John Cassavetes

By: Mike Fleisch
December 9, 2014


What’s Yr Take on Cassavetes? asked Le Tigre, with good reason. Probably you first heard the name, heard it attached to, “The Godfather of American Independent cinema.” Then sometime on a Sunday morning, watching Rosemary’s Baby, or Columbo, or most likely The Dirty Dozen, you shouted, “That’s John Cassavetes?!” Or was it the 30 seconds from The Killers on Youtube, where he slugs Ronald Reagan in the jaw? The indie scene has evolved and cleaned up his act, made it safe for general consumption, polished the difficulty and Gazzara-storm into comedic absurdities. But these men and women believed they were making art, performances congruent with camera: unexpected places to inhabit, commitment before clarity. “Real” before attractive. Despising “entertainment” and sentimentality, Cassavetes often wrote stories with his actors through a process of improvisation and repetition, making conditions as hard on them as possible, and then minimizing any chance that the crew could get in their way. This manifests as a long lens aesthetic, with obscuring elements and focus abstractions that nudge the compositions expressionist. And these beings in the frame are people of contradictions and layered agendas, smart enough to hide their flaws, never far from the people they really are, trying hard. In Husbands, when poor Leola Harlow repeatedly tries to please the actor-director by singing, “It Was Just a Little Love Affair,” with heart, she endures endless verbal abuse; the confusion and feigned cheerfulness that register on her brave face make you glad the dual cameras are rolling. Cassavetes makes you feel like you could do this.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Redd Foxx, Grace Murray Hopper, Roy DeCarava.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).