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TIFF Cinematheque presents – John Cassavetes

14 Jul 2011

The films of John Cassavetes

In one famous Cassavetes quote that says that an artist must dare to fail and risk all in order to express it all, one can appreciate what writer/director John Cassevetes must have gone through in order to achieve the legacy of films he has left behind.

Married to the formidable Gena Rowlands who will be present to introduce a few of the film, Cassavetes has made her the tough beauty that she is and that she often portrays in his films.  GLORIS, FACES and A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE are three films that mark the expert collaboration between husband and wife, auteur and actress.

The retro of Cassavetes films begins July 14th.  For complete listing of all films, show times, venue and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF Cinematheque website at:

Capsule reviews of a few of the Cassavetes films screened are provided below:-


FACES (USA 1968) ****
Directed by John Cassavetes
FACES is a film that is as difficult to watch as it is a gem of a movie.  For one it is not easy to watch two people tear each other apart.  The two in the film is a middle-aged advertising executive, Richard Forst (John Marley) and the other, his wife, Maria (Lynn Carlin) married for 14 years.  After 10 minutes of uncontrollable laughter and love making one evning, Richard suddenly announces he wants a divorce.  They then seek to escape their mundane lives in a series of empty infidelities with, respectively, a hooker (Gena Rowlands) and a genial hippie (Seymour Cassel).  What transpires has to be seen to be believed.  Performances are excellent, especially Marley’s, with Cassel and Rowlands both winning Oscar nominations for best supporting actor and actress.  The introduction of the film as a commercial LA DOLCE VITA at the film’s start is also bitingly hilarious.
(Special Screening at Bell Lightbox, Jul 15th Fri at 6.30 pm)
Gena Rowlands will be present to introduce this film

GLORIA (USA 1980) ****
Directed by John Cassavetes
Film about tough mob moll and boy that could have been melodramatic mush is given a remarkable turn by director John Cassavetes who also wrote the script.  Cassavetes did not intend to direct his own script but opted to so after Columbia Pictures hired his wife to star in it.  Glad he did.  The film is less narrative than event driven.  GLORIA, overweight and out-of-shape (as described by her character) reluctantly protects her neighbour’s kid from the mob, her former friends, shooting everyone that gets into her way.  Why?  Because it is the right thing to do – despite the fact that Gloria (Gena Rowlands) hates kids, especially her neighbour’s.  The crowd cheering scene in which she fires at the thugs in the car sets the tone for the whole film.  Cassavetes shows his two loves in the movie – for New York (with beautiful aerial shots of Manhattan at the film’s start to the jazz score by Bill Conti) and his wife.  Rowlands delivers the performance of her career, winning her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  Despite the cop-put Hollywood ending, GLORIA is still pure delight as well as exciting from start to finish.  The seediness of the city (low rent buildings; cheap hotels, dirty subways) has never been so vividly captured on film.
(Special Screening at Bell Lightbox, Jul 28th Thu at 8.45 pm)

HUSBANDS (USA 1970) ****
Directed by John Cassavetes
What type of film has a lead character literally punch out both his mother-in-law and wife before taking off with his two best friends after a long drinking spree to London, England where they continue to booze it up?  The answer would be a film that is truly original.  Original HUSBANDS is, but as it is a Cassavetes film, HUSBANDS is a very difficult film to take in despite its occasional exceptionally hilarious moments.  The film has an extended vomiting seen in the stalls of the toilet.  The 3 buddies (John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara) are if not tormenting each other, will be tormenting others including ladies that they try to pick up in London.  They appear and in fact are, like 3 children on the street.  But Cassavetes also reveals in this film the futility of suburban working life.  All the events are put into motion with the sudden heart attack death of their best friend.  In one of the film’s best scenes, Peter Falk describes the feeling that he just cannot describe.  The identical feeling may be felt by the audience after leaving HUSBANDS, but one cannot argue that the emotion felt is just as strong as attending a funeral.  HUSBANDS is an innovative, ensemble and excellent film.
(Special Screening at Bell Lightbox, Jul 18th Mon at 630pm)

Directed by John Cassavetes
Cassavetes gets right down deep into the character of Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazarra), a would-be gentleman of leisure who runs a strip club called Crazy Horse West.  The day after he pays off his club, Cosmo cruises to a private casino with three strippers in tow for a game of high-stakes poker. Down $23,000 on extended credit, he runs out of options and is coerced by the gangsters who hold his markers to perform a hit on the titular Chinese bookie.  Cassavetes paints a really bleak picture of a lose/lose situation of his lead character and his domain, occasionally so detailed that the film tends to test the audience’s patience.  But he more than makes up for it in the second half where he ties in a bit of action what essentially comes off as gangster drama.  It is hard at first for the audience to identify with Cosmo who has few redeeming qualities.  When Cosmo is wounded and realizes he had been framed, the audience becomes sympathetic to the character and the film gradually succeeds as a gripping drama on life.
(Special Screening at Bell Lightbox, July 22 Fri at 6.30 pm)

Directed by John Cassavetes

MINNIE AND MOSKOVITZ is different from the other Cassavetes in 2 aspects.  Firstly, it is the only one with John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands playing husband and wife (actually husband and mistress, but close enough).  But it is an explosive relationship as he beats her up and she tells him: “You are not the man I fell in love with!” Secondly, it is the only one that pays a lot of attention to how movies affect the lives of the characters.  Minnie (Rowlands) tells her friend Florence that from the very beginning, films set people up.  In life, there is no Charles Boyer, Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable.  It seems that Cassavetes is attempting to counteract the situation by making the anti-studio movie that shows life as it is in MINNIE AND MOSKOVITZ.  Moskovitz (Seymour Cassel) woos and falls in love with Minnie, and he is a nobody, car park attendant with few redeeming qualities as seen in the film’s fist few scenes in which he is a complete drunken ***censored***.  Though slated as a comedy, MINNIE AND MOSKOVITZ is more drama and quite the effective and oddly, enjoyable one.
(Special Screening at Bell Lightbox, July 24 Sun at 7.30 pm)


ROSEMARY’S BABY (USA 1968) ***** Top 10
Directed by Roman Polanksi
The film in the Cassavetes series in which he co-stars instead of directing.  The sinister, wickedly handsome and sadistic look of Guy Woodhouse is the face all moviegoers will remember Cassavetes as.  The most frightening film of all time, based on the best selling novel by Ira Levin and directed by Roman Polanski, ROSEMARY’s BABY is the story of what happens to expecting Rosemary (Mia Farrow) when she is chosen to bear the baby of the devil.  Hubby Guy sells her and the baby for his fame.  Rosemary learns slowly of her demise and attempts to save herself and her baby.  Polanksi’s film is more audience anticipation that cheap horror shocks.  Polanski creates great Hitchcockian style suspense especially in the famous segment involving a room with door slightly ajar, that the audience reportedly strain their necks to see what is happening within.  The film is most scary for the fact that Polanski leaves the worst fears to the audience’s imagination.  Farrow is superb as is Ruth Gordon who won the Academy Award for best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Rosemary’s nosy satanic neighbour.  And the best scariest line in the film is when Rosemary cries: “This is no dream, this is actually happening!”
(Special Screening at Bell Lightbox, July 15th Fri at 9.15pm)

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