Mar 25, 2008

6th April 2008 ; Screening of A Woman Under the Influence

A Woman Under the Influence

A Film by John Cassavetes
Country : USA
Year : 1974
English with English Sub titles
6thApril 2008 ; 5.45 pm
Ashwin Hospital Auditorium

Films like A Woman Under the Influence defy a century’s worth of film theory, screenwriting tips, and film school orthodoxy.

What is A Woman Under the Influence? If you look at it from one end of the telescope, it’s a hyper-realistic portrait of a woman going mad, a bravura performance in a vaguely working-class setting . The film is study in shared emotional impotence and individual emotional frustration.

John Cassavetes’s devastating drama details the emotional breakdown of a suburban housewife and her family’s struggle to save her from herself. Starring Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands (in two of the most harrowing screen performances of the 1970s) as a married couple, deeply in love, yet unable to express their love in terms the other can understand, the film is an uncompromising portrait of domestic turmoil.

The story follows Nick on the job, working as a foreman for some city's water department, and Mabel as a depressed housewife. He's a foul-mouthed, ignorant, and often physically and emotionally abusive husband and person, while she's a flaming nut case. It is a dysfunctional household, in the modern sense.

What Cassavetes does better than any other filmmaker is give viewers archetypal situations from which we immediately viscerally understand where his characters are in their lives, as we first enter them through film. When you look at a close-up in a film by almost anyone else, you are looking at a representation of the idea of an emotion, no matter how detailed the acting. In Cassavetes, every blink, every shrug, every hesitation counts and drives the story forward.

If there is one quality that separates John Cassavetes movies from almost everybody else is, it’s the density of detail in the storytelling. His films need to be read closely, from beginning to end. There are no lulls with Cassavetes, no breaks in rhythm; they are not broken down the way most films are. You have to apprehend them from gesture to gesture, breath to breath. Very few filmmakers in the sound era have chosen to work this way, at least in the realm of fiction. Only Carl Th. Dreyer, of whom Cassavetes was a great admirer, comes to mind. This is not to slight other filmmakers with a different approach to their art, who either break up their scenes in clearly articulated units (Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Bresson), build tableau effects that take the action into an eerie timelessness (Stanley Kubrick), isolate certain visual or behavioral events as the focal point of a given shot (Jean Renoir), or dig into the marrow of time to make an event out of duration itself (Andy Warhol, Andrei Tarkovsky).

John Cassavetes

John Nicholas Cassavetes (December 9, 1929 – February 3, 1989) was an American actor, screenwriter, and director. He is considered a pioneer of American independent film. An independent film, or indie film, is a film that is produced outside, "independent", of the Hollywood Studio system.

Cassavetes was born in New York City, the son of Katherine Demetri (who was to feature in some of his films) and Nicholas John Cassavetes, Greek immigrants to the U.S. His early years were spent with his family in Greece; when he returned, at the age of seven, he spoke no English. He grew up in Long Island, New York and attended high school at Blair Academy in New JerseyAmerican Academy of Dramatic Arts. On graduation in 1950, he continued acting in the theater, took small parts in films, and began working on television in anthology series such as Alcoa Theatre.
before moving to the

During this time he met and married actress Gena Rowlands. By 1956, Cassavetes had begun teaching method acting in workshops in New York City. An improvisation exercise in one workshop inspired the idea for his writing and directorial debut, Shadows (1959). Cassavetes raised the funds for production from friends and family, as well as listeners to Jean Shepherd's late-night radio talk show "Night People". Cassavetes was unable to get American distributors to carry Shadows, so he took it to Europe, where it won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival. European distributors later released the movie in the United States as an import.

His next film as a director (and his second independent film) was Faces. Around this time, Cassavetes formed "Faces International" as a distribution company to handle all of his films. Husbands (1970) stars Cassavetes himself with Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. They play a trio of married men on a spree in New York and London after the funeral of one of their best friends. Minnie and Moskowitz, about two unlikely lovers, has Rowlands with Seymour Cassel.

His three masterpieces of the 1970s were produced independently - A Woman Under the Influence (1974), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Opening Night (1977).

Cassavetes died in 1989 at the age of 59.

With every passing year, the films of John Cassavetes are becoming more and more central to debates on cinema. Moving uneasily between Hollywood and independent American cinema traditions, Cassavetes created a body of work which was sometimes difficult but which has also had a lasting influence on the way independent filmmaking is conceived.

No comments: