4/30/12

INSTANT 3: Cannes Directors, 2012

The Cannes Film Festival 2012 has been slowly coming into focus over the last week or so, attempting once again to live up to its reputation as the pinnacle and premiere event of world cinema, past and present.  As usual, this year's festival boasts some high profile entries, including Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Jeff Nichol's Mud, Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, which will mark the first attempt to bring the work of the great American novelist Don Delillo (Great Jones Street, 1973; White Noise, 1985; Underworld, 1997) to the screen.  I saw Delillo read from Cosmopolis at the Steppenwolf Theater upon the book's release, and had the opportunity to ask him why there had never been a film adaptation of any of his books, to which he replied: "I guess because nobody's gotten it right yet."  Here's hoping that Cronenberg's take on Delillo is more satisfying than the lukewarm A Dangerous Method, his film adaptation of Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure.


Before attending last year's Chicago International Film Festival (check out my diary of the CIFF beginning here) I posted recommendations for Netflix instant viewing that aligned with three of the directors being featured--namely Cronenberg, Wim Wenders, and Werner Herzog--and now that the Cannes is taking shape I would like to dig a bit deeper into their list of featured directors, past the likes of Cronenberg and Anderson, and recommend the work of some slightly more overlooked directors.  Sadly, I won't be able to attend Cannes this year due to my busy schedule of champagne receptions and Chinese buffet encounters in the Flint, MI area, but in the meantime here are an INSTANT 3 that will help us simulate the cinematic climate of the French Riviera from our couches, if not the actual climate:


1.  Code Unknown, dir. Michael Haneke (2000)

Haneke's 2009 Palm d'Or winner The White Ribbon failed to rank high for me in relation to his past films (although it seems I may be alone in that initial impression), but like most of his output it still manages to leave one with the sense of a demanding and highly skilled master at work. Though 2000's Code Unknown is a cinematic puzzle that I won't profess to having solved entirely, it remains the film of Haneke's that has left the greatest impression on me.  As in Cache (2005) and Funny Games (1997 + 2007), Haneke is equally preoccupied with the often brutal characters and volatile cultural spaces he presents as he is with interrogating our audiencing of them.  Haneke's films represent some of the most complex and daring challenges to film language within the last couple of decades, so for those wanting respite from the redundant tropes of Hollywood storytelling, Code Unknown will most definitely do the trick.  It's the type of film that threatens to liberate one from lazy, disengaged film viewing forever.  Also, as she has proved in Kiezlowski's Blue before, and Assayas' Summer Hours since, Juliette Binoche is astounding, and Code Unknown will surely stand as one of her most difficult, revealing, and accomplished tasks as an actor.  Haneke's film at Cannes this year is titled Amour and features Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert (the star of another Haneke worth viewing instantly, 2002's The Piano Teacher).  





2.  Animal Love, dir. Ulrich Seidl (1995)  

The world does look like an "America's Funniest Home Videos" montage, to some extent.  But, it also looks like Ulrich Seidl's Animal Love, whether or not you want to admit it.  A glance at the customer reviews on Netflix will quickly reveal that many who viewed it were perhaps expecting something as uncomplicated as that most All-American celebration of voyeurism, and have most likely never encountered anything that might have prepared them for Animal Love.  I have yet to catch up with much of this Austrian director's work, but it is apparent from this 1995 documentary that he not only possesses a striking visual sensibility, but is also operating at a level of engagement with society that threatens to pull back the curtain on aspects of mundane existence that have become rote in their representations;  in this case, human/pet relations.  Indeed, many will find it intolerable both in terms of what it shows and how it shows it, but for those of us who need to witness what's going on behind that curtain, Seidl reveals in a supremely artful and uncompromising way what is normally hidden. Some have called his work derivative of Herzog, which Animal Love suggests both in its technique and its overall themes of looking at humans and animals in an unromantic fashion, but ultimately this seems to be the film where Seidl begins to define his uniquely provocative and humanistic perspective.  Seidl's entry at Cannes this year, Paradise: Love, is the first part of a fictional trilogy that "tells of sex tourism, older women and young men, the market value of sexuality, the power of skin color, Europe and Africa, and the exploited, who have no choice but to victimize other victims." 






3.  Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2010)


As I look at the list of films both in and out of competition at Cannes this year, there are a number of directors with Instant View counterparts that I would like to fit into this third spot (maybe...Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django, Kiarostami's Ten, or Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris?), and that excludes consideration of the Cannes Classics lineup, which features the Hitchcock Restoration of his 1927 silent film The Ring, as well as screenings of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and Roman Polanski's Tess (1979).  But, if I follow faithfully the path I've created so far, it's the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul that fits most neatly into this third spot, providing a dose of much needed magical realism in contrast to the stark worldviews of Haneke and Seidl.  For film buffs this Thai director needs no introduction, but for those who have never seen a film by Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee is maybe the perfect gateway drug.  And, his films are a bit drug-like, inducing a suspended sense of time, re-presenting the world through a mythological lens, creating a space where the mystical meets the everyday.  As with Haneke and Seidl, the patience Weerasethakul asks of his audience has the potential for forging new relationships to film form and culture.  Also, if Uncle Boonmee is the gateway then the journey is required, particularly through his masterpieces of the last decade, Blissfully Yours (2002), Tropical Malady (2004), and Syndromes and a Century (2006).  His Special Screening at Cannes is of the not-quite-feature-length Mekong Hotel, featuring Tilda Swinton.      



4/28/12

Amos Vogel, R.I.P.

For most of ECSTATIC's short life span, a quote from one of the great authors and programmers of film culture has graced the front page:

"The power of the image, our fear of it, the thrill that pulls us toward it, is real. Short of closing one's eyes - in cinema, a difficult and unprecedented act - there is no defense against it."
                                                                                 --Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art

Of course I know the old adage about books and their covers, but few exteriors have so immediately established a connection with me than Vogel's 1974 bible of the avant-garde Film as a Subversive Art, virtually crying out to me:  "This book is one of your books!"  It was a combination of the title and the indelible image of Milena Dravic from one of my most formative cinema obsessions, Dusan Makavejev's WR:  Mysteries of the Organism (1971), that had sealed the deal.  I have been reading it, browsing it, and imaging the life of Vogel through it ever since.  



Vogel died a few days ago at the age of 91.  His contribution to progressive film culture in the United States is pervasive, mostly due to his decades of radical programming through Cinema 16 in New York, dating back to the 1940's.  Werner Herzog wrote in a letter to the Film Society of Lincoln Center:  "I am still not capable--or rather unwilling--to understand the fact that Amos has passed away, because a man like him cannot be dead.  His traces are everywhere."

For more on this most essential purveyor of the unpredictable, see the excellent documentary Film as a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16 (2003), directed by Paul Cronin, here.  

  





4/18/12

"Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis" dir. Mary Jordan (2006)

"Oh Maria Montez, give socialist answers to a rented world."
          - Jack Smith

Maria Montez in Robert Siodmak's Cobra Woman (1944) 
In 1963 performance artist, film maker, and povera artiste extraordinaire Jack Smith screened a film that would go down as his only completed work of cinema, Flaming Creatures.  Even though Smith would continue working creatively until his death in 1989, he has remained most associated with that film and its overblown and blown-out baroque style.  The history of Flaming Creatures as an icon of banned art has perhaps overshadowed the complex and varied influence of Smith's work and life, which is what makes Mary Jordan's documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis so essential.

Flaming Creatures
For me, Smith's work was always lingering in the periphery of my research in Performance Art, particularly when it came to the New York scene of the 70's and 80's.  I had developed only a vague impression in my mind of this queer performer with the most mundane of monikers, somehow central to the whole scene, creating performances in his living room that were hugely influential and, like so much of the most seminal performance art work of the past, scantily documented.  So, the experience of Jordan's artfully constructed documentary is a welcome flood of color, detail, and collected narratives to fill in my mental sketch of this amazing artist, whose principled though difficult practices as an artist speak so directly to the ethics of artistic and political action today.  Jordan assembles a rather impressive line-up of underground film makers, writers, and performers to assemble Smith's complicated story, including Ken Jacobs, Gary Indiana, John Zorn, Nick Zedd, Mary Woronov, Richard Foreman, George Kuchar, Jonas Mekas, John Waters, Taylor Mead, Tony Conrad, Andrew Sarris, and Robert Wilson, to name but a few.  Most of the commentary by those who had experienced Smith is clearly marked by a desire to properly name him as the source of so much art that came after him, from trends in photography to the eventual aesthetic of the music video, and in particular the debt owed to him by Andy Warhol.  But, the film also portrays his unique nature as an artist who was always folding curious influences from the past into his work.  Richard Foreman (creator of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater) describes his first encounter with Flaming Creatures as a "Blake-ian vision...some kind of heaven," while Jordan is continually pulling in footage from the work of Smith's own film obsession, the Queen of Technicolor, Maria Montez;  the space between Blake and Montez is perhaps an appropriate place to begin constructing a frame of reference for the scope and feel of Smith's work for those who aren't familiar.  Smith eventually began to shape his own "Creatures," as he would call them, for the purpose of his low-budget, semi-pornographic film experiments.  Most of these "performers" were untrained, naturally reacting characters culled from the streets of New York that Smith integrated into his hand-made fantasy set designs, including the notable transvestite actor he discovered and dubbed "Mario Montez."  If it sounds a lot like Warhol's Factory, that's because it is, only without the money.  Robert Wilson puts it bluntly in the film:  "Warhol couldn't have made his films without Jack Smith."  Then again, Smith's work is certainly connected to a film maker I can recall little mention of in Jordan's film, Kenneth Anger.  But, to spend too much time with the questions of influence and appropriation within this particular vein of the Avant-Garde may lead to the more troubling questions of exploitation and profit, and perhaps the unfortunate traps of contempt that evidently fueled much of Smith's rage and resentment.  Jordan weaves this aspect of Smith's personality into the film progressively while never allowing it to simply become a scandal piece.  Although John Waters ultimately declares that Jack Smith "bit every hand that fed him," Jordan manages to keep the focus of the film on the unique strength of Smith's convictions, which are often questionable (particularly when it comes to his romanticization of contracting AIDS), but are served well by the film's honest approach.

Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954)
Andy Warhol and Mario Montez 
One recurring image in Smith's work is that of the Lobster, usually used to represent an evil exploiter of art and humanity.  In Destruction of Atlantis, it is curiously one of Smith's central "Lobster" adversaries that points out this motif, Jonas Mekas.  As essential as Mekas is to the history and preservation of Avant-Garde film, as well as the dissemination and success of Flaming Creatures, Smith reviled Mekas, claiming that his public exhibitions and lectures and police-bating were not serving his work well, but rather "kicking it to death."  The history of Flaming Creatures itself is yet another tale of cinema censorship that doggedly persists today, as Kirby Dick addressed in (a documentary that would make a great "double feature" companion to Jordan's) This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006).  Taking into consideration the kind of aggression an eccentric like Smith must have encountered growing up in the 1940's and 50's, there seems to me a few telling parallels between the recent controversy between Harvey Weinstein and the MPAA over the rating of the documentary Bully.  Although I can't yet speak to the quality of Bully as a film, the controversy is a perfect reflection of the institutional ineffectiveness and cultural immaturity that persists fifty years later in the form of a rating system whose methods of out-and-out censorship have devolved into absurdity (I know...but where would we be without the invaluable PG-13 rated version of The King's Speech, or the People magazine equivalent of dystopian cinema that is The Hunger Games?!).

Bully
In Destruction of Atlantis, Jordan poses the question of what Flaming Creatures ultimately owes to the controversy surrounding it, as it was eventually banned in 22 states and 4 countries, with prints being impounded by the Attorney General as late as 1968, and protests in opposition to the censorship of the film arising on numerous college campuses (one of the primary sites being University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the same city that spawned the initial petition against the MPAA ruling on Bully).  The initial police raids the film experienced in New York in 1963 were often attributed to an effort to "clean up" the city in the year leading up to the 1964 World's Fair, as Lenny Bruce continued to wonder aloud on stage, "Is it becoming chic to arrest me?"

Lenny Bruce
Like Bruce, Smith had a distinctive voice (literally and figuratively) that challenged the idea of where obscenity truly resides, and it's this use of Smith's voice in Jordan's film that transcends the controversy, revealing a creative and revolutionary mind that is as potent today as it ever was (even if Flaming Creatures itself might not be).  Jordan's "thesis statement" for the film, set to a glorious montage of Smith footage, comes in the form of Smith raging:  "In this country there's a profound hatred of art...but if it is real art, they cannot help it...it must get mutilated!"  This quote on its own may seem relevant enough to us today, but more specifically the threat of "mutilation" in the form of institutionalized homophobia and censorship continues to be enacted in 2012, as was the case recently with performance artist Tim Miller being banned from teaching a workshop at Villanova in Philadelphia.  As with the MPAA, and the invention of the Production Code for that matter, this particular instance of censorship has a strong tie to Catholicism, as Villanova's President, Rev. Peter M. Donohue, stated "concerns that his performances were not in keeping with our Catholic and Augustinian values and mission" (even though Miller was never slated to perform his own work, but rather teach a workshop that would enable students to craft performance work built around a particular theme:  "a day in your life when you told the truth").  Villanova's ban held, though not without protest, and the partially happy end to the story is that Miller performed last weekend in an alternate venue in Philly not far from the college, hopefully solidifying the message that banning an artist and educator like Miller in 2012 is an outrage, and the only thing that could possibly make Donohue seem more absurd would be running around Philly trying to put the kibosh on screenings of Fatty Arbuckle pictures.  

Tim Miller
One of the most frustrating aspects of these continuing cultural bouts with censorship is how surface oriented they are when you boil them down...a few "fucks" here, a few cocks there.  What is brought out so well in Destruction of Atlantis is the way Smith linked this to Capitalism, and the way in which the system so often encourages a surface level engagement with culture and art.  The same sentiment rings true in relation to the modern movie business, which was created in simultaneity with the particular offices of American film censorship, and continues today in its perpetuation of product that is increasingly created through the lens of the advertising industry.  Along those same lines, another curious parallel to the attention given to Smith in the early 60's was the emerging cultural influence of the Madison Avenue advertising agencies, which has recently enjoyed a rather artful depiction in AMC's popular series Mad Men.  As of this writing, Mad Men is beginning to air its 5th season, and has so far captured quite well, particularly in the character of Don Draper, a sentiment that could stand to be stated more often:  advertisers don't give a fuck about Art.  Smith was keen to this back then, often addressing the affect on artists working in a culture increasingly naturalized to marketing strategies as one that will inevitably throw away the "aesthetic aspect of anything" first, indicting American culture as one that will "take the publicity and throw everything else away." 

Mad Men
Jack Smith
For Smith, the necessity of art lied in its ability to provide respite from those inescapable systems that were coming into focus all around him in the 60's, and to combat them with strange gestures, alternate realities, and exuberant lust. Jordan's documentary reveals Smith as not just a simple provocateur or a minor footnote to the history of legal battles over obscenity, but as an artist whose work and voice resounds clearly in a time when, as he put it, "Capitalism has made it impossible to live a life that's not ugly."  A cut above the spate of recent documentaries attempting to reconstruct various art movements and personalities, Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis colors in a period that seems in need of being re-examined, and finds controversies there that are unexpectedly timely.  

   

 



     
   

4/13/12

IN CONVERSATION: "Opening Night" dir. John Cassavetes, 1977

For the third installment of "In Conversation," film writer and critic Nathaniel Drake Carlson and I continue to assess the impact of films that have continued to emerge over our years of endless long distance debates that has spanned a wide range of film trends.  Some of our choices are films that have maybe shifted in their estimation of critics and audiences over time, while others are films we feel are neglected or misread in their overall critical response.  Some are films we love, and others tend to divide our enthusiasms.  In the end, all of our choices are of films and directors that we feel incite the best conversations, and that we truly want to understand a bit better ourselves.  The choice of films so far (although by no conscious design) has been focused mostly on American independents, and this time around we turn our attention to the film maker that is perhaps most essential to that conversation, John Cassavetes.  His influence and artistic swagger continue to pervade film culture (even creeping into such unexpected places as the indie rock lyrics of The Hold Steady--check out their 2008 track "Slapped Actress").  Over the course of this conversation Nathaniel and I found that there really is no containing such incredible, multifaceted work in one critical pass, our conversation about JC overflowing beyond what you see here as we continued via phone and email to marvel at the possibilities, as well as mourn the points of interest that fell to the wayside.  On that note, we always encourage readers to continue the conversation on the message boards of ECSTATIC, and certainly encourage you to look at Cassavetes' work once again, or for the first time, in hopes that you enjoy it as much as we do.      

Jason Hedrick:  When I was in my early 20's I saw a film by perhaps the most important of American independent film makers, John Cassavetes, and I don't think I really understood anything about it.  I understood that his films were something that someone who was interested in films should try to appreciate, and when I look at his films now it's hard for me to imagine younger viewers of his work being able to understand much else about them beyond that.  Fifteen or so years later, I revere his pictures to an extent that few film makers inspire in me, and relish any chance I get to review and talk about them.  It should be revealed that when you and I speak outside of having these more formal conversations, we often fret over a rather common question of film writers and critics: "What else is there to say?"  Fortunately, in this case, we're dealing with a film maker whose continuing impact seems to keep re-surfacing in relevant ways, and whose films seem to mature along with each generation; or, rather, each generation matures into them.  So many films stay stuck in their own time, but the best Cassavetes films, although certainly crucial to the evolution of film style within their own time, survive gloriously beyond the trappings of commercial cinema from the 60's, 70's, and 80's, and are even uniquely separate from the films that typically characterize the Hollywood Renaissance that Cassavetes is often connected with.  In fact, one of my favorite eras to explore with film students is that era between the early 60's and mid-to-late 70's, and even though Cassavetes may be my favorite film maker working in that period I could rarely bring myself to begin unpacking his work in an introductory course (as his work tends to be a course unto itself) so I relish this opportunity to discuss it with you even more.  I guess some film makers perfectly represent a specific era or trend (DeSica and Italian Neo-Realism, Truffaut and the French New Wave, and so on), but other film makers tend to be good examples of what only they do so singularly well, like Cassavetes.  For me, that list also includes David Lynch (whose film Blue Velvet we covered in our first "In Conversation" piece), Fellini, Tarkovsky, Tarr, among others.  I'm not trying to create arbitrary echelons of film achievement in placing Cassavetes among that company, because regardless of the way a film maker fits into some unstable cannon of appreciation, the slow erosion of time, culture, and criticism will ultimately be the judge of what remains relevant. 

If we are talking about 1959 and Cassavetes directorial debut, Shadows, then we must note that Lelia Goldoni's opening line is a nearly unprecedented moment of intimate revolution for women, for men, for everyone in terms of what it acknowledges about sexuality:  "I didn't know it could be so awful."  A grim acknowledgement, I know, but seen through the lens of what the film industry was willing to depict about women and sexuality at that time, Cassavetes makes his first puncture in the facade of the commercial cinema lie.  If we are talking about his next feature, Faces, it refines that same loose Bolex-slinging style and intimate focus on character to create a film that some say changed the face of cinema in the way that Robert Johnson changed music and Jackson Pollock changed painting, creating an even bigger tear in that facade, one that was beyond mending this time.  But, I think the reason we've chosen to discuss Cassavetes' 1977 film Opening Night has something to do with it not having the same kind of impact as his early films.  Some see Opening Night as a positive evolution in Cassavetes' work, while others see it as a bit of failure in relation to the style he had established with films like Husbands (1970), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976).  The first time I saw Opening Night I truly enjoyed the film, but found more to dislike than I had with any of his other work, particularly in what I think is the most significant and unprecedented move that Cassavetes makes here which has to do with externalizing the inner psychological state of the film's lead character, Myrtle Gordon, played by Cassavetes' muse and wife Gena Rowlands.  Reviewing the film in closer detail years later this aspect seems to bother me less, which I think simply speaks to something I've felt about Cassavetes' films for a long time: one matures into them. Even Killing of a Chinese Bookie, a very difficult film in many ways, and more similar to the work that came after it than the work that came before, existed in my perception as lesser Cassavetes for a long while (a sentiment that is not uncommon, I guess, since the initial theatrical reception of Bookie was supposedly disastrous).  But, my view of both Bookie and Opening Night has shifted considerably, particularly because they are such challenging pictures, more rewarding upon each viewing, so subtly confounding in their construction that they can almost seem like different films the first few times you tango with them.  Even though Opening Night stretches the boundaries of realism that Cassavetes was so firmly rooted in with his prior films, the risk he takes in exploring new modes of character representation are certainly interesting, if not wholly successful for me.

The Killing of A Chinese Bookie

With that said, all of Cassavetes work is captivating to me, regardless of the quality (save, perhaps, for the unfortunate case of 1986's Big Trouble, the last film he worked on, which I suggest we commence ignoring from here on out, as by all accounts it was in no way his film), because few bodies of work tell the story of their director in the way Cassavetes' work does.  Part of a deeper ongoing engagement with Cassavetes for me has to do with discovering the way in which Cassavetes himself is one of the most interesting things about his pictures, and whether he is in them or not, large or small role, they are reflections of his life and his undeniable humanity.  Part of what makes Opening Night so interesting for me, although I still consider it to be one of his more flawed works, is the way in which his personal struggle--with life, with age, with being a director, with the film itself--is so present in the film.  In this sense, the idea of ranking his films as a way to critically asses them seems ridiculous;  a Cassavetes films will be interesting because Cassavetes is interesting, and like any great actor he understands this, and not in a selfish or narcissistic way.  This comes through most clearly in his depiction of female characters, which I won't claim are always spot on, but they are at least always searching, questioning.  It reminds me of the kind of observation and compassion that the playwright Anton Chekhov had for his characters.  To bring in my experience with the theater, more than once while directing scenes of Chekhov I've had the experience of being taken aback by how well he understood women, to the extent that the women playing them needed little direction, and I was left with little else to do but watch them rather easily "get it." In Shadows and Faces we see the same kind of deep love and understanding in Cassavetes' depiction of women, his ability to get the actors to trust him in showing something truthful about their desires and disappointments; a depth of insight uncommon to such a young director.  Opening Night shows the same deep desire to understand the psychology of women, and is primarily designed around the female characters.  Even though Cassavetes and Gazzara get top billing over Joan Blondell and Zohra Lampert, the film is centered around the personal and psychological struggles of Myrtle and the way she sees herself reflected in the women of the film, as well as the girl haunting her daydreams, the ghost of a fervid fan played by Laura Johnson.  Cassavetes took risks that often paid off in his casting choices, frequently attempting the difficult feat of working with actors of varying ranges of experience.  Although commendable for it's portrayal of women, Opening Night seems stressed by the quality of the performances, particularly when it comes to Blondell and Johnson.  In the case of Blondell, it may have to do with an actress whose work reaches back to the beginning of the studio era colliding head-on with an entirely unconventional production style (Gazzara has said she was confused by the hand-held nature of the camera:  "Is he going to follow me into the bathroom with that thing?").  With Johnson it may almost be the opposite; a collision of inexperience with a rather difficult role, particularly her (second) role as the Nancy of Myrtle's hallucinatory breakdown.



Though there are a number of ways to read the title of the play-within-the-film ("The Second Woman") in relation to the female characters of Opening Night, Lampert's portrayal of Dorothy emerges for me as the most interesting of the supporting cast;  her choices in the film are always warm, complex, unexpected.  The bedroom scene between Dorothy and Victor (and, via telephone, Myrtle) is elevated entirely by her physical answer to Gazzara's prodding in the previous scene:  "I'm going to go crazy if you don't tell me what it's like to be alone as a woman." As off key as Blondell and Johnson's performances seem to me at times, there is hardly a performance in the film as captivating as Zohra Lampert's, an actor who does so much with the scant scenes she has that the film, which notably freeze-frames at the end on a shot of her embracing Myrtle, seems to be as much about her as it does about anyone else.  Cassavetes abilities seem almost extra-sensory in these moments, as we find ourselves wondering:  "How did he know that?"  The ending of Opening Night strikes me in this way, as he makes a point of that embrace between Myrtle and Dorothy, leaving us in a place that we didn't quite expect, that implores us to read back through the film and the relationships it depicts in finer detail.


If it already seems like I'm vacillating in my opinion of the film, all I can say is that it almost seems most appropriate with a film like this, nearly unattainable within a single viewing, but so rewarding, frustrating, elusive, enlightening the more you engage with it.  Opening Night, like the best of Cassavetes' films, allows us an experience that seems drastically more experiential than most films.  Like life, there is nothing about his films that can be contained in a simple summary, a TV-Guide blurb (as we used to say), which is all the more reason to take on the task of  unpacking Opening Night in conversation.  I suspect it may be a film that divides us in some ways, and I imagine you might read my comments so far as overly effusive, but I'm curious as to how you see Opening Night in it's finer details, but also how you see it in relation to his other films, the Hollywood Renaissance, and cinema today.

Nathaniel Drake Carlson: No need to worry about being overly effusive with regards to this one as I can't imagine being effusive enough. For me, it is quite possibly Cassavates' greatest film, his finest achievement. Certainly I think it's his most profoundly moving work and that's because it's also his most intellectually rigorus piece, devastatingly serious about its own inquiry and conflicted, compounded nature. We know, almost implicitly, that Cassavetes understands how to access "real" feeling and can be trusted upon to do so. From the beginning that was his unique gift, something which, as you say, marked him apart from the commercial cinema of his time and any other. But only here in this film does he pursue the question of that emotional reality's underlying legitimacy. Only here is the raw power of his scenes of naked emotion compounded by that troubling intellectual query. And it's not some hyper-qualified meta inquiry like Todd Haynes might do in which the ultimate effects upon the artist and his audience are nullified by virtue of how many layers of qualification are imposed or seen to exist in between. Cassavetes, as expected, does not evade the hammer blow. The excruciating scrutiny he engages in extends out from the central subject and is the cause of the emotional discord that follows; that is all we see.

Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven (2002)

As you are well aware, I am not as enthusiastic about JC's work overall as you always have been. Initially, I found it off putting in its emotional demonstrativeness and that response remained pretty much in place for me for many of the intervening years between that first exposure and this project. Having said that I am grateful to you for proposing that we treat this film as it did motivate me to go back to his body of work and "begin again" with it as it were. And it most definitely is the sort of thing that one matures into, not so much because life experience necessarily ends up matching the onscreen reality but simply because increased experience generally offers up insight into how hard won the process of John's poetry must have been. And certainly my own cinematic education over these last ten years or so has been helpful in bringing to light what is remarkable about all of these films.

I still much prefer some over others, and those are the same ones as when I first saw them. But even the ones I tend to dislike I can now say with sincerity that I respect. The later films remain the favorites for me. In fact, if memory serves, during that initial exposure only Opening Night and Love Streams came off as certifiable masterworks even when the reason to come to that conclusion was unclear. Bookie was more of a curiosity then, though I only had seen the trimmed version at the time. Now it emerges as of a piece with the rest of his project and a wonderfully sly subversion of all the expectations of genre cinema many tend to have. The earlier films are a mixed bag for me. Husbands is the stand out for its rather awesome treatment of masculine uncertainties, though even there some parts (like the infamous drunken song recital sequence) just defiantly do not go down well.  Faces and A Woman Under the Influence improved this time around as I was better able to assess their aesthetic ambitions and accomplishments, but I still can't claim to have an overwhelming love for either. My patience simply gets worn with the amount of time surrendered to drunken bouts or extended scenes of emotional breakdowns. I'm fully aware too that this is an intentional effect and justifiable even as the necessary means of building Cassavetes' uniquely incisive portraits, ones so unyielding that they are like unto spirtual x-rays. Still, here is where I can recognize the intent and see the worth in it without being won over completely.  His engagement with that material is profound and committed, drawing out much that is vital, but it's not an approach I can take much pleasure in and to a degree that is crucial.  The satisfactions I do cull generally tend to be offset by the alienating technique. JC's methodology in these pictures is tolerable to me for those moments that cut though the prolonged anguish or hysteria (like Rowlands' realizing that the man who has just confessed his weaknesses to her in Faces is incapable or unwilling to acknowledge that vulnerability before others) and even what I don't like or can't stand always comes across as sincerely motivated and not just some wanton provocation for its own sake, using its supposed aesthetic necessity as an excuse (like Noe's Irreversible for one).  Though it's true enough to say that Cassavetes has been a huge influence in theory upon many, that curdled in recent years. Modern day mumblecore cinema owes him and his legacy of independently financed ultra intimacy a debt but precious little of that stuff comes remotely close to the same rough edged territory of emotional bloodletting and brutality. Oddly enough, his real lasting legacy and cinematic kinship can be most clearly observed in the glossier works of von Trier and P.T. Anderson's majestic Magnolia.

Faces (1968)
Magnolia (1999)
Looking at Opening Night with the same close gaze and scrutiny that JC employs within the film itself helps enlighten its intents and allow for a deeper, richer appreciation of it. I want to go back to a word you used in regards to the film as it is certainly apt, and that word is elusive. On a first pass and a superficial reading, there is much to be mystified by but it is all coherent enough on its own terms. It's just that, as with something like Blue Velvet, there is that nagging sense that there is more to it than this, more here informing it all, perhaps critically, than is at first discernible. You are right to say that Cassavetes is always in some ways the subject of his own work, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, without being unduly solipsistic or self-conscious about it, JC recognizes the impossibility of ever fully getting away from one's own obsessions and compulsions. Here, for the first time, he allows that to spill over into an intellectual terrain that applies the most pressure toward ordering the various bits and pieces of his world. It is for sure a film about anxiety over age and career concerns as well as being a self-assessment of his role as director of realistic, emotional action but it's that central text (the text of the play being produced in the film) and its essential "elusiveness" that acts as catalyst to put it all in motion. It is the source of our unease as well as that of the characters. All these other concerns are the distractions, those things that emerge as evidence of who and what someone ultimately is, especially in relation to that which becomes untethered, inarticulatable. When Myrtle declares that she has "lost the reality of the reality" this is a far more desperate acknowledgment than is generally assumed. It's assumed that this particular distressed coming-undone is a result of the other issues bandied about in the film. I would argue that it's just the opposite: that the inability to find a way into or get a handle of certainty on the central material provokes all else. In that sense Opening Night is a great piece about art examining itself, its own responsibilities and the inherent danger of being uncontainable, providing too many possibilities to be comfortably reduced to any one manageable set.


This quality of affected response applies by extension to the performances (and the characters) across the board as well. Blondell and Johnson don't seem particularly off-key to me but if they do perhaps that is appropriate as they, and everyone else for that matter, are unhinged, some more subtly so than others. In the face of the unknowable they are all variables within the text, representing a reaction to that challenging aporia. It is, strangely perhaps, most evident in Blondell's all too authoritatively certain assertions. The fact that she wrote the play does not mean that she fully understands it. It is not as reducible as she might like to think.

This all may seem like a peculiarly bloodless sort of strategy to attribute to Cassavetes but it exists here in tension with his usual fixation on heart and soul, flesh and blood. Opening Night reminds me of many of the films of the great Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, in which the central subject is defined broadly because it is barely perceivable or conceivable and only tentatively rendered, with characters and ideas circling around it unable to approach directly. The reason for that is a lack of authority that comes from humility and JC, while clearly a confident artist, was someone who understood the need to be humble, open and vulnerable before subjects that could not be thought to be comprehensively understood. It's just that this time it's a concept rather than a person that functions as that subject. Instead of making definitive, reductionist statements, he allows his film to be all encompassing, insofar as such a thing is ever possible, and at least act as a context within which to explore. This functions for me then as a valuable means of approach, my own way in if you will, one that allows for a productive reading and framing of the film as a whole.


But the individual elements that make up the struggle itself need to be addressed and examined as constitutive pieces. Most specifically, there is the coverage of theater as a medium of expression with all its inherent complications, compromises and absurdities. Given your own extensive and intensive experience working in theater I am most interested in how that aspect translates to you. What was your response to that facet of the production and the way Cassavetes puts it, with its unique set of priorities, into dialogue with the film medium within which it is embedded? 

JH:  Immediately I think of some of the more surprising bits of Cassavetes commentary in regards to this (taken from a 1978 interview with French film magazine Postif) like this declaration:  "I never really liked the theater, at least not as much as some people.  I respect theater and the people who are a part of it and I know that it's wonderful for an actor.  But it so happens I'm in love with cinema!  I believe in it as being what there is that's closest to what I love, what I expect.  Theater for me is a fantastic intellectual exercise, which isn't made the most of.  I don't find many plays I like, and the plays I like are never emotional enough.  They only express half of what I like to see expressed.  So I'm never happy.  Whereas a film, by it's very nature, allows more imagination.  Because a film is not life, it's merely film stock!"  These words bounce off me hard at this point in my life, as I'm currently more taken with cinematic possibilities than those of the Theatre, although I will never lose faith in the potential of what is unique and transforming about the live experience;  performers and audience in a room together, collectively experiencing a moment that's alive.  The power of such a moment is rooted in the origins of our human experience, the progression of our cultural and individual identity, and the continued shaping of our narrative/historical/political understanding of the world.  Cassavetes was an addict for those "moments," and certainly was not content to sit and view them from a distance.  He once told Gena Rowlands that the defining quality of a great cinematographer was his ability to make you want to reach out and touch the skin of the actor.  "The actor is what I'm interested in the most" he reiterated so often.  Think of the later hotel scenes in Husbands, relentless in their closeness and duration, nearly as desperate in their attempt to gain the propinquity of the moment as the men are to regain a fleeting moment of their sexual past (to borrow one of your favorite terms, devastating stuff, indeed).  Live theater taunted Cassavetes' desire to get uncomfortably close to the action, and Opening Night seems to be the way for him to address, play with, and overcome that "significant distance," as he called it.



Opening Night is where Cassavetes focuses most fully on the actor.  Humbly, as you noted, he is only a supporting character in this imagined drama;  it is Rowlands that establishes the center of the film, and it is her character alone that the film's events orbit around.  With that said, all of the supporting characters, even the smallest, are given a moment to express something essential about their role in this meta-theatrical, meta-cinematic world:  the precisely captured stress of the stage manager's "Thank you! Thank you!" when Mable does finally arrive for the "opening night" at the end of the film; a bit later, the perfect comedic timing of prop-master George (Cassavetes regular John Finnegan) landing a line so genuine you know everything about him from it's delivery:  "I've seen a lot of drunks in my time, but I've never seen anybody as drunk as you and still be able to walk.  You're fantastic."   For someone who didn't care much for the theater, the way in which he communicates something meaningful about nearly every small role within it is remarkable.  This isn't surprising, given what we know about Cassavetes ability to communicate with and appreciate his entire crew equally, to treat them all as a crucial part of the process, sometimes putting the camera in the hands of a gaffer or supporting actor or anyone who happened to be hanging around in an attempt to capture that "moment" of accomplishment by the actor.


For me, Opening Night seems to be a picture that simply wants more than his other films, even though I'm not sure it's the better film for that.  It does have particular appeal to me because of my experience in directing and producing theatre (although my community and college level of experience has little to do with the professional level represented here), and I think it is a film that anyone who has spent significant time in the theater relates to in a way that churns up that emotional memory of all the stressed living that accompanies the creation of any play, from the poorest to the richest realms of the stage, and the way that the theater is "like sex," as Myrtle's haunting hallucination asserts, for those addicted to it.   In this way, it is a commentary on what live theater can accomplish, for the players, crew, and audience alike.  But, it's so much more than that.  The film is also about that tension between the stage and film.  It's also about the way in which those around us serve as mirrors to our lives, both comforting and maddening.  It's about madness.  It's about truth in acting...and truth in audiencing.  It's about the weight of being a celebrity obsessed over, the real distance between the audience and the performers.  And, really, it's about getting old.  In short, there's a lot crammed into this picture, which is what I simultaneously admire and criticize it for.  Even looking at Cassavetes' interviews suggests a shifting understanding of the film's themes.  In the Postif interview I quoted earlier, he states:  "Opening Night is about people's reaction when they start to grow old;  how to win when you're no longer as desirable as you were before, when you no longer have as much confidence in yourself, in your capacities, when you have less energy and you know it." By the time he is interviewed three months later by the Monthly Film Bulletin he first dismisses the film by saying "It wasn't supposed to be anything superb; it was about theater, it's not the end of your life."  Then he goes on to say:  "Most of the people who like the film are touched by the discussion of age, yet it's really not about age...it's about being pigeonholed."  In my estimation of the film, it really is about age, and Cassavetes' response to the response of the film is, perhaps, more about being pigeonholed, something we know Cassavetes was concerned with through the reports of his post-release editing habits, as with Bookie, that further estranged his work from coming off as anything close to easily classifiable or, even worse for him, "crowd pleasing."

With all that said, I want to interject a line of poetry from Archibald MacLeish that was so often quoted to me by my theater mentor, Dr. Jerry Weston Mathis:  "A poem should not mean/But be."  As I pause for a moment and hear myself going on about what a film like Opening Night is "about" I can only cringe a bit, with that line echoing in my head, knowing that Cassavetes is not really concerned with an audience "getting the point" in a rigid operation of interpretation, but rather interested in all the ways in which it would survive in the eyes of those willing enough to take the journey with him.  When I say it really is about getting old, I mean that particular theme is the wall that I keep getting pushed up against as I watch it, and, like some of my favorite Cassavetes scenes, it's uncomfortable, tiresome, out of proportion in relation to all the films that want so eagerly not to disturb the suffocating fantasy I have of myself.  But, perhaps why I say I'm more critical of Opening Night than some of his other films, aside from the fact that I often adore films that have multiple ideas happening at once, is that there are other aspects of the film that are so much more interesting to me, and if we isolate the theme of what it means to get older for an actor, it seems a bit overstated.  As drastic or critically unsound as it might seem to you, imagine a film cut from this same cloth that doesn't include Blondell's Sarah Goode character at all, and never resurrects the character of Nancy after the first scene.  For me, the exploration of the woman within the play, offset by Lamphert's character, Gazzara's precarious position between Dorothy and Myrtle, and Cassavetes' equally precarious position between the role and the reality of his relationship with Myrtle, has more than enough substance to carry the film through.  Although I realize it is neither tactful or novel to suggest revisions of a Cassavetes film, I suggest this with the awareness that he was open to radical change, open to the way in which a particular camera person, actor, lighting technician, or set designer might redirect the path of the whole thing in an instant, all the while remaining steadfast in what he wanted out of the final cut.



It's also interesting to me how this particular picture gets at the differences between what you and I respond to in film.  More specifically, I think I have more patience with the way in which Cassavetes films are so actor focused, and that may have something to do with my experience teaching and directing theater, where one develops a patience for the exercise, and maybe ends up seeing everything as such (the drunken song scene you mentioned from Husbands is a great example of where I'm more likely to see the humor!).  But, another great passion of mine is the meta-cinematic/theatrical/fictional, so the way in which Cassavetes introduces that dimension to his work with Opening Night (although I guess there are less pronounced "meta" aspects present in Bookie) is also very exciting to me.  Although Cassavetes retains his commitment to the actor, to the "truth of the moment," the almost Brechtian way in which he plays with the frame of "reality" in the picture threatens to tear away something essential to the foundation of his prior films.  For someone so in pursuit of Realism, I imagine Cassavetes at this point sharing the qualities of a restless Dada-ist, doing everything he can to create something that acts the opposite of what he sees in the cinema world around him; to show something real, alive.  Cassavetes' films are always presenting contradictions, within themselves and the larger world of cinema, always keeping the emotional core of the scene in tension, and, yes, elusive, as when Manny (Gazzara) tells Mable how he finds her "attractive beyond comprehension," only to follow it up by calling her "a woman who amazes me with a lack of belief in herself."  Before we have time to deal with the puzzling, insensitive, and altogether believable terrain Gazzara has taken us through in that moment, Rowlands plays through, taking off her glasses, revealing her new scars:  "I'm not acting," she insists.  In these moments, I find Opening Night fascinating in it's ability to elaborate and complicate what came before, and open up new portals of experience that hinge on these moments where we look into a character's eyes and find more revealed there than we could have possibly expected.
        
NDC: There is evidence throughout his work of Cassavetes' respect for theatrical form and what that form allows to develop. I think specifically of the master shot long take in Husbands that occurs when the characters return to their London hotel room. It's a shot that goes on for minutes on end, providing the actors space and time to find a rhythm and develop relationships through movement. He could have intercut the scene more conventionally with close ups to break up the shot and create that sense of rhythm cinematically but instead he hands that opportunity over to the actors. This decision is then made more complex by the extremely intimate close ups he uses later in that same sequence; it's here that he relies on what only film can do and complicates his scenario as analogy for life accordingly. In Opening Night, meanwhile, a film ostensibly all about the theater, that dynamic between film and theatrical language is played out full bore. When we get combinations of close-ups and long shots here it is likely to be onstage where the results of that decision are most keenly felt. It muddies the waters of "reality" by making convoluted our most basic and familiar aesthetic experience and expectations of that experience (as does the use of dramatic music for back stage, purportedly more realistic scenes). Much of this seems designed to take issue with the assumed distinction between "real" feeling and that which is vicariously experienced through art and drama, but it has another result as well. The assaultive nature of Cassavetes' technique ends up delivering a profound sense of inescapable, all encompassing ambiguity, psychologically incapacitating or even fatal to those (like Myrtle) who have, for whatever reason, developed a supreme sensitivity to it.

Husbands

This style complements JC's larger thematic intentions to be sure but it isn't always to his benefit. In an interview conducted at the time of the film's release, for instance, he maintains that the reason for the impact of the final onstage scene between Myrtle and his own character Maurice is due to a reworking of the play on the fly by the performers who act to liberate it and themselves from an oppressive script; we are led to understand then that it is empathy in action as Maurice joins Myrtle or plays along with her in doing what it is she needs most. Though this can be said to be borne out in witnessing the playwright and producer leave the theater during the performance in apparent distress, the reason for their distress is far from clear. Certainly the play seems to "come alive" more here than what we see elsewhere and that may very well be the result of Myrtle and Maurice letting air into a crypt as it were, finding a way through it whilst averting Myrtle's otherwise almost assured breakdown. But we never see the full play, so we have no way to know that this is not just another scene that we had not witnessed till now (this is especially true as the clothes the actors wear in rehearsal don't always seem to match what they wear during the actual production). Also, it's never clear how we're supposed to take the quality of the play itself and hard to make a judgment based on what we see. It could be that if it's "bad" (as JC has asserted in statements) then this is just another "bad" scene with enthusiasm pumped into it. It is just as likely to me that those who leave the theater do so because of a sense of trepidatious relief that things actually seem to be coming off okay and the show has been able to be salvaged, almost miraculously pulled back from the brink of disaster; or, that they know what is really going on behind the sheen of enthusiastic performance--the anxiety, the desperation, the profound uncertainty. Cassavetes' commitment to pervasive ambiguity renders his own artistic intention as merely another possible reading.


Myrtle is definitely the central character here though and that's for more reasons than just Rowlands' star status. Myrtle has to be the center because she is the one affected most by the dislocating power of the central text, the artifact around which, I would argue, everything and everyone revolves. She is the only character who allows herself to come undone by it; all others seek to express certainty over its myriad ramifications and possible implications by asserting the supremacy of only one. That's why we get Sarah endlessly emphasizing the age factor until finally it begins to come across as a combative position (though this is complicated, of course, by her role as author--a position also subject to Cassavetes' scrupulous gaze). Maurice, as you say, translates his relationship to the text through his relationship with Myrtle; it holds scant other challenges for him it would seem. Manny, meanwhile, reacts with a confidence in the text that hardly seems convincing (he even admits at one point that he doesn't know what it's about despite also calling it an "important play"); but this comes from the clear necessity for getting Myrtle focused--the show must go on. He may partially represent JC's own directorial inclinations here, open and amenable to what a piece can be, forever certain that it can be made meaningful by the performers themselves;  but that doesn't mean that his own response to what he sees and how he manages it isn't inflected by personal history and experience.  Ultimately, though, he is relegated to to the periphery, to the shadows; he ends up going to a bar during the final performance almost as an acknowledgment that there is nothing else left that he can do.

There can be overlap among these positions as well, most often artfully conveyed through Cassavetes' staging. Take, for instance, the brief, near silent moment in which Manny strides across the lobby past the young theater employees; we know of his previous affair and this small touch is successful in eliciting a sense of how that memory functions as a living reality, haunting the corners of the frame and the mind. It also works to compound our understanding of the complications he brings into his own interpretation of a play involving women and age. In providing us with this panorama of responses, Opening Night  presents a built-in ironic and implicit critique of the solipsism that inevitably must drive performers and producers to one degree or another: what do I  want (or as Myrtle would have it: "Does she win?")?


There is a concentrated effort on the part of all others on getting through to Myrtle. Part of the collective effort to arrive at a conclusive reading of the text is to convince Myrtle such a thing is possible; their own livelihoods depend on this but they fail to appreciate the disorientation that so many conflicting perspectives and demands make upon her--that they just add to her burden. These scenes often play like complementary interventions to the one in A Woman Under the Influence. But there is also an effort to bring her back to the proposed foundations of her identity, as though this were either possible or advisable. "Professionalism" as a thing unto itself is vaulted up continuously. But this approach too is not free of pitfalls. Maurice tells her, "You're not a woman to me anymore. You're a professional," without realizing how this only complicates matters further. He fails to see the need to integrate these qualities; Myrtle is not so lucky. Her struggle is predicated upon not caving in, not capitulating, to the easy solutions that so easily snare, seduce and satisfy everyone else because she knows enough to see the falsehood of that, to actively resist it. And yet this way courts madness.

You're right to say that the film is very much about age and right too to note the way in which that subject is relentlessly returned to, acting as the "wall" we are pressed up against. By that I assume you mean that it's an unavoidable reality as subtext (really text) or theme. This is true but, as I suggested earlier, this is not so much because it is of primary importance but because it is the way in which many choose to frame that central material in order to understand it. Myrtle is our surrogate here, understanding the reality of that reductive effort all too well (such a conception of her character informs the moment when she declares, "This age thing has me coming off the walls", because she recognizes how Sarah's issue, and her attitude toward that issue, is made prominent through force). But this inclination toward reduction is part of Cassavetes' meta-strategy; he infers that it is very much a problem for us the audience as well. Because age is not the only such issue that acts as distraction for us, temptation toward undue reduction: there is also the sway of the alcohol that Myrtle is obviously subject to and there is the dead girl herself and all she represents. Your comments about how the film might benefit from paring away some material to de-emphasize aging as an issue is of interest to me but, I think, finally would be fatally wrong. If that was done, certainly the picture might be better balanced, more productively focused, but this picture in particular does benefit from being overstuffed, from what may at first seem like a "messy" approach. And that's because it's the only way to properly articulate the anxiety that flows through it, that powers it. To diminsh that would be to change it utterly, eviscerate the entire enterprise. It's about that state of disorientation and struggling for meaningful comprehension through a chaotic unknown. All the facets of experience that are brought forth are additional impediments that have to be negotiated, navigated around. Cassavetes was open to rearranging his films to find different avenues in, an effort that mirrors the one sketched as such agonizing labor here, but to do that with this film would render moot an invaluable operation of extraordinary delicacy, maybe even a depiction of what it is like to make a John Cassavetes film.


As New York and the opening night of the title approach (or encroach) we come to see them as analogous to the arc of Myrtle's quest for understanding. They represent a fatal finish line, an inevitable end point, that cannot be altered or negotiated with no matter how much she may wish it (in that, it is certainly like death--or release, or death as release). I am reminded of the explanation behind the cover art choices for Radiohead's albums, Kid A and Amnesiac: the former was the fire as seen from afar, the latter was the fire you're in. That omnipresent idea of age is evoked once again, but age made meaningful with specific resonance. Some kind of resolution must be reached and it is, finally, a distinctively Cassavetes one: an overcoming of obstacles through professionalism; the sense that what has been done is all that can be done, all we can ever really hope to do--to get on with it, get through it and allow ourselves the freedom to cry.

I want to return to this notion of authentic feeling because I really do think that nowhere else in his cinema was JC as concerned, to the point of obsession, with pursuing the relevance of this issue, of how it can ever be known or whether it should matter, of what that notion of authenticity even means. Is the pursuit of these questions itself a solipsistic one? Is it meaningful? Does it change anything? Or maybe it's just something that must be labored under as part of our particular cognition of reality and finally worked through, absorbed, integrated in. So the whole slippery foundation of Opening Night's meta inquiry into "reality" as such is revealed as a quite desperate drive to know these things, to know how they can be known and whether they matter, to learn how to live with the uncertainty. At first, he plays with the question of theatrical reality as a way in (the fact that Maurice actually refers onstage to the massive and obtrusive Quintet style photos decorating the set makes that point). But as the film progresses the seriousness of the inquiry gets more and more clearly grounded in the need to believe in the emotions being put forth, both "out there" in front of an audience but also inside as internalized process, what the performer has to experience first hand. To what degree do actors need to convince themselves that their experience is legitimate? This extends out from the fact that the central text is so uknowable, so very defiant of reduction. But isn't every text finally? Isn't that his point, especially if this is indeed a "bad" play? One thing seems for sure: Myrtle's very particular anxiety about this (and here she must be a proxy for JC) is sustained if not triggered by the idea of material whose unsettling nature does not or cannot define itself one way or the other. I propose that this is the only reason she has to confront the issue of authenticity of feeling, that the issue is brought up and maintained at all. But, alternately, the play may just be lousy and her distress is cast onto it, in which case she becomes the approximation of what is unknowable.

JH:  Your questions here allow me to reconnect with how truly slippery this film is...in the same way that the great character roles are slippery, ultimately  and only the culmination of a series of performance choices by a particular actor, director.  Not only are the characters not easily reducible, but so is the question of what really is "real," as you unpack so well here.  In this sense, Cassavetes draws an unexpected comparison to the likes of the great meta-dramatist Luigi Pirandello, who often drew the audience emotionally into a particular unknowable, ultimately unresolved drama, always keeping that hidden, lingering aspect of the constructed nature of it all hanging just above the audience's head, a guillotine-like suspension, ready at any moment to sever the common engagement of willed disbelief from the play at hand.  Cassavetes plays that trick in way less pronounced ways here, and adds a playfulness with Time, another interesting aspect of the film that may not present itself on a first pass, or may just come off as frustrating to some.  In fact, if you look at it closely, aside from a few connecting elements (the girl's death; Myrtle's bruised eye, for example), many of the scenes don't cue a linear narrative structure in any traditional way, and could operate just as well at some other point in the film.  More subtle choices of cutting within the film also reflect that confluence of the Theatrical and the Real, as with the scene where Myrtle visits Maurice's apartment.  When Myrtle retreats from their "first take" of the scene, she enters the elevator, and the visual suggestion is that she has left.  As the door re-opens, almost acting as a built-in clapper board, we find she hasn't left at all, but rather re-approaches Maurice in a "second take," wherein they move past the romantic tropes and begin to build an understanding about the risks they really need to take, which play out in the film's finale.  All this not only elevates the film's effect in that it subtly adds that Brechtian aspect of an awareness of the "seams" or "constructed-ness" of the piece, but also serves as such an accurate representation of Myrtle's emotional state, barely afloat in this swirling rush of production.  Cassavetes' sense of editing is so commendable in this respect, in that he not only understood how to tell a story, but how to play with our narrative expectations of how that story should proceed, which is particularly interesting in the context of a film whose title so assertively instills an expectation of linearity.  Within "The Second Woman" itself, we are also left with only a few scant clues as to where we are in the play, in terms of linearity, which adds a countering, internal movement of confused time that offsets the overriding, already off-kilter chronology of the film.  Not unlike Pirandello's masterwork from the 20's, Six Characters in Search of An Author, the third layer beyond that is our own engagement with the film, perhaps tipped off to a meta-level of viewing the film, but simultaneously experiencing some monumental moments of Naturalistic acting, as with that indelible final "leg shake" scene between Myrtle and Maurice (or, is it more appropriate to say Gena and John?).

Luigi Pirandello

I always find this marking between Realist and Brechtian tactics in theatre and film studies fascinating, because regardless of the stylistic technique, the desired goal is usually the same, and it has to do with that idea of "authenticity" that you spoke of.  Cassavetes' work seems to re-tread this same path of theater history within his own body of work, with Bookie and Opening Night marking a shift away from his pure Realist roots, but through these new meta-cinematic techniques attempting to discover if he could reach his goal more fully.  Put simply, that goal is the same as with all great artists: to reveal something true.  As I see it, in the mode of Realism the desire is to produce something that accurately reflects human behavior in as complex and uncompromising a way as possible, in hopes of seeing something that is often hidden from audiences, usually in favor of escapist tropes.  In the Brechtian mode, the goal is still to instigate something truthful, but through calling attention to the frame, to the artifice, as a way to connect the idea(s) of the play to the world outside of the theater, ideally.  I think you're right that Cassavetes' inquiry into the nature and importance of "the authentic" is profound in Opening Night, made even more so by the way it seems to combine disparate strategies toward a common end.

Or, perhaps, once a director reaches as refined a place as Cassavetes had by the late 70's, the techniques become almost one in the same, in the sense that great Realism is a valuable tool for examining and reshaping the world in the way that Brecht desired.  This brings to mind the acting teacher Joseph Chaikin's idea of playing against what he called "the big setup" in his influential Open Theater.  Chaikin and Cassavetes seem like-minded in the way they both seemed to realize that there were social consequences to lazy acting that always plays to a predetermined, Hollywood "type."  It's worth quoting Chaikin here, briefly (you can easily layer in Cassavetes' voice, if you like):
"My early training for the theater taught me to represent other people by their stereotype--taught me, in fact, to become the stereotype.  The actor's study begins with himself.  In trade papers, there are calls for ingenue, leading lady, character actress, male juvenile character, etc.  The actor attunes himself to fit the type for which he might be cast.  He eventually comes to see people outside the theater as types, just as he does for actors within the theater.  Finally, a set of stereotypes is represented to the audience.  This in turn is a recommendation to the types within the audience as to how they should classify themselves.   
All this supports the big setup."
Joseph Chaikin
Cassavetes in The Dirty Dozen
By the time Cassavetes made his first pictures, he had run head on into the "big setup," from arguing with the studio's portrayal of mentally handicapped children in one of his first shots as a director with A Child Is Waiting (1963) to playing easy roles in typical Hollywood fare like The Dirty Dozen (1967), financing his own work in an Orson Welles-like fashion with film work (and a lot of television) that was almost always beneath what he was capable of as an independent artist (with the absolute exception of Elaine May's exceptional 1976 film starring Cassavetes and Falk, Mikey and Nicky)  By the time he gets to Opening Night he has sharpened his abilities to, at any cost, never subject an audience to those stereotypes under his own name, as to do so would be a disservice to them.  Chaikin's goal of a continued "open questioning" for actors reminds me of this later work particularly, even with a film like Gloria (1981), although commonly considered "lesser" Cassavetes, and for good reason.  In Gloria Cassavetes uses the template of the Cop Movie to continue his deep questioning of female characters with Rowlands, creating a performance that is always eluding the expected choices for how to play "a tough lady cop," and succeeding in a few surprising moments (some of which also contain some of Cassavetes' most substantial attempts as a director of "action" scenes).  Opening Night is especially important though, as you mentioned, because it is the only film that is specifically about actors, and it's almost impossible to fully appreciate Myrtle without looking at Jeannie, Minnie, Mabel, Gloria, and Sarah as a continuous quest for the authentic, for both Gena and John (you might even throw in her role as Antonia in Mazursky's 1982 film, Tempest).  I fear that Myrtle is seen by those viewers who lean too heavily on the "big setup" to draw conclusions about what a character, or a film, ultimately "is" (as opposed, once again, to just letting it "be") as a troubled alcoholic.  Or, as "just crazy," like Mabel Longetti.  In actuality, what those characters become are these radiantly complex points of contemplation, and not just for women, but for all of our madness, fears,  flaws, and triumphs.  This feat of character work across all of his films has created a feedback loop of deep understanding with it's audience that is not only far outside the limitations of most Hollywood cinema, but much of the independent work, some of which you mentioned earlier, that is so often aligned with it today.

Gloria
A Woman Under the Influence
On that note, I feel compelled to mention that not long after we started this conversation we unfortunately lost the great Ben Gazzara, and I suggest that those who haven't seen it to check out the conversation between him and Rowlands that is attached to the Criterion release of Opening Night.  There is a particular moment at the end of the conversation where the two of them almost laugh off those who have tried to reach the heights that they so confidently achieved with John in their work.  It's a moment that might come off as arrogant in any other DVD extra segment, but it struck me as the perfect moment of triumph for Gazzara, as he says of the new generation, "I'm sure there are groups of young kids around town who like each other, work with each other...but not as exciting as we were."  I love that...groups of kids around town.  With that, he pats Rowlands on the knee and forms a sly smile of earned victory.


I don't want to go as far as to say that Gazzara's death is some grand turn of the page in the history of film or acting, but his career spanned an enormous swath of cinema and theater, and in that time we have seen a great decline in audiences that are even interested in the theater, and therefore less able to look at performance and film through that lens.  There are other examples of work that "carries the torch," so to speak, and I agree with you that it lies more in the works of someone like Anderson than in the more obvious correlative of the movement-so-hip-that-no-one-wants-to-claim-it, "Mumblecore" (maybe because the name is so stupid?).  Also, I like your comparison to de Oliveira.  Although you have considerably more experience with his work, I definitely see the relationship to something like I'm Going Home (2001), which shares a number of similarities, and leaves a similar kind of space for the audiences' expectations and stereotypes to be drawn into the light.  Obviously, there are still serious films and film makers (even within the Neo-Realist independents) but why do we so often find ourselves lamenting the loss of something like what Cassavetes was able to do?  Aren't we in an age that should have taken the lessons of such a great film maker and built upon it, or has the culture lost that sense of value for the "authentic"?    

NDC:  Ideally the artist as committed professional would seem as sure as anyone to deliver up to us glimpses of truth we can recognize and authenticity that we long to see (though I remember Gazzara saying in one of the supplememnts on the Criterion set that John hated the word "professional" I would suspect that may have had more to do with it being placed in contrast to  "amateur"). But the obligation of the serious artist, it would seem, is to acknowledge and to some extent address the irony at issue over any presentation meant to be received as authentic. This doesn't mean that such presentations must be obnoxiously decoded in a Todd Haynes sort of way but rather just that their claims and what they demand of their audience be taken seriously by the artist. This can lead to the sort of emphasis on identity as impermanent or unknowable that occurs in Opening Night and makes sense given the milieu. The issue is that, ultimately, this is all Myrtle is, all she has; her commitment eclipses her life (which, in turn, may account for the preponderance of images captured in mirrors--lives surrounded by and inescapably trapped in surfaces, not unlike the superb finale of Minghella's Talented Mr. Ripley).

As the protagonist of Eugène Green's The Portuguese Nun says, "I'm an actress. I try to show the truth through unreal things." Late in Opening Night we hear Myrtle's cry, "What do you suppose they've done with us? Do you think they've killed us?" This off screen, on-stage statement is, presumably, a line from the play she is performing but it really doesn't matter as the point is made that this line is just as much part of the life she is living; the lack of certainty as to how to play her role on stage has fully infected and infiltrated her life. The slippage can also be noted in Myrtle's ramblings in the make up chair prior to this performance when we hear her trying to find a fix on her character: "I'm alone...no, I'm not alone. I'm not alone. I've been married. I been with this guy three years." Of course she is inebriated at the time but it's also a perfect expression of an underlying desperation that is always there: the need to fix identity and perspective at some point simply for the sake of basic comprehension, maybe even sanity. In that sense, basic comprehension is all we may be able to hope for. This moment of seeming incoherent rambling, desperate grasping, is also reflective of her larger meta-position in the film itself, representing her adrift state well.

Leonor Baldaque in The Portuguese Nun

I love your definition of JC's characters as "radiantly complex points of contemplation". I think that's right; and in being so they are not then just the ideas they represent. In many of Oliveira's films the characters exist almost purely as locations or conduits for the expression of ideas, transition points. But those characters, even when made very literal, are much more constructed specifically for such expression with precious little meaningful psychological reality. Cassavetes emphasis is almost the opposite. He is attuned to the psychic risk involved in committing to a place of lived abstraction and ironic uncertainty but his concerns are more directly about the particular human costs involved in a life lived that way--the dangers of a life all consumed with and defined by one's profession, even if one's art is one's profession.

Myrtle recognizes that there is an underlying violence to the play itself (as she says, "I'm just so struck by the cruelty in this damn play"). That aspect comes across at times as self-punishing on the part of Sarah, the writer of the piece, crafting a refutation to hope or positivity as embodied in a slightly younger self image. And that can't seem all that dissimilar to the fraught relationship Myrtle has with her image of youthful potentiality as embodied in the specter of Nancy. The parallel is hardly likely to go unnoticed by Myrtle, even if just implicitly, and can only add to the friction of her psychic distress. It's not insignificant, too, that we cut directly from the phrase "Let's not phony it up anymore", uttered by Zohra Lampert's Dorothy,  to rehearsal for the scene where Myrtle gets slapped. The humiliation of her character in this scene within a scene goes on and on long enough (and here's where JC's approach to time pays off) until it becomes a genuinely unnerving spectacle of ritual abuse. This adds the weighty issue of ethical responsibility into the mix and, by virtue of the scene's alienating nature, provides a starting point for coming to terms with its demands. Of course, the issue of emotional cruelty or cruelty as indifference is already implicitly in place with Nancy's very real death and the reaction or general non-reaction to it; perhaps this is why it acts as instigating element for all that follows--the real truth of how closed off everyone has become is too undeniable to avoid. In the end, this film may be a treatise on the responsibility of the artist. It gives proof of just how serious John was about the validity of his emotional depictions as it makes the unremitting scrutiny of them its entire thesis.


I am far more impressed with Cassavetes' handling of this theme here than elsewhere in his oeuvre; he has demonstrably matured. One of my biggest problems with A Woman Under the Influence, for instance, is that the way Cassavetes frames Mabel's experiences seems like just too much of a stacked deck argument; it seems too defensive to me, way too defensive. Actually, it resonates these days as a rejection of the whole trend of psychotherapy as absolute salvation that was so hugely popular and advanced through pop culture at the time (see everything from MASH to Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman or Redford's Ordinary People). This compromises the picture with an additional layer of grating didacticism. You mentioned that you might have preferred ON with less narrative incident but, for me, it's AWUTI that could benefit from a pruning of the elements.

Myrtle has to contend with the weight of her celebrity as well. When she arrives at the home of the dead girl, apparently during her funeral or wake, one gets the impression that she hasn't bothered to check ahead at all and merely acted on an impulse, albeit a profoundly empathetic one. But in other words she's stuck in her solipsistic world with its demands and its privileges. As someone says to her, "You don't have children. If you had, you wouldn't have come here". In fact, much of Myrtle's behavior can be understood as an indulgence only a star could afford or be allowed (here she is certainly different from Mabel in AWUTI, a character who is presented to us as a figure of wild, unaccountable action, but one tragically subject to the oppressive dictates of many of those around her--of course, that's also much of the source of my own contention with that picture as I think the presentation itself really does tip into an indulgence of whim). Myrtle being afforded an indulgence, however, does not necessarily diminish the "genuineness" of her struggle or its legitimacy, complicating the scenario in a way that complements the picture's main themes.  We see, for instance, in the scene immediately following the wake, that Myrtle is preparing to go on stage in a black mourning veil; the line of distinction is resolutely blurred just as her disconnect from the "real world" is reinforced. The physical altercation she has later with phantom Nancy is another example, presented as it is as exaggerated performance, inextricably theatrical spectacle.  And all of this is tied back into that idea of a non-fixed identity (certainly not a mother as she says, "I never had any children. I don't care about 'em.") but also an identity that is fixed by an obsessive commitment to her craft and the commensurate self-definition, being willfully nothing but a receptive place for shaping or formation. Her concentrated being as performer makes the whole issue of finding some semblance of authentic identity, something she can comfortably invest in, all the more critical.

A Woman Under the Influence

Along with this then, there is also the loss of what was supposed to be--the pure and open expressivity of feeling, rendered up real, direct and meaningful, straight from the source. So much of that aforementioned relationship Myrtle has to Nancy and all that she is made to represent emanates from a place of distance or remove. It's a remove of years but, more than that, it's the gulf between the prospects of hope and pure potential and a certain calcification of time, a settling into rigidity of form (Myrtle's vast, almost empty apartment may suggest a space for receptivity but it's cold and sterile as well--a space fit only to get lost in now). The girl announces herself as Myrtle's youth, yes, beholden as that is to specific themes of the picture, but she is also the pure, undiluted part of herself that evidences a capacity for direct responses and which has neither a need nor an inclination to interrogate itself for authenticity. But Nancy, if taken as a mirror, also reveals Myrtle's propensity to view her profession as authenticated by approval and the acknowledgment of that is bound up with all the rest. Still, Nancy is a portrait of a time that has passed, perhaps inevitably. This may, of course, have something to do with why Myrtle so aggressively rejects Sarah's own presumed definitive meaning to her script and why it antagonizes Myrtle so much, resonates with her so thoroughly. She doesn't want to have to accept this as "reality"--not even Sarah's reality or anyone's. But in that way, Myrtle too evidences an inclination toward resolution, a final descent--however tentative or temporary--to a place of security. Crucially though it's one she determines herself through hard won effort and ultimately is weighed and judged by the contents of its humanity.


There are many filmmakers whose works recall John's or owe him a debt of thanks. But I think they all take very specific things from his influence. Henry Jaglom is one who has a self-acknowledged debt to JC and you can certainly see it in his work. Jaglom actually remains vividly one of the few genuine American mavericks, having remained true to his style and interests over the decades regardless of their commercial prospects (Jon Jost is another); his films are consistently impressive to me though I know that they evidently alienate many others, perhaps even more than those put off by Cassavetes' own rigorously committed-to aesthetic. Jaglom and his characters (of which he has often been one himself) are probably less appealing because they are not necessarily damaged, vulnerable people with wounds exposed but simply supremely sesitive, overtly self-indulgent types. It may seem odd that I would respond to these characters at all given what I said earlier but honestly what I like about Jaglom is that he and his characters are so unapologetically and indefensibly egocentric; it's refreshing to me, believe it or not. JC, at his best, is far more ambitious. He wants to take his portraiture to the limits of psychological specificity and beyond. He really wants to invent new forms from the foundations of fragmented souls.

Other directors and films take their unique inspiration as well and evidence it in the work. Alan Rudolph has made a career out of hyper stylized dramas that wouldn't seem all that similar to Cassavetes but in specific instances they most surely are (Rudolph's great 1984 film Choose Me, for instance, is an example of the deeply emotional and personal merged with a high style before that style became, with subsequent works, more ratcheted up and Rudolph shifted to translating his characters' emotional lives purely through their aesthetic surface). Zalman King's erotic melodramas are disdained by many but they share that same commitment to the crucial importance of emotional reality, recognizing it and realizing how it informs all the fantasies. Aronofsky's Black Swan offers up the spectacle of another overtaxed stage performer sinking into a sustained state of emotional breakdown. Lucrecia Martel's Argentine pic The Headless Woman, though not a film I particularly like, treats a similar scenario of unmoored discombobulation within a similar class based social milieu. It's a world defiantly determined not to have anything, any nagging doubts or troubling uncertainties, undermine or threaten it. But perhaps the most resonant to Opening Night's own themes would be Abel Ferrara's Dangerous Game, about the only other film I can think of which could match Cassavetes for the intensity of punishing scrutiny upon the subject of performance revealing truth and the meta implications of that; the big difference of course is that Ferrara's film is about film rather than the world of the theater. So, maybe it's fitting to end this particular survey by saying how glad I am that you mentioned I'm Going Home, as in its own supremely formalist fashion it acts as an interesting parallel to the concentrated emphasis of Opening Night. It's warning is one less fraught with discordant distress but equally sensitive to the very real risks of living a life of theater.

JH:  Yeah, that aspect of de Oliviera's film was what was resonating with me most in relation to Myrtle.  I think of Michel Piccoli's aging actor signing autographs on the street, seen from the other side of shop window; under glass, as it were;  it recalls Myrtle's suffocating entrapment in the car at the beginning of Opening Night after Nancy's death, a piece of the narrative that you're right in citing as a crucial "instigating element."  Although I am still wary of the payoff in the way Cassavetes plays out the psychological effects of Nancy's death, I agree that the incident itself is essential in evoking the questions central to the film about the "value of the artist," as you put it.  This idea also left a strong impression on Martin Scorsese, who has been very vocal about the unique nature and influence of Cassavetes work, but who also quotes this film directly in the wonderful opening to The King of Comedy (1983), another film that interrogates that line between celebrities and the people who are obsessed with them.  And, certainly, Cassavetes pushes the opening scenes of Opening Night to great lengths to make sure we understand that Nancy is nothing less than truly obsessed.  It is through this depiction of the fanatical (which Scorsese translated into an image that accentuates the religious connotations of that term) that Cassavetes frames his complicated interrogation in Opening Night.



In terms of the depth of that inquiry, I think Cassavetes succeeds in creating a complex hall of mirrors within which to bounce those questions around.  But, as much as I love Lamphert and Gazzara in that bedroom scene I mentioned earlier, and Maurice and Myrtle's finale where they turn the play "upside down," there are few scenes in the film that connect for me with the dramatic impact of Falk and Rowland's work in A Woman Under the Influence.  I don't really agree that the "argument" of AWUTI is a defensive one, though I appreciate your perceptive reading of it as such, as always.  (Oddly enough, I think one of the latent impulses for us putting Opening Night in conversation in the first place has as much to do with us discovering a disconnect over AWUTI.)  As we've already discussed, I may be more prone to responding to the pure performance aspects of film in general, and, as with everything, that has something to do with our fields of experience and practice...but A Woman Under the Influence captures a height of craft that moves me in a way that Opening Night simply lacks.  It recalls for me one of my first posts on ECSTATIC from last year on Malick's The Tree of Life, which left me a bit cold on an initial viewing because I so missed the wealth of finely crafted, extended dramatic scenes that The Thin Red Line is just brimming with.  As with Opening Night, I truly admire The Tree of Life, and have connected more substantially to it on subsequent viewings, but the ultimate questions of the film seem out of balance with the dramatic elements.  Opening Night is a film that is most certainly more interesting as an "idea" picture, but for me Cassavetes is about feeling, and I have rarely felt like the world has been ripped open to reveal something authentic as I do watching Falk and Rowlands (and Cassavetes mom, and those kids!) play out that, comparatively, rather simple domestic drama.  I can understand reading some of the choices in AWUTI as indulgent, but not anymore indulgent than some of the choices in Opening Night, and, in my estimation, with a richer payoff.  For instance, the final, post-show celebration scene of Opening Night (with Falk curiously present, as well as Peter Bogdonavich) plays better to a "meta" level of reading the film, but does little for me in terms of emotional impact.  In contrast, the tucking in of the children (the way their oldest son makes a fist at Nick!), the band-aid put on Mabel's hand, the "return to routine" of Nick and Mabel in the final scenes of AWUTI always leaves me devastated.  (I won't even get into the "spaghetti" scene!)

A Woman Under the Influence
Ultimately, it's Cassavetes' truly compassionate nature as an interrogator of human nature that I think we both respond to so adamantly, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm across different points in his oeuvre.  As you've commented to me before about Cassavetes last film, Love Streams (which, unfortunately, seems similarly as overlooked as Opening Night), the central force in the film is, simply, love.  Cassavetes was not interested in making a "perfect" film, but rather a film that satisfied him, his questions, his quest for a complex engagement with his public through art, which is what I think we've found so abundantly in Opening Night.

Love Streams
Though the influence of his work is far reaching, and the rather astute connections you made across such disparate films and directors is certainly proof of that, suggesting a few reference points I hadn't even considered (and some I just haven't seen).  Particularly, the connection to Ferrara is apt, and reminds me of yet another unfortunately overlooked film, Go Go Tales (2007), Ferrara's ode to Killing of a Chinese Bookie.  But, among all of those directors, that method that Cassavetes had for setting every character in a spiraling motion around a singularly humanistic world view, which obviously translated so well from his own personality into the films, is utterly distinctive, setting him apart from the pack, at least for me.  

In closing, I want to cite another film that has continually come to mind as we've been mulling this film over: Jean Renoir's The Golden Coach (1953) is the French master's tribute to the Theater, but also a film that marks some new attempts in narrative by Renoir that are comparable to Cassavetes.  I hear you making the case, as Eric Rohmer did for The Golden Coach, that it's the "open sesame" for his entire body of work.  In the end of Coach, Anna Magnani's Camilla is, like Myrtle, inseparable from her accomplishments in the theater, and the entire narrative set-up is denied by Renoir in favor of that central point.  It's funny to discover such resonance between two entirely different directors:  Renoir being the "master of mis-en-scene," and Cassavetes behaving, at times, as if he were its mortal enemy.  The Golden Coach is also very different in that it's an overt comedy (not that Opening Night isn't funny), but, as Andrew Sarris noted, one that does not rely on convention, "but is based instead on a clear-eyed vision of art's denial of 'normal' life."  Likewise, the film was not fully appreciated in its time, failing to create a convincing narrative for critics, which Sarris likened to scorning "Matisse and Picasso for not painting plausible pictures."  The final lines of Coach are of the Stage Manager to Camilla: 
"You were not made for what is called life.  Your place is among us, the actors, acrobats, mimes, clowns, jugglers.  You will find your happiness only on stage each night for those two hours in which you ply your craft as an actress--that is, when you forget yourself.  Through the characters that you will incarnate, you will perhaps find the real Camilla."
Tragically, gloriously, this is perhaps also the case with Myrtle Gordon.

Anna Magnani in The Golden Coach

Once again, thanks so much for taking the time to tease out another great film with me, Nathaniel.  I am going to take a cue from your occasional reference to another film maker within this conversation and suggest we move on to Todd Haynes' 1995 film Safe in our next installment.  I look forward to revisiting that film in the coming weeks, and, once again, viewing it anew with you.  Until then!  


Coming Soon:  "In Conversation" - Todd Haynes' [Safe] (1995), featuring Julianne Moore