John Cassavetes: Anti-Melodrama
The time has gone when Hollywood was the kingdom of the filmmaking
industry. The novel and surprising devices in making film seem
to have given out. From the late 60fs to the early 70fs, the movement
called gThe New American Cinemah took place in the United States.
John Cassavetes lived and made films at that time, but he occupied
a unique position from that stream.
He started his cinematic career as an actor rather than a director. His first film was made in 1959. Through his life, he made exactly a dozen of films. In his lifetime and especially after his death, he was highly evaluated by French and Japanese film critics. While writing this thesis, unfortunately I could not find enough reference books about Cassavetes written in English except Raymond Carneyfs. But I could find more books written in or translated into French. Some of the interviews were taped in English, but I cannot find anything except those of the French translation version. As this fact shows, his films have been considered less important in American film history. In this thesis, I will refer mainly to the books of Raymond Carney, the American film scholar, and of Thierry Jousee, the French film critic.
In so-called Hollywood films, the family as the result of romantic marriage has been shown. Although the family has many problems and obstacles, the absolute family tie connects the family members. The children are the treasures in the family. The fatherfs role and motherfs role in the family is strictly formed. Even if a member of the family separates from the family, he/she is still a member of the family and is welcomed when he/she returns home. The home is a sweet, sweet home and always will be.
On the other hand, in Cassavetesf films, the divorce or the changing relationship of the family appears. In his second film, Faces, the protagonist deprecatingly says in the middle of breaking up with his wife, hno place is like a homeh. This demonstrates Cassavetesf stance on the family. He tried to depict the small and subtle changes occurred in a family not in the way that other Hollywood films do. What is most unique in Cassavetesf films is that sometimes a personfs excess love drives the whole family unbalanced. The balance in the family is not reliable forever but becomes the crucial element to determine the future of the family.
The themes of family and the American dream have been the major subjects in the American films. Cassavetes continuously and repeatedly drew from the American middle-class family life. The actors who can often be seen in his films are his actual families and his friends. He shot his films, especially his early films with shaky hand-held cameras. These facts might let him seem as an amateur-filmmaker making a kind of home-movies. Most of his films did not achieve commercial success. That gives him a position closer to that of amateur filmmakers. But what I want to emphasize is that he should be estimated in the films of mainstream considering how much influence he had given on the younger filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Jacques Doillon.
The purpose of this paper is to find the changes of Cassavetesf style and the film-work from his first film, Shadows, to his last film, Love Streams and to search Cassavetesf favorite motifs, which exist in the films of different genres. (He took the film called Big Trouble after Love Streams, but he did not admit that he made it because he only replaced another director who was fired. So I consider Love Streams as his last film.) Moreover, I would like to mention about Cassavetesf traits that are unnoticed by Carney or Jousee, such as the motifs of the laugh and of the dance in Cassavetsf films.
I would like to proceed in this thesis as follows; in Chapter One, I will analyze Shadows focusing on the relationship between the characterization and its cinematic style. In Chapter Two, I would like to examine the unusual cinematic device in Love Streams. This film stands out from his films, for it includes the metaphors of death and dream sequences. An interesting thing is that the metaphors of death have something to do with the dream scenes. The French film critic, Thierry Jousse pointed out that there was a close relationship between Shadows and Love Streams, in his book titled John Cassavetes. The time interval of these two films is twenty-five years. Cassavetesf cinematic style and his point of view about his life-long theme (love) might have been changed during the long interval. So analyzing these two films may lead to a productive result.
In Chapter Three, I will make clear the motifs that frequently appear in Cassavetesf films such as laugh@and dance. In Chapter Four, I will deal with the theme of family drama, which is considered as the only and life-long theme for Cassavetes in the connection with the melodramatic structure in his films.
In this paper, I limit the discussion on details about Shadows and Love Streams in Chapter one and two. In Chapter three and four, I will refer to all of Cassavetesf films (except Husbands) in order to analyze his characteristics. As regards Husbands, I could not watch the film either on screen or on VCR; so I cannot refer to it. I will also turn my attention to the film scripts, which did not come out as films, such as Knives to trace John Cassavetesf characteristic in the script.
In conclusion, I would like to make clear how the charactersf melodramatic point of view of the world and their adaptability for real life merge into one in Cassavetesf films. The reason why the characters seem so vivid in Cassavetesf films is that they finally show their flexibility and spiritual strength to the real world. The charactersf strength may be derived from the absolute perception that real life is different from the melodramatic world.