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Opening Night
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Reviews & Ratings for
Opening Night More at IMDbPro »

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39 out of 44 people found the following review useful:

Cassavettes's overlooked masterpiece

9/10
Author: Christopher Craig (iluvms@msn.com) from Atlanta, GA
10 October 2004

Yesterday, I went to the monthly Antique Flea Market that comes to town. I really have no interest in such things, but I went for the fellowship of friends who do have such an interest. Looking over the hundreds of vendor, passing many of them quickly, I spotted someone selling VHS tapes and DVDs. Most of the films he had on DVD were rather recent; the oldest one I noticed was the 1940 Cary Grant-Irene Dunne co-starrer MY FAVORITE WIFE. But the VHS tapes, by their nature, were mostly older films. I couldn't resist buying SOMETHING since they were being sold at 3 tapes for $10.00. What a bargain, as Eddie Murphy used to say. I came across one film that I had heard about for years but had never seen: John Cassavettes's OPENING NIGHT (1977). Well, I certainly wanted that being a fan of Gena Rowlands, and I had heard that this film contained one of her finest performances. He also had FACES (1968). I had seen this about 20 years ago, a time when I probably had not had enough life experience to appreciate it thoroughly. And I wanted to take advantage of the bargain, so I grabbed that one too. My other choice was CLAIRE'S KNEE (1970).

When I got home, I decided to put aside the work I had planned to do so that I could watch OPENING NIGHT. I was totally enthralled by this film. It focuses on Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands), a famous actress of stage and screen, who, during out-of-town previews, is having personal and professional problems coming to terms with both her character and the play's theme of facing aging. After one rehearsal, an avid fan and autograph hound accosts her with cries (and tears) of "I love you! I love you!" A few minutes later, this fan is hit by a car and killed. This begins Myrtle's descent into herself where she must face her own fears of aging, the future of her career as a mature actress, and the inadequacies she finds in the play itself (written by a much older female dramatist, played by Joan Blondell). Throughout the film, she sees the dead girl, an obvious symbol of her past; drinks almost constantly; and receives insincere support from her director (Ben Gazzara), the producer (Paul Stewart), her costar (John Cassavettes himself), and the dramatist. Actually, they're more concerned about how her behavior will affect them and their careers: flubbing lines on stage, improvising new lines, generally cracking up on stage, and arriving for the Broadway opening totally drunk.

This story functions not only to address the issues of aging but also to promote Cassavettes's displeasure with mainstream movie-making. As I watched the film, I was at times surprised, confused, amused, disparaging, but ultimately involved, entertained, and satisfied. Cassavettes really had a great sense of humor, cared very much that his audience understood what he was implying, and wanted them to be emotionally involved in the story. He makes allusions to ALL ABOUT EVE with the use of the avid theater fan, even dressing the young girl in a slicker and hat similar to the one worn by Anne Baxter at the beginning of that film. This allusion functions most obviously to support his aging theme, the contrast of the older and younger woman. He also obviously uses the contrast as a symbol for Myrtle's confronting her own lost youth. At first, I felt the symbolism was TOO obvious, but then I realized that that was Cassavettes's intention. He doesn't want his audience misunderstanding what he's getting at; if they did, it would interfere with their emotional involvement. This spectre of youth haunts Myrtle, attacks her, and wants to destroy her. Myrtle eventually "kills" her, but before she can really come to terms with herself and the play, she must reach bottom (another figurative death?). So Cassavettes has her get so drunk that she can't walk and must crawl to her dressing room the night the play opens on Broadway. She resurrects herself (helping yourself out of such situations is also important to the film's theme) and makes the play a success by giving a great performance and changing the direction of play for the better by improvising so that it contains some ray of hope for the aging character she's playing. These scenes are funny and interesting. Cassavettes and Rowlands actually did the play in front of live audiences, who did and did not know they were going to be part of a movie. The play they're doing also acts as contrast: it's mainstream and self-serious about the issues it addresses, that is, until Myrtle changes its denouement. In doing so, she also improves the work of her co-stars. The natural evolution of interaction (achieved through improvisation)between and among human beings, subjective realism, and universal truth - these were Cassavettes's concerns in making films.

Gena Rowlands is amazing throughout. Of course, she has that great face, and Cassavettes (notoriously in love with her throughout their marriage) treats us to numerous closeups of it so that we too can feel her emotions and that we know what's going on inside of her. She makes you care so much about this character that you want to see her work her way out of this crisis of the soul. And this is what holds your attention for the 2 hours and 30 minutes running time. The film is deliberately paced at times and requires constant attention, but anyone with interest in good film-making and great acting will be rewarded. Someone else said that this is a movie for people who love movies. All others be forewarned.

Seek out OPENING NIGHT if you've never seen it. Everyone in it is excellent, and it's one of Cassavettes's best films.

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33 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

10/10

10/10
Author: desperateliving from Canada
8 March 2005

It was once suggested by Pauline Kael, never a fan, that Cassavetes thought not like a director, but like an actor. What Kael meant was his supposed lack of sophistication as a filmmaker; to take that comparison further, to me, it never feels like Cassavetes is directing himself in a film, it feels like Cassavetes implanting himself inside his own creation, like Orson Welles. Cassavetes is just as much of a genius as Welles, but far more important as a true artist (as opposed to a technician or rhetorician). This is like a cross between Italian passion (though Cassavetes was actually Greek) and Scandinavian introversion. Never before have inner demons been so exposed physically.

It's about the mystery of becoming, performing, and acting. Like a haunted Skip James record, it's got the echoes of ghosts all around. Rowlands' breakdowns, which are stupefying and almost operatic, surprising coming from Cassavetes, are accompanied by a jumpy, unsettling piano. Who is this dead girl? The metaphysical possibilities are endless, and it's amazing to find this kind of thing in a Cassavetes film, just the overt display of intelligence (there is also a brief bit of voice-over at the beginning). But then, he always was intelligent, he just never flapped it around for easy praise. This is not "Adaptation"; here, the blending of reality and fiction and drama is not to show cleverness but to show the inner turmoil and confusion it creates.

There's so much going on. The pure, joyous love when Rowlands greets her doorman; the horror when she beats herself up... The scene where the girl talks about how she devoted her life to art and to music is one of the most effective demonstrations of understanding what it means to be a fan of someone. You can see some roots of this in "A Star Is Born," and Almodovar borrowed from it for "All About My Mother." I think the ending is a little bit of a disappointment because of the laughing fits, but the preparation leading up to it is almost sickening. (You can shoot me, but I think the alcoholism, despite its urgency in many of the scenes, is a relatively small point about the film.)

It's a living, breathing thing, and it feels like a process: it could go any direction at any time. Like "Taste of Cherry," we are reminded that "you must never forget this is only a play." Yet it is dangerous: when Rowlands says that line, is it great drama? How will the audience take it? Is she being reflexive or does she just not care? Her (character's) breakdowns are incorporated into the performances, and ultimately the film, in such a way that it's like witnessing a female James Dean. 10/10

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31 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

this is a bliss

10/10
Author: foutiroir from switzerland
19 August 2004

Let's go straight to the point: this is The Movie I would take with me on a desert island (with dvd player). It's just perfect. If a reason for you to see a movie is that you love the actors, you like to see them free to involve in the space and feelings, this movie is for you. See the scene when Myrtle (Rowlands) come on stage drunk and Maurice(Cassavetes) has to improvise because she doesn't follow the script anymore. If you're sensitive to the camera's movements, you'll be fascinated by the way the camera moves on stage, the particular flow, that give you the impression camera follow the actors as if it was lead by the theatrical principle of "private space"... amazing. And the story is just a brilliant mix of tale and realistic drama. Cassavetes is again arguing with Hollywood and the majors' politics, but this time, he do it through Broadway, making one of the most exciting movie about theater. Well, this movie is a bliss.

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28 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

Great Great Great - Opening Night is a movie for people who love movies!

Author: Eight Two from Florida
13 August 2002

Opening Night is *such* a fun movie to watch. John Cassavetes was smack dab in the middle of his stride as a director, having completed A Woman Under The Influence (his watershed picture, a hugely intense, absolutely fantastic movie that manages to zone almost completely on nothing but individual human emotions - fear, love, self-doubt) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (an awesome awesome awesome movie with Ben Gazzara where he's working for and running from the mafia around Los Angeles, incredible, resonant, mostly handheld cinematography that places emphasis on human faces and a script that is full of realistic dialogue - probably because the film is heavily improvised) just before this. What it's all about is a middle-aged actress whose overriding insecurities as a human being are drawn to the surface by a single incident: the accidental death of an adoring, enigmatic fan. As she muddles her way through previews of her upcoming Broadway play 'Second Woman' (of which she is the star), her health -- mental and otherwise -- begins to deteriorate. She just can't get it together, and an unsympathetic (and when they feign sympathy and support, they're unbelievable) cast of supporters doesn't help matters. She drinks and drinks and drinks and falls down some and messes up a lot. Will she get it together in time for Opening Night?

Underneath this, John Cassavetes stages and films various scenes of the fictitious play in front of an actual audience, aware of the film cameras filming a movie or not. In that sense, these bits of the film are incredibly interesting. John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands share unmatched chemistry on stage, being that they were one of the most in-love couples in the annals of film history, and it shows. Cassavetes reminds me you of his dynamite ability as a nuanced, fun-to-watch character actor, and Gena Rowlands reminds you of why she's believable as an adored, successful stage actress. These are somewhat arcane stage performances, but are delightful.

What is wrong with Opening Night? It's a movie for people who love movies, with long takes, memorable camera moves, first rate acting, high-concept ideas, a solid beginning middle and end, a great score, and a central theme that is very compelling. Some of Cassavetes' best work, a real brawny film, tall and beautiful, heavily recommended to people who are sick of cotton candy movies, sick of feature-length trailers, sick of all the crap. If you want a thick, expansive thing, Opening Night sits on the shelf, waiting.

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22 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Debunking the Myth of Improvisation

Author: Pokerface11 from Chicago
1 December 2004

Opening Night is my favorite Cassavetes, and I feel it is my duty to debunk the notion that those or any of his films aside from Shadows was strictly improvised. In fact, his films were tightly scripted after actor improvisation was used to contribute to his ideas. The coherence of a film like Opening Night, the development of the themes of aging, vanity, and hope, could not just spring from the improvisational head of even the very fine actors in the movie. If you pay attention to the dialogue (outside of the lines in the play), it is obvious that much care was taken to craft them (e.g., the scene where Myrtle explains to the playwright what problems she is having with the character and script).

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18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Cassavetes, Rowlands, Gazzara in an interesting experiment

Author: silentgpaleo
6 May 2000

From what I gather on the making of OPENING NIGHT, the plays that are performed in the film are real. The audiences are supposedly real, and the flubbed lines are also real occurrences. Of course, since there is much improvising, it is sometimes hard to see where the energy originated from. But with OPENING NIGHT, Cassavetes brings us into the world of theater, and some of his comments are harrowing.

Rowlands stars as Myrtle Gordon, a serious stage actress with a large following. She has fans that follow her before and after her performances, beg for her autograph, and generally leave Myrte cold. Gazzara is Myrtle's director, a manipulator who knows how to handle his actors. Cassavetes plays Myrtle's costar, a relationship that leads to fights with Myrtle, on and off-stage.

Meanwhile, Myrtle is starting to lose her grip. She is having difficulty grasping the character she is playing in her latest performance. She has trouble remembering her lines, and staying in character. Her personal life begins to take over.

This is due to her witnessing a death of one of her fans. She brushes off this Anne Baxter( in ALL ABOUT EVE) wannabe, and moments later learns that this fan was killed in a car accident. This brings out guilty feelings in Myrtle, that her life and the lives of others are empty. And that she may be the cause of some of these problems.

Myrtle is a lonely character. She lives for acting, and when she loses her focus, it eats away at her confidence. Myrtle feels unable to express what she already knows. She forgets how to be herself.

OPENING NIGHT is a very powerful film. It demands that we, as the audience, become involved emotionally with the characters. Cassavetes is a loose director who knows how to evoke feelings through character improvisation and crude camera techniques. His films are always professional, but there is a certain gritty quality as well that lends atmosphere and a sense of geography to his work. Cassavetes was a true film artist, and his actors are artists as well.

Rowlands is fearless; she is one actress who rips into herself to release the characters that she play. This often leaves her naked, and that can be fascinating and entertaining. Gazzara is wonderfully pompous as the director, and he plays with a perfect combination of relaxed confidence and creeping self-doubt. And Cassavetes is no slouch as an actor; his work in other directors' films show that he was versatile and inspired without necessarily having to steer.

My only complaints here are that the film has a few too many ideas. This is a minor complaint for such an engrossing film, but the movie becomes top-heavy from all of the threads that the audience is trying to follow. While Cassavetes' HUSBANDS and WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE ran on a straight time-line, OPENING NIGHT is much more loosely structured. This can lead to mix-ups, but as I say, this is only a minor gripe.

OPENING NIGHT is definitely not the film to start with if you are just getting into the Cassavetes film catalogue. It may seem pointless at times, and the running time is a tad long. But, mark my words, there are many points made in OPENING NIGHT, and if the viewer is more familiar with Cassavete's aspirations, the film can be quite a good viewing. For fans of different acting techniques and independent film, I highly recommend this film. I own a copy, and I'll probably never give it up.

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11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

An affirmation of life

10/10
Author: Enoch Sneed from United Kingdom
27 June 2007

Many reviews here explain the story and characters of 'Opening Night' in some detail so I won't do that. I just want to add my comment that I believe the film is a wonderful affirmation of life.

At the beginning Myrtle Gordon is remembering how 'easy' it was to act when she was 17, when she had youth and energy and felt she knew the truth. Experience has left her emotionally fragile, wondering what her life has been for and, indeed, if she can even continue living. A tragic accident triggers a personal crisis that almost overwhelms her.

Almost - but not quite. At the eleventh hour she rediscovers the power of her art and reasserts herself ("I'm going to bury that bastard," she says of fellow actor Maurice as she goes on stage). It seems almost sadistic when Myrtle's director prevents people from helping her when she arrives hopelessly drunk for her first performance. He knows, however, that she has to have the guts to make it herself if she is to make it at all.

Some critics wonder if this triumph is just a temporary pause on Myrtle's downward path. I believe this is truly her 'opening night' - she opens like a flower to new possibilities of life and action, she sees a way forward. It is tremendously moving.

Gena Rowlands is superb. The film is superb. Thank you, Mr Cassavetes, wherever you are.

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13 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

My brief review of the film

Author: sol- from Perth, Australia
14 June 2005

Full of interesting ideas and really rather chilling at times, this account of a mental breakdown is fascinating to watch, with Gena Rowlands a glorious choice for the lead. It is in the way that Rowlands is able to carry emotion on her face that makes her performance so stunning, and along with some well used music and effective close-up photography, it is an intriguing piece of cinema, even if awkwardly very melodramatic at times and a tad hard to digest. The on and off-stage action in the protagonist's life is mixed together, and it is sort of muddled in this sense, though perhaps only as muddled as her mind is. The film poses such interesting questions about how much one should or does care, it portrays mental illness, and, it also has some insight into theatre production. It is very good stuff and only really brought down by being fatally overlong, with the content stretched to its limits.

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15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Masterpiece Drama from Cassavates...

10/10
Author: StephaneD from Paris, France
19 October 2001

Beautiful film, pure Cassavetes style. Gena Rowland gives a stunning performance of a declining actress, dealing with success, aging, loneliness...and alcoholism. She tries to escape her own subconscious ghosts, embodied by the death spectre of a young girl. Acceptance of oneself, of human condition, though its overall difficulties, is the real purpose of the film. The parallel between the theatrical sequences and the film itself are puzzling: it's like if the stage became a way out for the Heroin. If all american movies could only be that top-quality, dealing with human relations on an adult level, not trying to infantilize and standardize feelings... One of the best dramas ever. 10/10.

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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Masterpiece Drama from Cassavates...

10/10
Author: StephaneD from Paris, France
19 October 2001

Beautiful film, pure Cassavetes style. Gena Rowland gives a stunning performance of a declining actress, dealing with success, aging, loneliness...and alcoholism. She tries to escape her own subconscious ghosts, embodied by the death spectre of a young girl. Acceptance of oneself, of human condition, though its overall difficulties, is the real purpose of the film. The parallel between the theatrical sequences and the film itself are puzzling: it's like if the stage became a way out for the Heroin. If all american movies could only be that top-quality, dealing with human relations on an adult level, not trying to infantilize and standardize feelings... One of the best dramas ever. 10/10.

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