14. John Cassavetes (1929 – 1989)
In his introduction to The Films of John Cassavetes: The Adventures of Insecurity,BU Film Professor and Cassavetes enthusiast Ray Carney asks: “Do any American feature films work harder to prevent viewers from reclining into their La-Z-Boys of the imagination? Cassavetes’ scenes deliberately swerve away from dependable courses and outcomes. Every time a scene is about to congeal into a predictable tone, Cassavetes will give it a stir; every time a relationship is about to stabilize, he’ll give it a push. Just when the audience thinks it’s figured out the relationship between two characters, a new piece of information or an emotional adjustment forces viewers to reevaluate everything.” Therein lies the inspiration in Cassavetes’ work, and the reason why his films never reached the wider consciousness of mainstream moviegoers: they require work.
Taking a cue from the French New Wave, Cassavetes could well be crowned the pioneer of the American independents. A successful Hollywood actor, he used the money he received from his television and film acting gigs to finance his first foray into film, 1960’s Shadows. Shot on 16mm without a script, the film touched upon many social taboos of the day, most notably that of interracial relationships.
Though seemingly chaotic, his films are meant to represent the true range of human emotions. His films require patience, just like real life. He favored actors as the rulers on set, letting their emotions get the best of them and taking the story where they wanted it to go. In doing so, he created some of the most realistic stories in contemporary cinema, and the most genuine characters—flaws and all—in the history of film.