director John Cassavetes
There are a number of major directors whose films I’ve either never seen or have not seen much of. Lately, I’ve been delving into a few of these: Federico Fellini, Preston Sturges, and now John Cassavetes.
Dauntingly long, as a lot of Cassavetes’s films are, even their presence in availability on Fandor has not given them primacy in my film-viewing. This one, A Woman Under the Influence received a push when I started working my way through the BBC’s list of “100 Greatest American Movies”, which I was using as a lever to direct me through some well-known films I’d never seen.
Before this, I’d only ever seen Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959), his first film, which I appreciated perhaps more than enjoyed.
A Woman Under the Influence is of course known for the performance by Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes’s wife, in the role written for her to play, the woman under many influences: that of something like bi-polar mania, that of her overbearing though loving yet limited husband (the terrific Peter Falk), occasional bouts with booze, the constraints of a working class wife and mother of three, family, society, expectations, social constraints.
A very actorly film, focused very much on the characters and performances, Cassavetes shoots scenes often in tight close-ups, much of the film within the constraints of their home in Los Angeles. Surely an influence of later styles like the Dogme95 or other techniques now popular with hand-held or digital photography, you can almost imagine that had Cassevetes lived in this day and age what directions he might have taken.
A great film? Hard to dispute. Rowlands is amazing. The portrayal of the blue collar family and their surrounding friendships capture time and place, feel real and true. There is a lot to praise or appreciate here. To enjoy? For me, I don’t know. Though I appreciate the film, watching it felt more like work or obligation than pleasure, though indeed the story is a rough one. Its open ending, both potentially uplifting or really deeply unsettled feels so very right on, but isn’t necessarily about instilling joy, rather instilling uncertainty. So, in the long run, I don’t know.