Cassavetes’ Prelude and Postscript

This article, appearing here for the first time in English, was commissioned by the Torino Film Festival to accompany a John Cassavetes retrospective in November 2007, and was published there in a substantial catalogue/collection in Italian translation. I’m sorry I can’t do a better job of illustrating this: apart from some pictures of Cassavetes, Rowlands, and Carol Kane, there are no appropriate images available to me. I’m grateful, in any case, to Jim Healy and Emanuela Martini for asking me to write this. — J.R.

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Cassavetes’ Prelude and Postscript: The Original Shadows and A Woman of Mystery

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

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I consider myself unusually fortunate in having been able to see the original version of Shadows in January 2004. Shot in the spring of 1957 and screened publicly only four or five times, the first completed version of the first film of John Cassavetes had been considered irretrievably lost for almost half a century.

More specifically, I saw the first of two public projections at the Rotterdam International Film Festival of a good video transfer of the rediscovered 16-millimeter print, presented by Ray Carney, the man who rediscovered the print. After these two screenings, objections were raised by Cassavetes’ widow, Gena Rowlands, with the result that subsequent public screenings have been forbidden by her. Three very brief clips from this film have been posted on Carney’s web site (scroll down) — specifically to refute and counter Rowlands’ quoted statement, “There is no first version of Shadows. The print should never be seen. It was never meant to be seen,” and it appears that there have been no subsequent public screenings, with the possible exception of some of Carney’s classes at Boston University. Even our understanding of the dispute between Rowlands and Carney has been limited by the fact that the only detailed account of it that we have is Carney’s, found on his web site, the source of the above quotation from her.

I consider myself even more fortunate in having been able to attend a performance of A Woman of Mystery — a play written and directed by Cassavetes, and the last of his fully achieved works —- in May 1987. This production, held over a couple of weeks at the Court Theater in West Hollywood, had very few performances —- only “a dozen or so,” according to Cassavetes biographer Tom Charity — and seating there was quite limited. According to Carney, the theater had only 40 seats; another Cassavetes biographer, Marshall Fine, reports it had 66. I recall with certainty only that it was a theater in the round (or one where a few rows of seats occupied at least two or three adjacent sides of the central playing area) and that I very nearly didn’t get in, even though I came quite early, because the performance had sold out; due to the failure of one customer to turn up, I was ushered in at the very last moment. Contrary to Carney’s claim in Cassavetes on Cassavetes that ”the work played to standing-room only audiences every night,” standing room wasn’t an option there given the physical layout of the auditorium. And as for the number of seats, there’s nothing surprising about the discrepancy of figures, because shaky facts tend to abound in the very few accounts we have about the production. (To cite two more examples: in a Cassavetes obituary that I wrote for Sight and Sound in early 1989, I claimed that the production took place in the summer rather than the spring; and most accounts list Charles Durning in the cast, though he wasn’t in the production I saw and his name isn’t mentioned in the detailed printed program that I still have, which contains an addendum insert listing some added cast and crew members.)

I recall hearing at the time on the grapevine that Cassavetes hoped to make a film of A Woman of Mystery, but whether or not this was idle chatter or not was impossible to determine. (Much later, I hoped that the play could be published, though this hasn’t happened either.) Given his physical condition at the time, this may have been wishful thinking. He doesn’t appear in any of the photographs included in the program, and according to the account of writer David Ehrenstein, who attended another performance of the play during the same period I did, seated between Lelia Goldoni and Seymour Cassell, “Cassavetes was there with an edema that puffed his stomach out in a way that made him look pregnant.” (He eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver on February 3, 1989.)

***

Because I have to depend on subjective memories of single viewings of both A Woman of Mystery and the original Shadows — 20 years later in the case of the play, three years later in the case of the film (and bolstered in this case by a couple of articles I wrote at the time, portions of which are recycled here) — I can’t be as authoritative about either as I’d like to be. But I can at least cite some factors that shaped these viewings and my subsequent memories of them.

There hasn’t been a text of the play that I’ve been able to consult, but I was intrigued to discover some evidence on the Internet of subsequent productions —- the most prominent of which by far was quite recent, during the spring of 2006, when a French translation of the play which retained its English title, starring Myriam Boyer and directed by Marc Goldberg, was staged in Paris at the Vingtième Théâtre. And filmmaker and stage director Vassilis Vafeas has listed a production of the play (I don’t know where or when) as one of his professional credits.

By the time I saw A Woman of Mystery in 1987, I had seen versions of all of Cassavetes’ 13 features, from Shadows through Love Streams (1984), so my viewing and critical understanding of this play —- the only Cassavetes play or stage production I’ve ever seen — was very much informed by my familiarity with this work. The same was even more true of my viewing of the original Shadows, with the additional complication of having already heard or read a couple of first-person accounts of a film that I’d long believed to be permanently lost.

I regard the second version of Shadows and Love Streams as Cassavetes’ two greatest films. The first version of Shadows can be seen as both a rough sketch for and a prelude to its successor, and A Woman of Mystery can be seen as both an afterthought and a postscript to Love Streams. In short, one can think of these two elusive works as the brackets to Cassavetes’ career.

***

Developed out of Cassavates’ improvisational acting workshop at the time, Shadows centers on three grown siblings who live together in midtown Manhattan —- Hugh (Hugh Hurd), a third-rate black nightclub singer; Benny (Ben Carruthers), younger and lighter-skinned, a troubled would-be jazz musician; and Lelia (Lelia Goldoni), the youngest and most sheltered, light-skinned enough to pass involuntarily for white. The core of the original improvisation and of the film is Lelia meeting and falling for a young white Romeo, Tony (Tony Ray, son of Nicholas Ray), at a party. He belatedly discovers her racial background when he sees her greeting Hugh at the siblings’ flat, and is so shocked and disoriented by this discovery that she becomes devastated and traumatized.

Extensively reshot by Cassavetes two years later and re-edited into the film as we now know it — with the financial assistance of British Lion, which agreed to distribute the results — the shorter and rougher version was heralded by Jonas Mekas in 1960 as not only superior to its successor, but a major aesthetic breakthrough, and we had to wait 40-odd years to test the merits of his claim. But can we test it even now? Perhaps the most valuable history lesson afforded by seeing the first version in 2004 was that calling Mekas either right or wrong in his judgment was much less easy than it may have sounded beforehand, because the ground had meanwhile shifted under all our feet.

Part of the problem for me is that the second version is as personally important to me as any of the films of the French New Wave —- and has been ever since I discovered and then kept returning to it when I was 18, on spring break from boarding school during its New York commercial run. (Hailing from Alabama, I was especially moved by the sensitive and subtle way it handled the racial subtext of the story almost entirely through the performances rather than through any points made in the dialogue.) This means that I’m likely to resist Mekas’ preference for the first version for the same reason that he would have resisted my preference for the second — because we both initially responded to love at first sight, and when it comes to primal experiences of this kind, first impressions are impossible to overcome. Even more importantly, the whole configuration of cinema as we know it has been radically altered over the past 40-odd years, in more ways than we can begin to count or recognize. Obviously part of what Jonas was responding to was some sort of gem in the rough, because one can’t avoid the fact —- and Jonas certainly didn’t avoid it, clearly regarding the film as a sort of accidental masterpiece —- that the initial version is far more riddled with technical flaws than the second: bad lip sync, klutzy exposition, an overall sense of narrative sprawl in spite of all the dogged obeisance to certain narrative conventions. Looking at the same film in 2004, a gem in the rough is also what I saw, even though the gem in my case was largely my recollection of the second version. Consequently, as illogical as this sounds, the first version can be read by me only as a shadow of the second. Maybe this is because we invariably impose our own time frames on those of film history whether we want to or not.

Another history lesson afforded by the first Shadows that stems from this incongruity is how unreliable memories tend to be, and how often film history tends to be a matter of copying and recopying the same errors ad infinitum. Virtually every account of the first version that we have in print prior to 2004 gives the running time as 60 minutes (versus the second version’s 81), but it turns out to be 18 minutes longer than that, only three minutes shorter than the “longer” version. Furthermore, Mekas gave the impression that the original was more nonnarrative than the second version —- an impression partially confirmed by a conversation I once had with the writer Philip Lopate, who saw one of the original screenings — but in fact it has a more conventional narrative line with more conventional continuity and crosscutting much of the time (following all of the major characters before, during, and after the party where Lelia and Tony meet), even though other parts might be said to dawdle when it comes to advancing the story proper. (Examples of the latter range from details of shops and various kinds of street activity during Bennie’s walks to digressions in the dialogue — such as a semicoherent anecdote about Jews recounted by Rupert Crosse, the wonderful actor playing Hugh’s manager, at a party). On the other hand, it might be argued that part of what undoubtedly looked transgressive half a century ago looks classical now, while certain other elements that no one appears to have noticed at the time — most notably Charles Mingus’s original jazz score — now seem truly experimental.

Part of what makes this score experimental is the way it periodically editorializes on the characters and action, so that a muted trumpet (probably Clarence Shaw’s) replacing Tony Ray’s voice in a phone conversation becomes a mockery of both the character and his pretensions, and a Jimmy Knepper trombone solo playing over a subsequent appearance of Tony offers a less aggressive or obvious example of the same procedure. (This recalls the musical “conversations” between Mingus and Eric Dolphy that were carried out later, one striking sample of which can be heard on the superb 1960 Candid album Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, culminating in an “argument” between the former’s implacable bass and the latter’s squawking bass clarinet.) Insofar as this editorializing seems to take over the jobs of the actors and director, thus pointing up certain weaknesses in the dramaturgy, it’s easy to see why Cassavetes eliminated it in the second version — just as he chose to eliminate a striking musical passage used over the scene of Bennie, Dennis (Dennis Savalas), and Tom (Tom Allen) recovering from a harsh alley beating, with the sound of Mingus and some of his fellow musicians, such as Danny Richmond, disconcertingly shouting out a gospel tune, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”.

Another experimental aspect of the score is the film offering a highly fragmented and disjunctive series of diverse musical groupings and settings —- most likely as an unwitting consequence of the editing, so it probably doesn’t reflect any conscious strategy on the part of either Cassavetes or Mingus. (Cassavetes’ own account of the recording session emphasizes that he mainly wanted improvisation from the musicians while Mingus was trying to record ambitiously composed and arranged charts; the a cappella improvised solos by saxophonist Shafi Hadi were added later.)

Carney, who miraculously found the lost print after many years of obsessively hunting for it, had the fragile (though infrequently shown) 16-millimeter print transferred to DigiBeta video for the two Rotterdam screenings. Ideally we can hope that both versions will eventually turn up on the same DVD — but of course we live in a far from ideal universe, as Rowlands’ subsequent responses have suggested. (The rights issues with the first Shadows are likely to be thorny, especially if we factor in the use of two Frank Sinatra cuts, “My Funny Valentine” and “Like Someone in Love,” during separate scenes of Lelia dancing.) According to Carney, the film wound up in a lost and found department of the New York subway —- though how it got there is anyone’s guess —- where it wound up being auctioned off with diverse other stray articles, and purchased by a man who had no particular interest in film or knowledge about Cassavetes, who apparently examined the film only to discover whether it might be porn or not. (For portions of the remaining saga of how it was both lost and found, see Carney’s web site, which also reproduces an excerpt from Mekas’ January 27, 1960 Village Voice column defending this version over its better-known successor.)

No less fascinating are scenes in both versions that are substantially the same — altered, say, only by a better lip sync or a slightly different line reading — but which wind up meaning something quite different. The most remarkable instance of this kind of play with meaning can probably be found in the two versions of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 (1971 and 1972), where Rivette consciously sought in many cases to have the same shots have radically different meanings; here one suspects that such variations tend to crop up more accidentally, and often as the results of other changes (such as the music), but they are fascinating none the less. One of the final scenes in the release version, after Benny, Dennis, and Tom get their harsh beating for fooling around with some other guys’ dates, shows Benny remarking to his friends, “You want me to be corny and say I’ve learned a lesson, okay, I’ve learned a lesson,” and implicitly vowing to change his carousing ways. But in the original version, the same scene occurs much earlier in the film, followed by Benny, Dennis, and Tom behaving precisely the same way as before, so the meaning of this speech is almost reversed: what gives some sort of closure in the second version, complete with a tacked-on moral that lends an unexpected dignity and note of self-recognition to Benny’s otherwise lost character, is subsequently made to seem hollow and almost meaningless in the original.

Considering how much mileage is gotten out of Lelia losing her virginity in the release version, it’s a bit of a shock to discover that she doesn’t have sex with Tony at all in the first version, but merely spends the evening talking to him. Here again, there is some reason to suspect that this difference in plot came about through some form of incompetence, because Carney reports that there were so many retakes of Lelia and Tony’s “love scene” in the first version that Goldoni’s lips started to bleed, even though none of these takes was finally used. So might we conclude that the seduction never happened in the first version only because Cassavetes wasn’t happy with the results when it did?

More often, the weaknesses in the first version aren’t so much omissions as belt-and-suspenders overstatements and reinforcements —- scenes offering cumbersome explanations or rationalizations of what we’ve just seen that were sensibly stripped away in the upgraded 1959 version. There’s even an awkwardly placed remark to Bennie by either Dennis or Tom after a visit to his flat: “I can’t figure it out. Hughie -— he’s so dark to be your brother!” (The fact that Goldoni was a white actress playing a black character would much later be attacked as politically incorrect by academic critic David E. James, indicating to me a grievous loss rather than a gain; back in 1961 the performance seemed brave, adventurous, and even beautiful.)

Carney has maintained that Shadows is a minor film next to Faces, but I would guess that this is at least partially because he identifies more with the middle-class milieu of the latter film than with the bohemian world of Shadows – the reverse of my own priorities. But as Nicole Brenez recently and sensibly pointed out to me, both films are major works, so ranking them in this fashion is fairly pointless. (A more fruitful comparison might be made between Shadows and Love Streams, Cassavetes’ last feature and my other favorite, which is also about the love between male and female siblings triumphing over the failure of other male-female relationships.) The main thing we have to be grateful for is a modest yet crucial addition to the Cassavetes canon —- not simply a “first draft” of something we already know but a whiff of the chaos and the raw passion from which it sprang, which is surely the beauty that Mekas found and defended.

***


Given the dearth of factual as well as critical material that we have about A Woman of Mystery, I’d like to begin by quoting Cassavetes’ own description of it (“About the Play”) in the program —- perhaps the fullest description that we have — as well as the cast and production credits and a list of the scenes, all from the same source:

I have noticed that people who were loved or felt they were loved seemed to lead fuller, happier lives. All of my own work in theater and film has been concerned with varying themes of this love.

A Woman of Mystery has to do with an unexplored segment of our society referred to as the homeless, bag ladies, winos, bums — labels that are much easier for the public to deal with than the individual.

It has been difficult to explore this particular woman of mystery. She is not only homeless (if homeless means without the comfort of love), but she is nameless, without the practical application of social security, or any other identity. Alone, she clings to her baggages on the street.

Our heroine enters into a series of encounters that challenge her isolation, her inability to communicate. A young woman passerby seems to feel that this woman with the suitcases is the reincarnation of her dead mother. An emotional dismissal of the younger woman causes the woman’s memory to play tricks on her. A young man seems to touch unexplained dependency in her and a clerk at a travel bureau gets dangerously close to exchanging love.

Changes continue as the woman comes forward, attempting sociability. But, in the end, normal feelings of affection are too difficult to return to. The woman has been permanently disabled by the long discontinuance of feelings of love.

Cast: Gene Rowlands (The Woman); Carol Kane (Georgie [The Girl With the Missing Mother], The Flower Girl, Betty [A Waitress], Ziggy, The Waitress; Roy Brocksmith (A Bum, Man Do-Gooder, Pierre, Mr. Specht, Restaurant Owner [Young-Girl Lover]); Carol Arthur (Woman Do-Gooder, Unemployed Woman, Waitress [Sandwich Shop], Traveler, Woman in the Bathroom, June, Tragic Rich Dowager, Mary Leftakis); Alan Stock (The Young Man The Woman Mistakes for Tony, The Travel Agent, Tod); Janet Alhanti (Coney Island Fortune Teller); Jean Field (Waitress [Sandwich Shop]); Steve Moore (The Man with the Piano and the Accordion); Whitey Roberts (Street Entertainer).

[The Addendum names, among others, three street musicians, a sidewalk monologist, a street poet, and four musicians.]

Production design: James Eric
Stage manager: Jordan Corngold
Costume design: Cathy Cooper
Lighting design: Grant Hogarth
Props: Patrick Satcher
Production: Richard Michael Kaye
Direction: John Cassavetes

[The Addendum also lists a production coordinator, three additional people on props, a soundboard operator, hair and makeup, wardrobe, and four production assistants.]

Scenes:

Act 1
Scene 1: The morning. Unemployment bureau.
Scene 2: Night in the heart of the city. Midtown.
Scene 3: 4:00 p.m. – A Coney Island fortune teller tells Woman about herself.
Scene 4: The Street – Day – A man she mistakes for someone she loves.
Scene 5: A high-class Sandwich Shop where the woman meets her professed daughter for the first time.
Scene 6: A Travel Bureau where the Woman looks to further upgrade her life and resolve her lovelessness.
Scene 7: A Train Station Bathroom – the Woman washes her clothes and takes a bath.


Act II
Scene 1: At a Nightclub – the Woman, et al, sparkling and clean. Scene 2: A Fancy Small Hotel Restaurant – Morning – The Woman decides to have an elegant breakfast. A strange encounter with her for the residents in the Hotel Restaurant. In and out of reality.

Act III:
Scene 1: A party at Pierre’s, and another encounter for the Woman and a young girl.
Scene 2: The Final Encounter – A Fancy restaurant in between lunch and dinner. The Woman invites an old friend from her past – brings the girl who claims to be her daughter.

It’s worth noting that the description of individual scenes, which is surely that of the playwright, is every bit as critical and as interpretive as “About the Play”. “In and out of reality,” we read of Act II, Scene 2, but judging from what I can recall of my experience as a audience member, what was “in” and what was “out” was almost impossible to distinguish. According to Cassavetes, “A young woman passerby [Carol Kane] seems to feel that this woman with the suitcases [the lead character, played by Gena Rowlands] is the reincarnation of her dead mother. An emotional dismissal of the younger woman causes the woman’s memory to play tricks on her”. But when I saw this particular scene, I was more prone to believe that the young woman (as described in Scenes, “her professed daughter,” “the girl who claims to be her daughter”) was in fact encountering her real mother, who was in denial about their relationship.

Carol Kane

Does this mean that I was misreading the scene or misunderstanding it? Not necessarily. Lack of definition and lack of identity are at the very root of the play —- as they are, significantly, at the root of Shadows, along with the theme of love — and I’m not sure to what extent Cassavetes’ own critical reading of the events in the play should be regarded as privileged. What surprised me at the time, in fact, was how much Rowlands’ character seemed to resemble one of Samuel Beckett’s tramps —- or, even more, the narrator of Beckett’s novel Molloy —- in the fluidity and shapelessness of her unfixed identity. Despite the fact that this nameless woman, like Rowlands’ character in Love Streams, is often associated with being weighted down with a great deal of cumbersome baggage — which eventually also includes a menagerie of animals (including two ponies, a goat, several birds, and a dog) that she purchases from a pet shop in Love Streams, and in A Woman of Mystery includes a shopping cart as well as many other items — she is still mainly defined by her lost identity, which means both her literal lack of definition and resulting difficulty that others, including the audience, have in making contact with her. Indeed, our own lack of mooring extends to a lack of guidance in how we interpret certain scenes: when we suddenly see the nameless woman, dressed in an evening gown, enter a ritzy nightclub at the beginning of Act II, we don’t know if we’re watching a flashback, a flash-forward, or a dream sequence, and nothing that she says or does makes the “placement” of this scene any clearer.

In fact, the nameless heroine of A Woman of Mystery is a clear development and outgrowth of Sarah Lawson/Sarah Harmon in Love Streams. Sarah loses her family and home at the outset of the story —- and with them, her married name, Lawson —- and then exists only temporarily as Sarah Harmon when she stays with her brother, Robert Harmon (Cassavetes), before leaving his house in the midst of a thunderstorm at night and becoming homeless again. (Furthermore, what inspires her to leave is a dream that somehow convinces her that her husband wants her back. One might add that her seeming madness also connects her to Mabel Longhetti, the title heroine played by Rowlands in the 1974 A Woman Under the Influence.)

Even though there was something rather startling in 1987 about the modernist aspects of Cassavetes’ play —- its Beckett-like qualities and some of its radical departures from realist conventions in its closing stretches —- this modernism seemed far from unprecedented in Cassavetes’ work. The first time I saw his Opening Night (1977), I was reminded in some ways of the crossovers between theater and life found in Jacques Rivette’s L’amour fou (1968) —- suggesting not that Cassavetes was influenced by Rivette but that he was intuitively wrestling with some of the same issues. Rightly or wrongly regarding Cassavetes as something of an intellectual primitive, I felt he was none the less stumbling his way into the same theoretical terrain as a filmmaker like Rivette. More generally, I concluded that at least as far back as during the precredits sequence of Faces (1968) — when Richard Forst (John Marley) and some business associates sit down in a screening room to watch a film that initially appears to be Faces —- Cassavetes had been a bit of a primitive modernist all along. By the same token, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) might be considered in some respects as a kind of lowbrow version of something like Jean Cocteau’s Testament of Orpheus (1959), while the climactic musical fantasy “dream” sequence in Love Streams (1984), an operatic ballet — and the sudden, inexplicable transformation soon afterwards of a dog, one of the animals in Sarah’s recently purchased menagerie, into a bearded and bare-chested young man, provoking an amused query from Cassavetes’ own character, “Who the fuck are you?” — could be regarded as the apotheosis of Cassavetes’ eccentric modernist tendencies, at least prior to A Woman of Mystery. Indeed, one could even postulate a direct lineage from Robert’s “Who the fuck are you?” in Love Streams to the heroine’s implicit, never-ceasing self-interrogation, her “Who the fuck am I?”, in Cassavetes’ final play.

Having written elsewhere about the source of this dog turning into a man at the end of Love Streams, it seems worth bringing up my explanation again for the light this detail sheds on Cassavetes’ overall unconventional approach to storytelling. Seemingly the most irrational of all the film’s fantasy eruptions, it actually turns out to have a rational or at least practical basis, as we discover from Cassavetes associate Bo Harwood, whom Charity quotes at some length in his book John Cassavetes: Lifeworks (London: Omnibus Press, 2001, pp. 195-197).


Neil Bell, the bare-chested young man, is a mime who actually played a dog in the (apparently) very different stage play by Ted Allan, also directed by Cassavetes, that the film was derived from — initially inside a dog suit, and later (at Cassavetes’ request) without one. Cassavetes insisted on keeping Bell on the film’s payroll long before he figured out how he could use him — until he got to the final scene, when he decided to use Bell only momentarily, and without the dog suit. (The film was basically shot in sequence.)

Charity, like everyone else, is understandably bewildered by Bell’s appearance in the film, yet surely this can be regarded as a telling example of Cassavetes’ existential method whereby existence precedes essence and presence becomes meaning: the fact that Bell was around essentially led to Cassavetes using him. As Charity cites him telling an interviewer much earlier in the book, Shadows “just became a way of life where you get close to people,” and I would argue that his last and greatest feature — one of the most beautiful of all film testaments — derives from precisely the same impulse.

The two most meaningful theatrical experiences I’ve had to date — at least from the point of human content and political address, as opposed to spectacle — both dealt with the dispossessed: junkies in the Living Theater’s production of Jack Gelber’s The Connection, directed by Judith Malina, which I first saw in April 1960 (and returned to twice, circa 1961 and 1962), and the homeless in A Woman of Mystery. Both productions were defined in some respects by their strategies for guiding the audience through the intermissions. In The Connection, one of the “junkies” followed the customers into the lobby and begged for handouts; in Cassavetes’ play, as already noted, truly homeless entertainers appeared onstage during the various breaks. The latter ruse was less confrontational than the former because, at least as I dimly (and perhaps unreliably) remember them, Cassavetes’ entr’acte entertainers sought only to entertain, not to intimidate. But in both cases the line between playacting and real dispossession was never allowed to disappear. And because of this refusal, I was forced to deal with the limitations of my imagination and the imagination of the actors, no matter how good they were. They both sent me back to the world with precise instructions about how little I knew.

It’s worth adding that Malina’s production of The Connection was precisely contemporary with the second version of Shadows. The important relation of both works to jazz, all the way down to their obligatory references to Charlie Parker, were central to their bohemian self-definitions, their project of escaping and defying many of the norms of middle-class life, as well as their existential and confrontational way of addressing an audience. Significantly, Cassavetes took up the theme of jazz again when he went to Hollywood after the success of Shadows to make Too Late Blues (1961), and the fact that this latter film dealt with a jazz musician (Bobby Darin) becoming corrupted by “selling out” clearly reflected Cassavetes’ own ambivalence about losing his independence (as he was to do even more painfully a year later, on A Child is Waiting).

When Cassavetes finally and decisively returned to independence with Faces (1968), the fact that he was now dramatically shifting his focus to the middle-class —- an emphasis that would be amplified in Husbands (1970) —- altered what might be called his playing field for most of the remainder of his career, widening this focus mainly to admit working-class characters in some of his other films (e.g., A Woman Under the Influence, Gloria). He would return to some approximate version of bohemia in most of his late features only in the sense that his protagonists had some relation to the arts or to show-biz: the owner of a strip joint in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976/1978), theater people in Opening Night (1977), and the fact that Robert Harden is (rather unconvincingly) supposed to be a writer in Love Streams. (Gloria, 1980, which Cassavetes originally had no intention of directing, had, by virtue of being a crime thriller, a more ambivalent relation to domesticity.) In these terms, the utter absence of domesticity in A Woman of Mystery — which is not at all the same thing as the flight from domesticity found in Husbands — becomes truly apocalyptic.


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