movie: a woman under the influence

film rec list

modern vampire films let the right one in, thirst, only lovers left alive, a girl walks home alone at night

woman descending into madness persona, through a glass darkly, a woman under the influence, rosemary’s baby, antichrist, repulsion, queen of earth

two lovers on the run wild at heart, badlands, gun crazy, pierrot le fou, bonnie and clyde, true romance, natural born killers

same-sex love stories happy together, show me love, water lilies, the handmaiden, brokeback mountain, my beautiful launderette

really weird romcoms i’m a cyborg but that’s ok, the lobster, lars and the real girl, harold and maude

ready to cry? the hunt, dancer in the dark, requiem for a dream, mulholland drive, au hazard balthazar

best ensemble cast movies inglourious basterds, apocalypse now, beetlejuice, magnolia, the royal tenenbaums, eastern promises

old black and white movies that definitely still hold up and you should watch them the night of the hunter, psycho, dr. strangelove, a streetcar named desire, the third man, bunny lake is missing

youth culture films a clockwork orange, sid and nancy, jubilee, gummo, stranger than paradise, if…, the doom generation

“I was a woman with a plan. I knew the only thing, that could really stopped me, in my opinion, was to fall in love.

I went in, at lunch, to put my books in the locker and I got to the doorway and … I saw John Cassavetes, and I thought : oh, oh damn! No, no, no. No!

That’s just exactly what I don’t want.”

Gena Rowlands on her first meeting with John Cassavetes 

john cassavetes

a week ago i watched faces. i’d been meaning to watch a john cassavetes movie for a while. i’d never seen one. i’ve seen five now. i don’t know a lot about movies i don’t think. i don’t think i know a lot about a lot. i took so long to finally watch one because in the last 5 years i didn’t watch very many movies and i think my attention span got fucked by watching too much tv maybe. but i felt/feel neurotic about the ‘commitment’ of watching a movie. it’s especially if the movie is longer than two hours. which is stupid because i waste more time doing nothing no problem.

it took so long because what i’d read about cassavetes movies is that basically they’re slow. and the ones i was interested in are longer than two hours. i found though that what could make the movies seem slow actually makes them more engaging than other, more ‘exciting’ movies because they demand your engagement. from the five i watched the only that could maybe be viewed somewhat passively is the killing of a chinese bookie, which is also the only crime movie i watched and the only with a 10 minute shootout.

i’m interested in how cassavetes gets stories out of mundane situations. faces i think takes place over a short period, but while the others have storylines that take place over weeks or months, the majority of the narrative consists in scenes of everyday life that tend to stretch beyond their tensile strength. they feel like typical movie/television scenes, but when characters are faced with a hardship or an uncomfortable confrontation, where a typical movie might cut away, cassavetes pushes forward, unwilling to avoid the arduousness of navigating those emotions. it’s like

  • typical movie: scene ends as characters reach an impasse, and the audience is made to think the problem must have reached some sort of conclusion, because in a new scene the characters are engaged in different activities.
  • cassavetes movie: characters reach a point of tension and the audience is dragged into the unpleasant details of the conflict, faced with recognizable problems and feelings most people go to the movies to escape.

so where a typical filmmaker finds something to skip over in the name of expediency, cassavetes finds material for narrative. that’s probably what i’ll end up stealing most from him.

i could arbitrarily choose a number of scenes as examples: in faces when dicky and maria discuss their friend freddie’s adultery immediately after dicky and freddie visit some prostitutes; in a woman under the influence when mabel hosts nick’s coworkers after their overnight shift fixing a broken city water main, after she sleeps with another man; in opening night whenever myrtle is on stage and disastrously off script. but if you put on a cassavetes movie and jump to any point it’s likely you’ll be in the midst of a tedious and gripping situation that slowly strips the characters of artifice.

i’m also going to somewhat arbitrarily point out things i liked about each movie. the near constant forced laughter throughout faces that exacerbates underlying anxiety; the lush, gauzy color palette of the killing of a chinese bookie; the shots from a woman under the influence of gena rowlands in the street waiting for her kids’ school bus; the way cassavetes’ character at the end of opening night says ‘i’m getting older’ and lets it hang like he’s shooting a fadeaway buzzer beater.

also everyone is always pretending to box each other?

i’ll probably come back to this when i watch the rest of the cassavetes movies and i’ve read more about/from him maybe. i dunno. i usually feel like i didn’t do what i set out to when writing. what i set out to do usually falls apart after working for an hour. i feel like a gena rowlands character.