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John Cassavetes & the Mystery of Moviemaking

A CINEMATIC VIEW

By Robert E. Lauder | January-February 1985

I have to admire John Cassavetes even when I become angry at him — and I become angry at him each time I see one of his films! His latest creation, Love Streams, is a typical Cassavetes opus: at times a beautiful blend of intuition, sensitivity, and com­passion, but at other moments a maddening mix­ture of overly long scenes, aimless dialogue, and a seemingly directionless plot.

An individualist who refuses to surrender to the system, Cassavetes has been directing highly personal films (most of which he authored) for more than 20 years. If you wonder where the au­thentic artist is in movieland in the 1980s, the ar­tist who refuses to change his perspective or alter his technique for monetary gain, you don’t have to look past John Cassavetes. There is not a compro­mising shot in a Cassavetes film, not a dishonest bit of dialogue, not a moment of cheap manipulation of the viewers’ emotions.

Using a hand-held camera without a script, Cassavetes improvised with a group of protégés and created his first film, Shadows (1961). A piece of classic cinéma vérité, the film won the Critics’ Award at Venice. Shadows illustrates the kind of personal style of moviemaking — highly improvisational, wrenchingly realistic, loosely edited, strong­ly intuitive — that Cassavetes has continued right up to Love Streams. In films such as Faces (1968), Husbands (1969), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), and Gloria (1980), Cassavetes has explored the human condition with enormous compassion.

Obviously in love with his characters and probably also with the actors and actresses who portray them, Cassavetes in his filming often seems to be­come part of the audience: he allows scenes that begin marvelously to go on too long. Not exercis­ing control, Cassavetes lets his stories ramble, and so the theme of a plot can be obscured.

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