans go to a screen room an say this guy was in the dark and out of focus.
Because everyone double crosses you when you are sitting in the projection room you are a technician and you are sitting there and all the executives are sitting in this room and they see something out of focus and they what happen here (name) Jet run that back who is that camera man.
The director sitting there and he knows who the camera man is, well everybody knows who the camera man is too so what you saying is his fault you know and so on and so forth that’s professional film. Professional film is one built on fear and not one built on a relationship on people and yet everybody in this room would live to work for universal pictures who work for all those studios.
And what we do in a greater sense is try to offer an option for people who would like to be independent with no, and I work both ways I tell you the truth the money is much better when you work for Universal than it is when you work for me, but at the same time I think that you have your own different kind of reward and the reward is that it is a shot in the dark if you can make it and that’s the reward and its yours it’s not mine.
John Cassavetes: John when you did many (1.8.52) at Universal how different was it for you it seem to me that they had given you a great deal of time you worked on the editing at a considerable length were there pressures on you to make it a special way to make things differently than you normally do.
Gena Rowlands: No they were my own people producer the crew was a professional crew it was a good the actors I chose the actors we made the movie basic the way we make any other movie there wasn’t any heat on it.
John Cassavetes: So what was the problem?
GENA: We had 4 camera man.
John Cassavetes: At one time what was the problem?
Gena Rowlands: There wasn’t any problem I think it just didn’t make money that was the only problem
John Cassavetes: We you said a few months ago the way you make pictures is different from the way they make it in the studio and yet when you did have the studio experience at Universal it seems to me that you were doing it the same way you were doing it when you were working at the Grey Stone.
Gena Rowlands: Oh no there are differences really there are differences. The differences are in the fact that I can chose people that I want to work with anyone in terms of crew I mean if I see you, you can be in my movie. If I am working for a studio you have to go, I have to go and ask somebody of you can be in the movie in a bar scene and then somebody say, and you say I have a job in John Cassavetes movie and I play a part in a bar and the differences are I don’t want you to say that.
I don’t want you to feel that because by the time you get there the assistant director is going to greet you and say, oh, Mr Knight come this way please and then he is going to say you know John and you are going to say, yes we know each other. You know this, yes we know each other the you are going to go into your dressing room and start shaking, you really will and come back to do 4 lines.
You will be at the bar and you have 4 lines to say and then I will have to say, now this is the scene and this what we are doing and on those kind of pictures you use professional actors that are used to being tortured and know how to handle it better than amateur actors who just come in wide open but it’s much more difficult for, in other words I can use the camera man I want.
I have to use a camera man that’s specified, I got to use his crew I go by his protocols and the protocols is this is the unit of a crew. If I want to talk to the operator I can’t talk to the operator really without making sure that the lightning man is not offended.
You know because it’s his crew and I don’t want it to be my crew I don’t want it to be anyone’s crew I just want to like the movie you know and I want to be able to talk to a guy I see by a light and say can we do anything here and help this thing because he is a person I can’t tell you how different it is to have to say. To have to work in a professional manner which is possible to work you have to go to lightning man and say could this be different because you don’t want to tell him.
You don’t want to be professional with him because then he has nothing to do, you know so you say is there some way the lights can plugged through the windows and he says of course there is you know, and I am not putting him down but that’s the way you communicate with him, you don’t communicate on a work basis you communicate on a social basis and that social basis incidental to that social basis is the work and it is much too profound for me.
Q: (1:12:55) the question is would John be happier with a theatre in the round type of thing where you don’t have to worry about marks and all the technical (inaudible)
Gena Rowlands: No what I am saying is that this entire crew the people that made the picture technically have never seen a camera before you know, the lightning man came out of University North Carolina he was a student and he had the courage to plug in the line to juice the line none of us had the courage to do that and he became the lightning man.
Now only in America so 20 years ago that could offend someone else, you understand now I have to take that guy is looking for a job, now he does know something right, he does know something he has made his mistakes he has turned it around he knows something . I have to go and he comes to me and says can you get me a job.
He would have to start in the mail room at Universal after going through an experience where he is ready to work, the man is ready to work that’s what I am saying has nothing to do with the outcome of the movie.
SPEAER 2: I don’t know about you but I only in the movies for eternal glory, i don’t know why you do movies but I like to know it is going to be there a long time.
GENA: This script is very carefully scripted perhaps the difference in the scripts that I have seen usually is that they have the directions in between the dialogue where as John’s scripts are loose they don’t have any prescribe action. I sometimes think that is why people think so often that is there are entirely improvised.
It is not so much the dialogue that is improvised but the action, you are not held to any action you just work it out very freely and by not being pushed at you in the script you don’t go in with any, even if you know most actors by now takes a felt tip pen and cross through everything except dialogue and you try not to it, right it’s a commonly done thing , can you read it you can hardly not read it as you crossing through it correlates your performance before you are nearly ready and so but the dialogue and the whole script is very carefully scripted this one in particular.
Gena Rowlands: And further on the dialogue I do write differently than people, other I writer looser, looser dialogue the words are there but they don’t necessarily have to come to a conclusion, do you know what I mean it is just what you hear. Very few places in the script do words have any significance. I have had many fights with Elaine May on this who said John you must understand that people do listen to what you are saying you know and her view is that the words is gospel and my view is it isn’t gospel and that the intention of the actor, the intention of the character cannot be altered by having that character commit to sadness to laughter, in other words hear is where improvisation comes in.
Somebody tells a joke within the frame work of a scene in most pictures you are committed to laugh because there is laughter there I want to give that actor the freedom to be a person not to have to act like an idiot, not to have to act like a buffoon if it is not his own buffoonery you know so you don’t have to tell a joke well, you don’t have to be good, you don’t have to be, if somebody tells you something you are supposed to cry at and you don’t cry and you have some other reaction I don’t want you to have it.
Don’t want you to say that this is all everything hinges upon it tears falling down your eyes, I saw that movie I don’t want to see that again because I know that in a way it is the greatest form of manipulation.
Listen you can take a movie and we all know how to make something lonely you go far away and you light it very dimly here and there and very sketchy and beautifully depending on how you want to do it and you shoot wide angle and you let a woman wonder through the house. It is the easiest way to make a woman lonely. You know that’s the easiest way to make a woman lonely.
What is important in the writing of my material is that Gena goes out and takes her kids and sends them away from her house so he can be alone with her husband you know, there isn’t one line in there that says I want to be alone with my husband. She is going about the task to send the kids off to school as I know, I mean off to her mother’s house as I know that would happen.
I didn’t know there would be laughter there I am delighted there is laughter there but the laughter came out of Gena’s mother who has a delightful and delicious sense of humour and so when the kids were there she allowed herself to be murdered /martyred (1:19:42) for a minute she can’t drive worth a dam you know so Gena does give her instructions when she is backing out of our drive way you know.
So it is lovely that this repeated its self I haven’t a clue that this is right, within the frame work of the writing all that’s there is the words and the rest of it is play because the people have done some home work and come in with something and that’s why when Gena come off the porch her very first line she says get over there, you know and you can smell it is true.
And I can smell it as I see it that it is true the line is still there you know, the lines of lady is still there as she comes out of the house and she says your mother is very nervous and you know I want to be doing, how that’s played could be played farceively played terribly wonderfully, an million different ways it is all interpretation in that sense it is improvised.
John Cassavetes: I think we better take about 2 more questions we have already played longer with than gone with the wind you had a question back here.
Gena Rowlands: Absolutely wrote it for, to try to write a terrific part for my wife and then it turned out you can’t do that it just doesn’t work that way and you begin to later on as you begin to get into problems stories starts to tell something about these people but the impetuous was Gena.
John Cassavetes: All the way back.
Q: (1:21:34-52) inaudible.
Gena Rowlands: I got that two problems that affected that, one I have bad eyes so I like to something tighter and the other thing is that occasionally when somebody has a large part as Gena had with very little to do it needs a lot of attention, the rest of the people will get lazy if they don’t have anything to do if the camera is not on them so I would occasionally would take another camera and I want it to be tight because I want to be able to use it and I still want those people that are playing with Gena not to go cold because no matter how professional you are somebody has a big.
Let’s say 9 pages of dialogue you are going to start to drift you know the only way you won’t if you know you are in the scene also. So the choice of doing that I think is a matter of taste that I refer to see somebody if they are thinking and are sitting at a table or they are in a confines situation I prefer to see what their faces like I prefer to see into them rather than you know to see their body movements because at that point it is not proposed in my feeling.
So the tightness because it is a psychological movie I think you know so it would be.
Gena Rowlands: You right and just like Nick I swear to you, you see this is exactly the point of the movie is that men really don’t know how to behave not matter how, what a posture. Women are always talking about making themselves over and having and not having a role and I think the men really suffer from a role if the truth be told is much or more than women.
I think that women under the influenced, is the greatest example of a man working within the frame work of a role and a woman not working. If everything is easy and she is not playing any role at all except she is doing what she thinks what the men wants her to be right.
Gena Rowlands: The point is maybe it is a sick society that we live in I don’t think that those people are sick I think that they love each other and constantly have a tremendous amount of problems because they do love each other and they are emotionally ignorant as to what the other one is feeling but that’s the way I feel about it.
I think that people are sick and people drop bombs you know and people want to kill somebody, they want to kill somebody and don’t even mean it you know.
John Cassavetes: I can’t end this evening without tell you one thing, many of you came to the room last week for some god knows what reason thinking we are going to see woman under the influence, how that got around I don’t know, but what I got back from well the day after I got back from class we ran rather ate the last time too.
I called the house and learned from Gena that John was up in San Francisco but he would be back on Sunday. I called Sunday John said check with my secretary I don’t know what my schedule is here they are and I can’t tell you how pleased I am. Thank you both.