John Cassavetes: Five Films [Criterion Collection] [5 Discs] [Blu-ray]

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Overview

Special Features

  • High-definition digital restorations of all five films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
  • High-definition digital restoration of director John Cassavete's 108-minute 1978 version of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • A constant forge: the life and art of John Cassavetes (2000), a 200-minute documentary by Charles Kiselyak
  • Interviews with actor Leila Goldoni and associate producer Seymour Cassel about Shadows
  • Silent footage from the Cassavetes-Lane drama workshop, from which Shadows emerged
  • Restoration demonstration for Shadows
  • Alternate eighteen-minute opening sequence for Faces
  • Episode of the French television series Cinéastes de Notre Temps from 1968, dedicated to Cassavetes
  • Making "Faces," a documentary featuring interview with actors Cassel, Lynn Carlin, and Gena Rowlands and director of photography Al Ruban
  • Al Ruban on lighting and shooting "Faces," a new program
  • Audio commentary for A Woman Under the Influence by sound recordist and composer Bo Harwood and camera operator Mike Ferris
  • Conversation between Rowlands and actor Peter Falk about A Woman Under the Influence
  • Interview program featuring actor Ben Gazzara and Ruban discussing The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
  • Conversation between Rowlands and Gazzara about Opening Night
  • Interview with Ruban about Opening Night
  • Three audio interviews with Cassavetes from the 1970s
  • Stills and poster galleries
  • Trailers
  • Plus: a booklet featuring essays by Gary Giddins, Kent Jones, Kiselyak, Stuart Klawans, Dennis Lim, and Phillip Lopate; writings by and interviews with Cassavetes; and tributes to the filmmaker by director Martin Scorsese; actor and writer Elaine Kagan, Cassavete's former secretary; and novelist Jonathan Lethem

Synopsis

Faces
Faces is right: this definitive John Cassavetes film consists almost exclusively of tight, uncomfortable close-ups. It takes place in the fourteenth year of the marriage of Richard (John Marley) and Maria (Lynn Carlin). Neither husband nor wife is content with the conditions that prevail; Maria joins her friends looking for romantic satisfaction elsewhere, while Richard secures the services of a prostitute (Gena Rowlands). Maria herself has a one-night stand with a hippie (Seymour Cassel), but this is no more satisfying than her dead-end marriage. If you think that Faces is an exhausting experience in its current 130-minute length, imagine what it looked like in Cassavetes' original six-hour cut. Alternately clumsy and profound, it is nonetheless a work of deep sincerity, as recognized by the Venice Film Festival, which bestowed no fewer than five awards on the film, and it perfectly exemplifies Cassavetes' improvisational, cinéma vérité style and searching explorations of modern relationships. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

A Woman Under the Influence
John Cassavetes' harrowing masterpiece charts the emotional meltdown of a suburban housewife and its effects on her blue-collar Italian family. Gena Rowlands stars as Mabel Longhetti, a mother of three whose husband Nick (Peter Falk) works as a construction worker; a mismatched couple like so many others in Cassavetes films, the Longhettis seem to be complete opposites: she's impetuous, extroverted, and fragile, while he's controlling, distant, and hard-bitten. Their differences underscore a series of domestic dramas, culminating in a nervous breakdown that sends Mabel to a psychiatric hospital for six months, only to return to a home environment on even thinner ice than before. The improvisational style central to Cassavetes' vision is at its most acute throughout A Woman Under the Influence. Like its title heroine, the film threatens to veer out of control at any time, its shape and scope defined not by narrative but by the emotional upheaval at its center. Embracing the full spectrum of the Longhettis' relationship, from seismic bursts of high drama to small, even trivial moments of domestic tedium, its long scenes relentlessly probe every nook and cranny of the family's life, drawing out each moment for maximum emotional impact; the film is by turns beautiful and ugly, illuminating and frustrating, and it features a performance by Rowlands as heartwrenching and unforgettable as any ever committed to celluloid. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi

Opening Night
John Cassavetes' Opening Night stars Gena Rowlands (Mrs. Cassavetes) as end-of-tether Broadway actress Myrtle Gordon. She is about to open in a play written by her old friend Sarah Goode (Joan Blondell), but a series of pre-show setbacks and disasters threaten to destroy not only the production but Myrtle's sanity. The actress is especially rattled when one of her staunchest fans dies in an accident. In the face of bleak reality, just how important is the old "show must go on" ethic? Supporting Gena Rowlands are such veterans of the New York-Hollywood shuttle as Ben Gazzara, Zohra Lampert, Paul Stewart, James Karen, and several friends and relatives of the principals. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

A Constant Forge
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
John Cassavetes takes a contemporary film noir turn (which he would return to in Gloria) after exploring domestic melodrama in A Woman Under the Influence with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, the owner of a sleazy Los Angeles strip joint, who loses $20,000 at a mob gambling club owned by a small time gangster (Seymour Cassel). Since Cosmo doesn't have the $20,000, he is forced to murder a Chinese bookie in order to clear his debt to the mob. What Cosmo doesn't know is he's part of a set-up. The bookie is actually a West Coast mob boss protected around the clock by bodyguards. The mobsters figure that Cosmo will be killed in an impossible hit and they can take over his nightclub. But Cosmo proves luckier than the mobsters think -- he manages to kill his target, and now the mobsters have to track down Cosmo and kill him. Initially, at 133 minutes, the movie was subsequently re-edited by Cassavetes to 109 minutes. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

Shadows
Shadows was John Cassavetes' first directorial effort. Like his later critically acclaimed films Faces and Husbands, Cassavetes fills the screen with probing, unflattering closeups. Unlike his other films, however, Shadows zips along at 87 minutes, avoiding the pitfall of putting the director's nonfans to sleep. The film is a straightforward account of a biracial romance (a far less common film subject in 1960 than today). Light-skinned African-American Lelia Goldoni falls in love with a white man Anthony Ray, who spurns her when he meets the rest of her family. Far from subtle, Shadows benefits from the undisciplined energy of its direction and the excellence of its individual performances. Costing a scant $40,000 (less than the average half hour TV episode of the era), Shadows won the Critic's Award at the Cannes Film Festival and led to more expensive studio assignments for John Cassavetes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi


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