by shael stolberg
From his first role in the 1956 drama Crime in the Streets through his directorial debut in 1959 Shadows, John Cassavetes was, as the old saying goes, a force to be reckoned with. As an actor you could not keep your eyes off him whether he is playing the crooked Chicago hood turned soldier in The Dirty Dozen, Elaine May’s underrated Mickey & Nicky (with friend and collaborator Peter Falk) or Guy Woodhouse in Roman Polanski’s classic film Rosemary’s Baby in which he plays a venal & desperate actor who, spoiler alert, does not sell his soul to the devil but someone else’s. Before his role in Crime in the Streets he did a good amount of work on TV starting in 1951 (with a few uncredited parts).
Once he made Shadows (nominated for several awards) which, as the film stated, was an improvised film about interracial relationships in the 1950’s beat era in New York City, you could definitely see that a new talent had emerged on the scene.
With a small crew of friends and actors that included his wife Gena Rowlands (10 films), Peter Falk (6 films), Ben Gazzara (5 films) and Seymour Cassel (4 films), Cassavetes went on to write & direct some intriguing, at times fascinating and heartbreaking, films including Faces (1968), Husbands (1970), The Woman Under the Influence (1974), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Opening Night (1977), Gloria (1980) and Love Streams (1984).
As Cassavetes once said “When I started making films, I wanted to make Frank Capra pictures. But I’ve never been able to make anything but these crazy, tough pictures. You are what you are.”
Or as they say ‘write what you know’.