Catching up with Cassavetes: #9 – “Opening Night” (1977)

snip5When are we not acting, How am I not myself, and Why has it taken me so long to finally see the best film to tackle these questions of reality in such a quiet meta and self aware kinda way? Yes, I realize that using the word “meta” followed by the words “self aware” is either an oxymoron or just plain moronic, but I don’t care. Correct use of grammar be damned. I LOVE THIS FILM!

Once you’re convincing in a part, the audience expects you as that” – Gena Rowlands as Myrtle Gordon.

Coming off her Oscar nominated performance in A Woman Under the Influence (1974), which arguably is the best of her career, it’s darn near impossible to hear Gena’s character deliver that above quoted line and not wonder whose mouth it is we’re hearing it from. Is it Gena the actress, or the actress character she is playing, Myrtle? This is but one example of many – and a very meta one at that – in where the concept of dual realities are being presented. In fact, the film has so many mindful subtle meta occurrences that trying to ignore them would be nothing more than an exercise in futility, and to list them all now would spoil the fun of discovering them on your own.

Now, on the off chance that you are able to – or would even want to – ignore all of these marvelous meta moments, then what you’re left watching is a rather straight forward character study of a stage actress and her descent into madness, albeit an exceptionally well acted one. Being that this is a Cassavetes film however, and that intimately capturing characters and making them feel like your everyday Joe or Joe-anne Schmo is what he excels at, it should come as no surprise when Myrtle’s anguish becomes as affecting towards me as it did. As far as I’m concerned, engagingly examining the causes of this character’s woes is but mere window dressing on a much larger narrative taking place.

This is a film about aging. It’s about regret. It’s about accepting you for who you are, and who you were. It’s about madness. It’s about stress. It’s at times simultaneously dramatic, funny, and scary. It’s about overcoming adversity. It’s also a sublime example of how to get the most out of form (filmmaking techniques) and theme (narrative) without ever coming across as being too obvious, pretentious or hyper aware.

Now nine films in of the twelve that Cassavetes has directed, I can say that this is easily my favorite. It’s damned near perfect.

Mertytl, you were never in it tonight, not for a moment. Now I don’t know if it’s because you don’t want to, because you can’t, because you’re nuts. I don’t know. Or because the play is about aging and you’re repulsed by it. I don’t know. But I think it’s an important play.” – Ben Gazzara as Manny Victor

And I’d like to add to that quote, an important film.


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Categories: Director Spotlight, Reviews


  1. Catching up with Cassavetes: #10 – “Gloria” (1980) | - December 16, 2014

    […] Catching up with Cassavetes: #1 – “Shadows” (1959) Catching up with Cassavetes: #2 – “Too Late Blues” (1961) Catching up with Cassavetes: #3 – “A Child is Waiting” (1963) Catching up with Cassavetes: #4 – “Faces” (1968) Catching up with Cassavetes: #5 – “Husbands” (1970) Catching up with Cassavetes: #6 – “Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) Catching up with Cassavetes: #7 – “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974) Catching up with Cassavetes: #8 – “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (1976) Catching up with Cassavetes: #9 – “Opening Night” (1977) […]

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