Tag Archives: John Cassavetes

XL Popcorn – The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 829/1007Title: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Director: John Cassavetes
Year: 1976
Country: USA

This was the film where I was hoping John Cassavetes would win me over. Hoping because this is not my final stop on the Cassavetes train before finishing the 1001 list and, whilst this is the best of the three films I have seen so far, I am still not close to wow territory. This isn’t as bad as my relationship with Godard (which, after a conversation with a cinephile friend of mine, I don’t feel as bad about), but I know there is something just not connecting here.

As stories go, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is pretty great. The owner of a nightclub racks up so much gambling debt (whilst celebrating paying off his last round of debt) that he has to take on an assassination contract or himself lose everything. The aftermath of this assassination that was never meant to be successful, again, looks great on paper.

However, so much of this film ends up dwelling on needless detail – like showing us the nightclub routines in excruciating detail, that any tension starts to dissolve and you are left watching a poorly executed burlesque piece loosely connected with Paris. Ben Gazzara is brilliant in his role as the owner and reluctant assassin, his strange earnestness being oddly compelling. The final scenes go a long way towards breaking your heart, but by then it’s too late – I’ve disconnected from the film and wanting to be back on my island in Animal Crossing. 

XL Popcorn – Faces

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 823/1007Title: Faces
Director: John Cassavetes
Year: 1968
Country: USA

Usually when two 1001 movie posts come one after the other that means I have had a double bill thanks to the hub going on a work night out (or some other reason that leaves me home alone). Alas, this is a post from mid-April and actually a whole week has gone by since my last post. I cannot begin to describe just how busy work is and the general mindfuckery of the growing association of laptop at home with being work… so the blog is going to probably take a bit of a hit.

I was hoping, therefore, at least my next pick for the 1001 film list would be one that could get me psyched about writing it up immediately. Instead Faces reminds me of all the reasons why I never go to work drinks. As someone who doesn’t drink I find it exceptionally hard to be around people who are utterly out of their tree; much like everyone in this film.

Two hours of drunken laughter and screaming matches. There’s some great acting in here, that can’t be denied when you watch the crushing performance of Lynn Carlin, but so much of what aggravates me about being around drunk people is here on display. For example, did we need all the reprises of ‘Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair’? No, not at all.

There’s also a lot I could say about the uneven way that roles and experiences are distributed to the men and women in the film. It feels so blatant that I would believe that Cassavetes made a conscious choice to show men in all their toxic glory and show up the double standards faced by women (like how the now separated wife nearly dies on her first night out whereas the husband has a rollicking good time and proceeds to call his meant-to-be-soon-to-be ex-wife a ‘whore’ for adultery when he had done the same that night.

I think that, again, Faces suffers from my same distaste of a lot of American films from this era. There is such a self-indulgence in one’s own genius (even if it is just your own drunken ramblings) that ultimately made this film off-putting a lot of the time.

XL Popcorn – Shadows

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 647/1007
Title: Shadows
Director: John Cassavetes
Year: 1959
Country: USA

It bears repeating that the reason I am going through the 1001 list is because of the variety of movies. This isn’t just in terms of style or genre, but also the types of stories that are being told. I know I am likely to repeat this spiel when I get around to watching Tongues Untied, but considering I have 359+ more introductions to write before completing this list I hope some repetition is forgivable.

Shadows is an interesting entry on the list for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s an independent film that, in its current state, is a completely re-worked version of an earlier disparaged version. I can’t think of a current film where, after an unsuccessful first set of screenings, the director decides to go for a complete re-shoot. That alone make this film an interesting artefact.

Then there is the fact that it deals with inter-racial relationships in a manner where it is clear that it is the prejudiced white man that is the problem. This alone marks out Shadows as being remarkably liberal and forward-thinking for its time. However, that alone is not the most interesting way that they handle the story.

The casting of the siblings that are central to Shadows does something that you don’t really see from films of this era; there is a conscious decision to have them all to have colours of skin along a light to dark scale. Lalia, the lightest skinned of the siblings, is so close to being white (because the actress herself was white) that her racist suitor, Tom, has no idea that she is African-American.

It is when Tom meets Lalia’s family that the shoe drops and we see him for the bigot that he is. The initial surprise stings for Lalia because, to him, this really matters. We later see him at a party where he is very aggressive about black party-goers touching him or giving him a beverage. Yet, through this, he still thinks he can talk her around to being with him despite his views, which may be one of the most blatant examples of white male privilege I have seen on film.

Shadows has a place in the history of cinema because it was a catalyst for American independent cinema and helped inspire a movement that could come up against the New Wave that was coming out of Europe. Sure the acting is a bit patchy and the story of the brothers is a bit lacklustre, but this is an important film and one that needs to be seen to help understand some of the roots of New Hollywood, whose era would begin nearly a decade later.