Jarmusch on Cassavetes
Two directors among the most often misspelled and/or mispronounced, I’m sure.
I just came across this from ol’ Jarmusch. He starts with saying how, when he sits down to watch a Cassavetes film, he prepares his analytical mind to observe a master’s craft, w/r/t scene construction and camera work, etc.
But what happens is, and here’s the jaw-obliterating punctum of the short letter copied below:
“But the thing is this: as soon as the film begins, introduces its world to me, I’m lost. The expectation of that particular enlightenment evaporates. It leaves me there in the dark, alone. Human beings now inhabit that world inside the screen. They also seem lost, alone. I watch them. I observe every detail of their movements, their expressions, their reactions. I listen carefully to what each one is saying, to the frayed edges of someone’s tone of voice, the concealed mischief in the rhythm of another’s speech. I’m no longer thinking about acting. I’m oblivious to “dialogue.” I’ve forgotten the camera.”
Especially for someone concerned with the never-ending journey toward mastering this craft of dramatic writing, this is the kind of description that calls my every follicle to attention.
In fiction writing it’s described as having your words disappear so the story is all there is. Not that I don’t see value in having a distinct and even overwhelming style: see personal favorites Patrick White and William Gass. Not to mention Deadwood.
But Cassavetes is one of those rare collaborative artists who saw himself — or claimed to see himself — as almost more of an organizer, a facilitator. A director, yes, but the actors weren’t his playthings. Hence all the talk of how fluid his scripting supposedly was because he emphasized the value of collaboration. He wanted his whole team’s name up in lights, even the crew. That ceding of control may have been the key to his success.
That’s why Cassavetes’ signature style is in some sense a partial absence of Cassavetes.
But that’s not going to stop me from looking closer.
As I finish up my scene-by-scene analysis of the Breaking Bad pilot, I’m approaching a fork in the road. Do I move on to the next Breaking Bad script, pick another TV show, or pivot to do a full feature before returning to break down more television?
I really want to take on Cassavetes’ Faces because, while I’ve seen it only twice, Jarmusch’s description is the exact feeling I get. It’s so overwhelmingly human that merely watching it doesn’t give purchase to digging for craft. The human nuance is so rich and buttery, dig as you might, it’s hard to find any “structure” beneath it.
And that’s exactly why it’s necessary to look.
Also, I read somewhere that over 40 screenplays, a handful of plays, and a novel, all by John Cassavetes, are laid up somewhere by Gena Rowlands, who’s keeping a close guard over her husband’s unpublished work.
If you’re out there, Ms. Rowlands, please let the archives out into the open!