The cause of John Cassavetes

September 24, 2016

Guerrilla Filmmaking

John Nicholas Cassavetes (December 9, 1929 – February 3, 1989) was a Greek-American actor, screenwriter and filmmaker. He appeared in many Hollywood films. He is most notable as a pioneer of American independent film. His films are noted for their use of improvisation and a realistic cinéma vérité style.


John Nicholas Cassavetes is arguably one of the most important filmmakers in America, influencing a diverse group of directors and actors, most notably Martin Scorsese. Cassavetes went through acting school in New Jersey and began teaching method acting in workshops around New York City, insisting on incorporating improvisation into his class. Much of his class made up the first version of his debut film, “Shadows.” With the success of “Shadows,” Cassavetes made “Faces” which was nominated for three Academy Awards and was the beginning of a lifelong personal and professional relationship with key actors John Marley, Seymour Cassel and Ben Gazzara.


Cassavetes wife, Gena Rowlands played powerful, draining and magnificent roles in many of his films, namely the role of a possibly bi-polar housewife driven to the edge in “A Woman Under the Influence.” Cassavetes believed in shooting almost non-stop, spending most of his filming budget on hours and hours of tape only to spend the next year or more editing it all down into a film.  Many actors would have dreamed to work with Cassavetes, who allowed actors and actresses the freedom to create the character they were playing, to be free and open enough to put themselves “in a position where they may make asses of themselves without feeling they’re revealing things that will eventually be used against them,” as he said.


Some have pointed to Cassavetes humanistic and harsh portrayals of difficult and strange people, who wouldn’t know a BMW turbo if they saw one, as some of the most realistic acting performance ever captured on film. But it was the independent mindstate and the hatred Cassavetes had for the film industry that really made him one of the most important directors of his time. Cassavetes showed that with willing and talented actors and the guts and sometimes, downright masochism involved in raising money to finance a film, one could make the film they wanted without studio interferences. Cassavetes often took acting roles in big budget movies that he would have never otherwise taken if he didn’t need the money to finance his own films. His most famous role is in “Rosemary’s Baby” with Mia Farrow where he shows what a great actor, as well as director he was.


Alan McGee is a freelance writer from MN.

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