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Naked (1993)
To Learn More......
13 May 2002
I simply want to recommend a fantastic book about Mike Leigh's

work that I discovered: Ray Carney's The Films of Mike Leigh:

Embracing the World published by Cambridge University Press.

Carney is the best film critic I've ever read--few footnotes, no

jargon, amazing passion for the subject, and mind-bending

insights. Check out the book. I keep it on my coffee table so that as

I am working my way through Leigh's films on video I can read the

chapter on each film immediately after watching it. Carney's

beautiful descriptions of scenes and subtle insights often make

me pop the video in again to check out a scene or two or three a

second time. Like having an ideal guide through a tangled and

uphill but sublime landscape. This book should be bundled with

the videos! Check out Naked, check out the book, and check out

the other Leigh films too which are in it: Bleak Moments,

Meantime, Abigail's Party, and all the rest. They are all wonderful

movies and I see even more in them now that I have read this

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Opening Night (1977)
In case you want more information.....
29 April 2002
This is just a brief note for anyone who wants background information about how Opening Night was made or what Cassavetes intended when he made it. I just came across--and VERY highly recommend--Ray Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes book. Carney has amazing behind-the-scenes information about how Cassavetes created Opening Night and all of his other no-budget wonders. Carney knew Cassavetes and had hundreds of hours of conversations with him before his death about his philosophy of life and art. It's all in the book. It is full of previously unknown material, nutty stories, and nutty filmmaking anecdotes. For example: Did you know that Peter Bogdanovich filmed one scene? Or that the unions tried to stop the production, picketing and shouting down the actors? Or that Joan Blondell almost quit in the middle of the shot because she was so confused by Cassavetes methods? What a crazy, inspiring guy Cassavetes was and what a nut case when it came to getting things done! If you can't find the book, Carney's web site has excerpts. But try to get the real thing. Opening Night is a great movie and you just won't believe everything Cassavetes went through to make it. What a guy. What a film!
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A Portrait of the Artist
26 April 2002
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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Faces (I) (1968)
Intimate, exposed performances that break down the fourth wall
22 April 2002
This film is one of the supreme masterworks of all of American cinema. It is absolutely essential. Yes, it is "difficult." Yes, it is "slow." But those standards are for enterainment. Cassavetes wants to take us out of our ordinary ways of viewing. He wants to deny us the escapism of "entertainment." That's the point. If you have trouble with this film--good! If you find it infuriating--good! If you find it not entertaining--good! It wants to get under your skin. It wants to shake you up.

It is a deep exploration of manhood in America, of the power games that men play with women, and of the other kinds of games women victimize themselves with. Deeper than Citizen Kane, more abrasive than Magnolia or American Beauty, Faces turns the camera on the ordinary, everyday ways men and women treat each other. It wants to get under your skin, and if you allow it to, without giving up or shutting your mind to it, it will profoundly enlighten you.

I also want to highly recommend a stunning book about Cassavetes that makes a nice companion piece to a viewing of the film. Ray Carney's Cassavetes on Cassavetes book (or his web site devoted to Cassavetes) has almost 100 pages about the making of this film. Both throw more light on how Cassavetes got the amazingly intimate and exposed performances he did.

But trust me, this film can change your life. It is one of the greatest works of art in all of film. And the resistance it meets with is proof of it
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Anything for John (1993 TV Movie)
A Mixed Bag--Good as far as it goes, but....
18 April 2002
Why are there so few good documentaries about artists? Either they focus on the life and ignore the work; or they turn into The Lives of the Saints--his struggle from depression and drugs into Nirvana. This film is a bit on the Hollywood Hagiography side. Cassavetes is idolized. And we never really get his soul OR his life. Just a series of interview clips with others. Still it's better than nothing.

If you really want to know about Cassavetes' life and art, his heart,soul, mind, and blood, sweat, and tears, you'll have to buy a book called Cassavetes on Cassavetes by Ray Carney. It's Cassavetes' real spiritual autobiography. The unknown story in his own words, told in his own voice. It's more than five hundred pages for very little money. And it has great photos too.

And there are also some terrific web sites, especially one by Carney the guy who wrote the book. His site has extensive quotes from the filmmaker and excerpts from his statements about his films--just what is missing from this documentary. You can find it with Cassavetes name in any search engine. Read the Cassavetes on Cassavetes book before or after you view this documentary and you'll get a deeper view of Cassavetes the man and the artist. But alone this is a little on the thin, and gushy, side.
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Shadows (1958)
Like it was made yesterday...and reading recommendations
15 April 2002
This is a great movie. Like it was made yesterday. Punk, beat in sensibility. About young people struggling on the fringes.

But I am mainly writing to mention that a guy named Ray Carney just wrote an astonishing book about the movie that has incredible behind the scenes details that no one ever knew before. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Cassavetes revealed things to Carney before he died in a Rosebud conversation that he had never told anyone about the film--like the fact that most of it was scripted and not improvised as the final title indicates. The book is titled Shadows and is available in any well stocked store. Carney is also the author of another WONDERFUL book titled Cassavetes on Cassavetes. Carney also has a web site that you should check out with lots of other Cassavetes material. The site is accessible from any search engine--if you type in Cassavetes' name--if you want to read even more behind the scenes stories about how Shadows and the other films were made.
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