I've shown this movie to baffled girlfriends and eye-rolling friends who've left the room after twenty minutes. The picture was essentially unreleased upon its completion in 1976, and is now available on video only because of the retrospectives of Cassavetes' work that followed his death. The movie is considered bewildering even by many Cassavetes champions, but for me it ranks among the greatest American movies. As Cosmo Vitelli, the strip-joint owner who's a clown who thinks he's a king, the sublimely reptilian Ben Gazzara leans into an offstage mike and tells the audience, "And if you have any complaints--any complaints at all--we'll throw you right out on your ass." Like Jake LaMotta, or Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, Cosmo is a walking aria of male self-destruction. He finally pays off the shylocks he's in hock to for his place--the Crazy Horse West--and celebrates with a gambling spree that puts him right back where he started. To pay his debts, Cosmo agrees to murder a Chinese kingpin the L.A. mob has marked for death--but that only gives the barest indication of the strange, ecstatic poetry of Cassavetes' greatest and farthest-out-on-a-limb movie. The movie is a strangely crumpled form of film noir; a classic Cassavetes character portrait, with more than the usual romanticism and self-disgust; a super-subliminal essay on Vietnam and Watergate; and an example of a one-of-a-kind lyricism that's closer to 2001 than a gangster picture. With its odd rhythms, Warholish color and substance-altered performances, it's one of the rare movies for which there exists no point of comparison.