John Cassavetes – Master of the Silver Screen

by Bruce Edwin

Named one of the top 10 most important American filmmakers of all time by The Hollywood Sentinel, John Cassavetes began his career in film as an actor. He later unleashed upon the world, his own films including: Shadows, Too Late Blues, A Child Is Waiting, Faces, Husbands, Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of A Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, Gloria, Love Streams, and Big Trouble.

Not of the dogma school, which is a film movement that adheres to rigid camera direction and rules, nor of the experimental, which was more punk in aesthetic, Cassavetes was in a league by himself. Part French New Wave, part German expressionism, part experimental and noir, part art, and part Hollywood, Cassavetes broke the mold of what a film could and should be. With stunning cinematography that made each shot a painterly piece of art, with lighting and angles that made one want to watch again and again, Cassavetes did, before David Lynch, create film for film's sake. And while moods and moments were surreal, his surrealism was directed more from emotion than of form.

Watching a Cassavetes film, like watching a Godard, Truffaut, or Fellini film, is a moment. It is not merely something to do, it is doing. Viewing a film by the genius that was Cassavetes is engaging in art and life itself. It is as a trip to where he takes you and you allow yourself to be taken.

Ray Carney, in his book‘The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies’ (1994), interviewed the filmmaker who stated, "I won't call my work entertainment. It's exploring. It's asking questions of people, constantly: How much do you feel? How much do you know? Are you aware of this? Can you cope with this? A good movie will ask you questions you haven't been asked before, ones that you haven't thought about every day of your life. Or, if you have thought about them, you haven't had the questions posed this way. Film is an investigation of life. What we are. What our responsibilities in life are, if any. What we are looking for; what problems do you have that I may have? What part of life are we both interested in knowing more about?"

Cassavetes later stated, “The most difficult thing in the world is to reveal yourself, to express what you have to. As an artist, I feel that we must try many things - but above all we must dare to fail. You must be willing to risk everything to really express it all.”

© 2009, The Hollywood Sentinel.