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I remember seeing John Cassavetes in The Tempest, which I enjoyed. And Sight and Sound's 2012 critics poll put 3 of these 5 films in the top 100 films of all time., so I gave the set a whirl. As with many Criterion collections, considerable effort is put into the supplements and many of them are interesting. I especially enjoyed the discussions between Gena Rowlands and the male actor who was the lead in the particular film. They all revere Cassavetes, that is for sure. Cassavetes is touted as the independent filmmaker who financed his own films and featured the use of improvisation and a realistic cinéma vérité style. The films certainly are gritty, but part of that is the very low budget and lack of sophisticated filming. He had a reputation for being an actor's director, and to me, many of the scenes don't feel particularly realistic - the actors really look as if they are acting up a storm, not being real characters. They all had their moments, but the films also dragged at times, scenes are allowed to keep going.. My favourite of the bunch was Opening Night, about an aging stage actress who may or may not have seen a young fan killed in a car accident, and the drastic affect it has on her as she and the cast are trying to get a play ready for Broadway. The more famous A Woman Under The Influence provides very meaty roles for Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, acting with a capital A. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie had some interesting aspects for sure, such as the actual killing of the bookie scenes, but the story seemed really far-fetched for what is supposed a realistic gritty style film. I'm glad I bought the set to see these movies, but none of them will land among my favourites, or even films I really like. I still prefer the Tempest over any of these.
Lets get down to brass tacks here, Cassavettes obbsession with authenticity of emotion make his films smack of theatre workshops with scenes running far beyond their natural length.
This Cassavetes collection is good but it contains two poor movies. His early efforts 'Faces' and 'Shadows' are rubbish and mind numbing running at over 2.5 hours each.
The other three movies are excellent. All of these 3 films have something special and unique about them, and they are beautifully rendered in this exceptional collection. My personal favorite is "A Woman Under the Influence" and especially the unforgettable performance of Gena Rowlands as a woman who is easily classifiable as mentally unstable. What is so remarkable about the film apart from her performance is the way in which it is structured so as to challenge the ease with which we categorise her.