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Film historian Carney (Film and American Studies/Boston Univ.) explores the cinematic philosophy and practices of maverick actor and director John Cassavetes (1929–89).

Carney did a prodigious amount of research to prepare this thorough, admiring, and even affectionate examination of Cassavetes’s films. He interviewed Cassavetes many times, spoke with virtually everyone who had ever worked with him, viewed every inch of relevant footage he could acquire, studied every interview ever granted by the loquacious filmmaker, and read the multiple versions of Cassavetes’s screenplays. A compulsive reviser, Cassavetes does not deserve, in the author’s view, his reputation as a director of improvised productions. Instead, he was a ferocious, tireless worker, a man who would do just about anything to complete a film (or find a booking for it), a director who would manipulate cast and crew to achieve an effect he felt he could achieve no other way. Carney is less interested in the ordinary biographical facts of Cassavetes’s life than he is in his artistic temperament and credo, and so the births of his children and other milepost moments do not rate much attention. An exception is his tempestuous relationship with his wife, actress Gena Rowlands, who earned an Academy Award nomination in what is probably Cassavetes’s best-known film, A Woman Under the Influence. In most cases, Carney devotes an entire chapter to each film, beginning with Shadows (screened in 1958) and ending with Love-Streams (1984). The author’s technique is to let Cassavetes speak for himself whenever possible, so the text is largely an anthology of the filmmaker’s published and previously unpublished comments on his life and work, intercut with Carney’s transitions, explanations, and revisions. (In interviews, as Carney shows repeatedly, Cassavetes often considered the truth a boring companion who ought to remain silent.) Oddly, although the volume displays an indefatigable scholarship, it lacks some of the scholarly apparatus that would make it more useful for subsequent students and scholars—e.g., endnotes and an index.

Fascinating footage of the mind and heart of an American original. (48 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-571-20157-1
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2001