One of the most interesting aspects of this film is the self-portrait of the artist that it includes. Mabel is John Cassavetes, not in a superficial biographical sense, but as an embodiment of his vision of life's collaborative expressive possibilities. Mabel gives us a view of how Cassavetes actually performed on the set as he made all of his movies. Like her, he used every trick in the book to elicit a performance from an actor, adapting his methods to the individual actor's needs: begging, pleading, and explaining sometimes--rallying, badgering, provoking, or chiding at others. Playing mind games when it was necessary to help an actor go deeper into himself (just as Mabel nags Mr. Jensen when everything else fails to stimulate him and tells jokes to Mama Longhetti to get her to lighten up). Like Mabel, Cassavetes was his actors' own best audience, laughing, smiling, jumping out of his seat with delight when interesting and unexpected things happened (just as she does with the construction workers). Like hers, his vision of directing was the opposite of dictation. Direction was interaction. Mabel shows us what it really means to say that Cassavetes' view of direction was not a relation of superior and inferior, of boss and worker, but of equals working together in a surprisingly intimate yet public "family."
Mabel is her creator's reflection on his own life of directing. This is one of the insights I got from Ray Carney's amazing new Cassavetes on Cassavetes book, which goes into incredible detail about how all of the films were made. (He has more than 100 pages on this film alone.) I highly recommend it--along with his web site devoted to Cassavetes' life and work, which has more information
When you watch Mabel's ecstatic, doomed, inventive, tragic, comic performance, think of Cassavetes. Think of someone giving his or her soul to a world that doesn't want it. Think of the tragedy of an artist who wants to make the world laugh and love, but only elicits criticism and embarrassment the harder he tries. Mabel is John.
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