John Cassavetes

John Cassavetes (December 9, 1929 - February 3, 1989) was an American actor, screenwriter, and director. Cassavetes created an American form of cinema verite with his innovative camera use, bleak outlook, and emphasis on improvisation. Film critic Ray Carney called him "the father of American independent film".

Cassavetes was born in New York City to Greek immigrants. He grew up in Long Island and attended Colgate University before moving to the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts. On graduation in 1950, he continued acting in the theater. By 1953, he was doing small parts in films; he continued to play a James Dean-like "juvenile delinquent" throughout the 1950s. Cassavetes also acted on television, which was still finding its feet as a medium. His experience working within television's budgetary and schedule limits influenced his later film production style.

During this time he met and married actress Gena Rowlands, a fellow television actor. By 1956 Cassavetes had begun teaching method acting in workshops in New York City. An improvisation exercise in one workshop inspired the idea for his writing and directorial debut, Shadows (1960). Cassavetes raised the funds for production from friends and family, as well as listeners to a late-night radio talk show.

Cassavetes was unable to get American distributors to carry Shadows, so he took it to Europe, where it won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival. European distributors later released the movie in the United States as an import.

Although the viewership of Shadows in the United States was slight, it did gain attention from the Hollywood studios. Cassavetes directed two movies for Hollywood in the early 1960s — Too Late Blues and A Child is Waiting — but the experience was exasperating. The intervention of the studios, the lack of creative control, and the over-all dumbing down of his work was unbearable. Cassavetes refused to go through the process again.

His strategy, brought on by necessity, was to work as an actor in mainstream movies, and channel the funds he made there into his work as a director. He didn't just clockwatch as an actor, though; he did masterly work in blockbuster hits of the late 1960s, including World War II epic The Dirty Dozen (1967) — for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968).

His next independent film was Faces, which lay down new themes for later work. Starring Cassavetes's wife Rowlands, Faces depicted a contemporary suburban marriage in the process of slow disintegration, with the accompanying desperate and degrading sexual improprieties. Cassavetes held an unflinching camera on the pettiness and emotional greed of the distancing husband and wife and their lovers, but in the end the pathos of their story gives them an unexpected dignity. Faces was a critical and financial success, nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Supporting Actor and Actress).

After Faces Cassavetes could concentrate more fully on his directorial work. He had enough leverage at this point that he could make movies in the studio system, yet retain full creative control. Husbands (1970) starred Cassavetes himself, with Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. They play a trio of men escaping their marriages for minor peccadillos. Another in the 1970s include Minnie and Moskovitz, about a misdirected young woman seeking love, and starring Rowlands again with a small part for Cassavetes's mother, Katherine.

His two masterpieces of the 1970s, however, were made independently. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) stars Rowlands as an increasingly eccentric housewife trying to keep her hold on reality. Peter Falk played her husband, who tries to keep up a facade of normality, but ultimately makes the difficult decision of committing her to a mental institution. The characters were nuanced, and the ethical situations were measured in shades of gray. The wife's behavior, while disturbing and disconcerting for those around her, is not obviously dangerous or unstable. Rowlands is an expert collaborator in the story, playing Mabel with subtlety and energy; she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, while Cassavetes was nominated for Best Director.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) was a movie about the experience of men as much as Influence was about women. Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, a small-time strip-club owner with an out-of-control gambling habit, who is convinced by mobsters to commit a murder to pay off his debt. Driven by fear and uncertainty, Vitelli deceives friend and foe alike. Author Christos Tsiolkas said of Bookie that it showed "being a man means knowing gutlessness better than knowing courage, that failure stays with you long after success."

Cassavetes continued to work through the 1980s, although personal troubles with alcohol were beginning to take their toll. Gloria (1980) is a more conventional thriller starring Rowlands as a mob moll who runs off with a young boy orphaned by the mob and soon to be next. Love Streams (1984) starred Cassavetes as an aging lothario who suffers the overbearing affection of his recently divorced sister. Sadly, Cassavetes's last movie, Big Trouble (1986), was a last-minute project picked up as a favor when a younger director friend peremptorily quit the project. The movie, racked by incompatible studio and director edits, was, in Cassavetes's words, "a disaster". Already ill, he was heartbroken that it would be the last film he would do.

Cassavetes's personality was overpowering and driven. He lived to make film, and sacrificed his colleagues and himself to the process. The intense effort took its toll; an alcoholic, Cassavetes died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1989 at the age of only 59. He was survived by Rowlands, who continued to act, and three children. His son, Nick Cassavetes, followed in his father's footsteps, and made 1997's She's So Lovely from the elder Cassavetes's screenplay, and directed 2004's The Notebook.

A Note On Improvisation

Rowlands has stated that the role of improvisation in Cassavetes films has frequently been misunderstood. Though Cassavetes allowed and even encouraged his actors to ad lib while filming, only very rarely, she says, were entire scenes filmed as they were being improvised. Rather, Rowlands reports, the actors would improvise from Cassavetes' scripts during rehersals, then Cassavetes would rewrite scenes based on the improvisations.

Tributes

Fugazi, a rock music group who shared Cassavetes' independently-minded aesthetic, titled a song after the filmaker on their 1993 In On The Killtaker album. Lyrics include: "complete control for Cassavetes/if it's not for sale you can't buy it"

Selected Filmography

  • Shadows (1959)
  • Faces (1968)
  • Husbands (1970)
  • Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
  • A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
  • Gloria (1980)
  • Love Streams (1984)

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Lyrics include: "complete control for Cassavetes/if it's not for sale you can't buy it".
. Fugazi, a rock music group who shared Cassavetes' independently-minded aesthetic, titled a song after the filmaker on their 1993 In On The Killtaker album. UK chart singles:-. Rather, Rowlands reports, the actors would improvise from Cassavetes' scripts during rehersals, then Cassavetes would rewrite scenes based on the improvisations. Coincidentally, the same week the Comedians' Comedian programme was shown, Channel 4 broadcast Not Only But Always, a television movie dramatising the relationship between Cook and Moore, with Welsh actor Rhys Ifans portraying Cook. Though Cassavetes allowed and even encouraged his actors to ad lib while filming, only very rarely, she says, were entire scenes filmed as they were being improvised. He finished ahead of other important, legendary comics such Groucho Marx, John Cleese, Laurel and Hardy and Woody Allen.

Rowlands has stated that the role of improvisation in Cassavetes films has frequently been misunderstood. In January 2005, he was ranked number one in a list entitled The Comedians' Comedian, a poll voted for by fellow comedians and comic writers and shown on Channel 4 in the UK. His son, Nick Cassavetes, followed in his father's footsteps, and made 1997's She's So Lovely from the elder Cassavetes's screenplay, and directed 2004's The Notebook. His death in 1995 was as a result of internal haemhorraging caused by alcoholism. He was survived by Rowlands, who continued to act, and three children. Some have seen Cook's life as tragic, insofar as the brilliance he exhibited in his youth did not lead to the recognition many thought he deserved. The intense effort took its toll; an alcoholic, Cassavetes died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1989 at the age of only 59. Together with Spike Milligan, Cook broke so much new ground in the 1950 to 1965 period that some feel later comics had relatively little ground left to break.

He lived to make film, and sacrificed his colleagues and himself to the process. Notable fans include the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and, more recently, the controversial satirist Chris Morris with whom Cook worked briefly in his final years. Cassavetes's personality was overpowering and driven. Cook is an acknowledged influence on a long stream of comedians who have followed him from the amateur dramatic clubs of British universities to the Edinburgh festival and from thence to the radio and television studios of the BBC. Already ill, he was heartbroken that it would be the last film he would do. Many hoped this marked the begining of a revival for Cook but before the end of the year his mother died causing him to return to drinking. The movie, racked by incompatible studio and director edits, was, in Cassavetes's words, "a disaster". With Chris Morris he revived a variant of the "Arthur Streeb-Greebling" character and in 1994 appeared with Clive Anderson showcasing four completely new characters.

Sadly, Cassavetes's last movie, Big Trouble (1986), was a last-minute project picked up as a favor when a younger director friend peremptorily quit the project. In 1989 Cook married Lin Chong and this brought a change in the direction of his life as he reduced his drinking and for a time was teetotal. Love Streams (1984) starred Cassavetes as an aging lothario who suffers the overbearing affection of his recently divorced sister. In the last ten years of his life Cook's drinking lead him to an isolated life in his house in Hampstead with only infrequent contact with friends. Cassavetes continued to work through the 1980s, although personal troubles with alcohol were beginning to take their toll. Gloria (1980) is a more conventional thriller starring Rowlands as a mob moll who runs off with a young boy orphaned by the mob and soon to be next. He even gained a regular slot on a night-time London radio programme, where he would phone in using a pseudonym (Sven from Swiss Cottage) and entertain listeners with his complaints and musings. Author Christos Tsiolkas said of Bookie that it showed "being a man means knowing gutlessness better than knowing courage, that failure stays with you long after success.". Cook was an avid media follower, reading nearly all the British newspapers every day and following TV and radio programmes with vigour.

Driven by fear and uncertainty, Vitelli deceives friend and foe alike. This turned out to be the last occassion that the two appeared on screen together. According to Lin Chong Cook was deeply affected by Moore refusing to get in contact with him when he came to the UK to promote films. Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, a small-time strip-club owner with an out-of-control gambling habit, who is convinced by mobsters to commit a murder to pay off his debt. By 1986 he was reduced to playing second string to Joan Rivers on her chat show and even had to endure being pleasant to Dudley Moore on Rivers' show while he promoted his last film. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) was a movie about the experience of men as much as Influence was about women. Always a favourite on the chat show circuit his own effort at hosting a chatshow lasted two programmes. Rowlands is an expert collaborator in the story, playing Mabel with subtlety and energy; she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, while Cassavetes was nominated for Best Director. He appeared as an uptight English Butler in a shortlived sit-com and made cameo appearances in a couple of undistinquished films.

The wife's behavior, while disturbing and disconcerting for those around her, is not obviously dangerous or unstable. In 1980 spurred by Dudley Moore's growing film star status Cook moved to Hollywood. The characters were nuanced, and the ethical situations were measured in shades of gray. Reviews of the first night complained that it was mostly recycled "Beyond the Fringe' and "Monty Python" material so on the second night Cook largely improvised a parody of the biased summing up by the Judge in the case of Jeremy Thorpe which continues to be hailed as a comedy classic by critics. Peter Falk played her husband, who tries to keep up a facade of normality, but ultimately makes the difficult decision of committing her to a mental institution. In 1978 Cook was invited to perform at the Secret Policeman's Ball a charity event for Amnesty International. A Woman Under the Influence (1974) stars Rowlands as an increasingly eccentric housewife trying to keep her hold on reality. Interestingly, the script and storyline include many elements that appear to be drawn from Cook's own life, including Beyond The Fringe (Walter sounds like Cook's former colleague Alan Bennett), Cook's alcoholism (Mr Haig's constant drinking) and the clear parallel between the fictional divorce of Walter and Lulu and Cook's messy real-life divorce from his first wife Wendy.

His two masterpieces of the 1970s, however, were made independently. The hugely ambitious triple album was a total commercial failure and was savaged by the critics, but it gathered (and retains) a small but dedicated cult following. Another in the 1970s include Minnie and Moskovitz, about a misdirected young woman seeking love, and starring Rowlands again with a small part for Cassavetes's mother, Katherine. The storyline centres on the impending divorce of the tremulous Walter Stapleton (Cook) and his French wife Lulu (Judy Huxtable), whose meeting with their respective lawyers, the bibulous Mr Haig and overbearing Mr Pepperman (both played by Cook), is interrupted by a series of bizarre and mysterious happenings that are somehow connected to Mr Blint (also played by Cook), a musician living in the apartment below Haig's office, and which is connected to it by a large hole in the floor. They play a trio of men escaping their marriages for minor peccadillos. The comedy sections of the album were originally intended to be performed by an all-star cast including Spike Milligan and Peter Ustinov, but after meeting Peter Cook, Godley and Creme realised that he could perform most of the parts himself. Husbands (1970) starred Cassavetes himself, with Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. A mixture of spoken-word comedy and progressive rock music with an environmental subtext, Consequences began with a single that Godley and Creme made to demonstrate their new invention (an electric guitar effect called The Gizmo) but it gradually grew into a triple LP boxed set.

He had enough leverage at this point that he could make movies in the studio system, yet retain full creative control. One of Cook's best (but least known) comedy projects in the Seventies was his tour-de-force performance (playing multiple roles) on the cult 1976 Godley & Creme concept album Consequences. After Faces Cassavetes could concentrate more fully on his directorial work. Three Derek and Clive albums were released of varying quality. Faces was a critical and financial success, nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Supporting Actor and Actress). Originally intended for their own amusement Chris Blackwell circulated bootleg copies to friends and they gained a cult following. Cassavetes held an unflinching camera on the pettiness and emotional greed of the distancing husband and wife and their lovers, but in the end the pathos of their story gives them an unexpected dignity. One of these audio recordings was also filmed and the long running tensions between the duo are seen to rise to the surface.

Starring Cassavetes's wife Rowlands, Faces depicted a contemporary suburban marriage in the process of slow disintegration, with the accompanying desperate and degrading sexual improprieties. The first 'Derek and Clive' recording was initiated by Cook to relieve the boredom of a long Broadway run of 'Good Evening' and used some material concieved years before for Pete and Dud but was too outrageous. His next independent film was Faces, which lay down new themes for later work. Later, the more risque humour of the Pete and Dud characters was taken to excess on long-playing records whereon the names "Derek and Clive" were used. He didn't just clockwatch as an actor, though; he did masterly work in blockbuster hits of the late 1960s, including World War II epic The Dirty Dozen (1967) — for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968). In 1973 Cook married the actress Judy Huxtable but this also ended in divorce. His strategy, brought on by necessity, was to work as an actor in mainstream movies, and channel the funds he made there into his work as a director. When the run of 'Good Evening' finished Moore announced he was staying in the US to pursue a solo career.

Cassavetes refused to go through the process again. Inspite of this 'Good Evening' won the pair Tony and Grammy Awards. The intervention of the studios, the lack of creative control, and the over-all dumbing down of his work was unbearable. During the extended stageshow runs Cook frequently appeared on stage drunk and incapable to the consternation of Dudley Moore. Although the viewership of Shadows in the United States was slight, it did gain attention from the Hollywood studios. Cassavetes directed two movies for Hollywood in the early 1960s — Too Late Blues and A Child is Waiting — but the experience was exasperating. Cook and Moore fashioned sketches from 'Not Only....But Also' and 'Goodbye Again' with new material as the stage review 'Behind the Fridge' that toured Australia in 1972 before transfering to New York in 1973 as 'Good Evening'. European distributors later released the movie in the United States as an import. Towards the end of the sixties Cook's developing alcoholism placed a strain on his personal and professional relationships.

Cassavetes was unable to get American distributors to carry Shadows, so he took it to Europe, where it won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival. For a time the magazine was produced from the premises of The Establishment Club. Cassavetes raised the funds for production from friends and family, as well as listeners to a late-night radio talk show. Cook both invested his own money and solicited for investment from his show business friends and colleagues. An improvisation exercise in one workshop inspired the idea for his writing and directorial debut, Shadows (1960). Peter Cook also provided financial backing for the satirical magazine, Private Eye, supporting the publication through a number of difficult periods, particularly when the magazine was punished financially in the wake of a number of high-profile libel trials. By 1956 Cassavetes had begun teaching method acting in workshops in New York City. In 1970 Cook took over a project initiated by David Frost for a satirical film about an opinion pollster who rises to become President of Great Britain. Under Cook's guidance the character became modelled on Frost himself; the resulting film, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer was not a great commercial success but is notable for the cast containing many notable names of the period.

During this time he met and married actress Gena Rowlands, a fellow television actor. Moore went on to Hollywood stardom in the 1970s and 1980s, which was a cause of some bitterness to Cook. His experience working within television's budgetary and schedule limits influenced his later film production style. Moore's trio backed Cook on the theme, a parodic anti-love song, which Cook delivers in a monotonous, deadpan voice, and which includes his classic putdown "You fill me with inertia". Cassavetes also acted on television, which was still finding its feet as a medium. The film features cameo appearances by Barry Humphries ('Envy') and Raquel Welch ('Lust'). By 1953, he was doing small parts in films; he continued to play a James Dean-like "juvenile delinquent" throughout the 1950s. Directed by Stanley Donen, it was co-written by Cook and Moore and starred Cook as George Spigot (The Devil) who tempts frustrated short-order cook Stanley Moon (Moore) with the promise of gaining his heart's desire -- the love of the unattainable Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron) -- in exchange for his soul, but repeatedly tricks him in a variety of ways.

On graduation in 1950, he continued acting in the theater. Their best work on film was probably the cult comedy Bedazzled (1967), now widely regarded as a classic. He grew up in Long Island and attended Colgate University before moving to the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts. Both Peter Cook and Dudley Moore acted in films, and Cook worked with Moore in such films as The Wrong Box (1966). Cassavetes was born in New York City to Greek immigrants. John Cleese has a supporting cast member and elements of the series can be seen in the early Monty Python series of the next year. Film critic Ray Carney called him "the father of American independent film". The series was not a popular success due in somepart to the ITV listings magazine TV Times being suspended due to a strike.

John Cassavetes (December 9, 1929 - February 3, 1989) was an American actor, screenwriter, and director. Cassavetes created an American form of cinema verite with his innovative camera use, bleak outlook, and emphasis on improvisation. Cook would also rely on prompt boards and as a result garbled parts of the script forcing Moore to ad-lib.The series does contain some notable items including a reprise of the Pete and Dud 'Greta Garbo' routine and a sketch in which Cook and Moore mostly play themselves discussing the breakdowns of their respective marraiges. Love Streams (1984). Cook and Moore knew they were the rationale for the series and as a result ignored suggestions from the series Director and other cast - as a result sketches where often drawn out to fill the running time. Gloria (1980). In 1968 Cook and Moore switched to Lew Grade's ATV to produce a series of four one hour programmes Goodbye Again based on the "Pete and Dud" characters. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). But Also was shown on television and released on VHS in later years.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974). Not Only.. Minnie and Moskowitz (1971). What's Left Of.. Husbands (1970). A compilation, The Best Of.. Faces (1968). No complete episodes of the third series survive, but various film inserts do still exist.

Shadows (1959). The surviving episodes comprise the entire first series with the exception of the fifth and seventh episodes; the first and last episodes of the second series and the Christmas special. Of the series, eight out of twenty-two complete episodes survive, although many of the soundtracks, which were commercially released on record, also exist. Cook then offered to buy new tapes for the BBC so that they would not need to ovetape but this was also turned down by management as there was no established proceedure at the BBC for this. When Cook learned the series was to be destroyed he offered to buy the tapes of the series from the BBC but was refused due to copyright.

As videotape was expensive and took up space to store, tapes would often be wiped and re-used. Although now recognised as one of the classics of TV comedy, the BBC erased most of the videotapes of the first two series. This was common UK television practice at the time, when agreements with actors' and musicians' unions meant that only a certain number of repeats within a limited timescale were permitted, and the VHS or DVD home sales market was decades away. Other memorable sketches include '"Superthunderstingcar", a send-up of the popular Gerry Anderson marionette TV shows and Cook's parody of film star Greta Garbo. Here Cook showcased characters like Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling and Pete and Dud.

Using few props, and with musical interludes performed by Moore, they created a new style of dry absurdist televison which found a place in the mainstream. But Also. His comedy partnership with Dudley Moore, led to the popular and critically feted television show Not Only.. Wisty.

L. Peter Cook's first regular television spot was on Granada_Television's Braden Beat with Bernard Braden, where he featured perhaps his most enduring comic character, the static, dour, and monotone E. Working with others such as Eleanor Bron, John Bird, and John Fortune, he broadened the scope of television comedy and pushed out the hitherto restricted boundaries of the BBC. The marraige ended in divorce in 1970 due to Cook's various affairs.

Cook married the socially connected Wendy Snowden in 1963 with whom he had two daughters. The 1960s satire boom was coming to a close and Cook quipped that Britain would "sink into the sea under the weight of its own giggling". When he returned Cook discovered that the pilot had been refashioned as That Was The Week That Was and had made a star out of David Frost. In 1962 the BBC commissioned a pilot for a television series of satirical sketches based on The Establishment Club but it was not picked up straight away and Cook and the other regulars went to New York for a year.

He became a friend and supporter of Australian comedian and actor Barry Humphries, who began his British career at the Establishment Club, and Dudley Moore's acclaimed jazz trio (which included Australian-born drummer Chris Karan) played there regularly for many years in the Sixties. With his star firmly in the ascendant he opened The Establishment Club in Soho which allowed him to associate with the big stars of the day. On graduation, he wrote professionally for, amongst others, Kenneth Williams for whom he created the famous "One legged Tarzan" sketch, before finding fame in his own right as a star of the satirical stage show, Beyond the Fringe, with Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore. Cook was himself 'establishment' educated, at Radley and Pembroke College, Cambridge where he read French and German, and it was at the latter that he first performed and wrote comedy sketches as a member of the Cambridge Footlights.

He is closely associated with an anti-establishment style of comedy that emerged in the late 1950s in the depths of the Cold War. Peter Edward Cook (November 17, 1937 - January 9, 1995) was a British satirist, writer and comedian who is widely regarded as the father of the British satire boom of the 1960s. The Best of Amnesty: Featuring the Stars of Monty Python (1999). Getting It Right (1989).

Whoops Apocalypse (1988). The Princess Bride (1987): The Impwessive Clergyman. Yellowbeard (1983). The Secret Policeman's Private Parts (1981).

Find the Lady (1976). The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970). Monte Carlo Or Bust, also called Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969). Bedazzled (1967).

Alice in Wonderland (1966). The Wrong Box (1966). "Goobye-ee" (1965) with Dudley Moore. "The Ballad Of Spotty Muldoon" (1965).

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