Opening Night is the latest John Cassavetes film BFI being re-released on a dual format blu-ray/dvd combo. They start they’re reissues back in April with landmark films Shadows and Faces (which I just picked up the other day). One of the very first reviews I did for the people’s movies / cinehouse was Shadows which to this day remains my favourite Cassavetes directorial effort.
Opening Night is a later Cassavetes film in that golden period of American cinema known as the New Hollywood of the 1970s. Cassavetes was one of the first truly independent American directors (sometime mistaken as the first but Sam Fuller was a decade before). John would act or sometimes direct Hollywood films so he could fund (and distribute) his more personal improvisational melodramas. John Sayles would later do a similar thing but in that case screenwriting.
Opening Night is very much A Woman Under the Influence (one of Cassavetes’ best films and most well known) goes Broadway. Like A Woman Under the Influence it’s stars John Cassavetes’ real life wife Gena Rowlands who plays the central character Myrtle Gordon, a actress who is rehearsing for her latest play. The play is about a woman unable to admit she is aging and it has many parallels to her own mid-life crisis. Myrtle witnesses a young woman who gets killed after trying to meet her after a preview of the play and this deeply troubles her and she feels responsible for her death. Her feelings of guilt start to interfere with her professional work but she also has a serious drinking problem as well. The film deals with her very complicated relationships with the stage director (played by frequent Cassavetes collaborator Ben Gazzara) producer, fellow actors (including one played by John Cassavetes) etc. She also starts having hallucinations of the dead girl near the end of the film, which reminds you of Black Swan, a similar themed film about the parallels of a stage life and personal life and the eventual merging of the 2.
Like many of Cassavetes films he could certain use with some reigning in during the editing process (many of his films have went though many cuts and released and then withdrawn and re-released) and the film suffers from many way too long. It’s round the 2 hour and 30 minute mark with many scenes of the play wasting the running time and being pretty obvious with it’s parallels with Myrtle’s life. Cassavetes was first and foremost an actor and all his films are very much actor’s pieces and he is great and bringing out great performances but they can become too actory and stagey (most evident in this film for obvious reasons). Cassavetes has always struggled with pacing in his films and this is no exception but it has a great performance by Gena Rowlands. I would recommend seeing Woman Under the Influence before you see this, which is the superior film and performance.