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The following post is by Trylon volunteer and programer John Moret who is a regular contributor to All-Star Video.

The 1970s was a golden age for American Cinema. John Cassavetes should stand up next to Robert Altman as one of the reasons that is so. Unfortunately, he is too often overlooked by the likes of Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese.  He is in every way their equal, but chose to work in decidedly unmarketable territory… character pieces that resemble the complexities of real life. He deplored violence and his films share little resemblance to the extremely popular gritty directors of his day. For instance, during the making of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, he hesitated during the filming of the titular scene. Production stopped for hours as he debated with his producer over including the violent sequence in the film. In the end, the producer convinced him, the title of the film was The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, after all.

Cassavetes was famously generous. He often worked with a small group of performers and friends. His wife, Gena Rowlands, was a brilliant actress that often led the troupe both on and off camera. They were known to work in their home, often cooking themselves for the cast and crew. Some of them would live with the couple in hard times. Cassavetes acted regularly in mediocre (and some brilliant, ie: Rosemary’s Baby) films to fund his small budget, completely independent directorial efforts.

His films range from jazz surrealism (Shadows) to reflexive stage drama (Opening Night). They are about social structures, family, love and the quiet moments we each have in our solitude. And, every one of them is infused with compassion and humor. He pulls the best possible performance out of every actor. As a viewer, you almost feel as if you know each and every character. He is also one of the best directors of actors to ever have graced the silver screen. Rowlands’ performance here and in A Woman Under the Influence can stand with any other actress in any other film.

And, so we come to Love Streams. His last film. A merging of all the themes from his earlier work. It is a sad and yet optimistic goodbye to a style that has never been duplicated.

In the vein of Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence, Love Streams is about mental illness and those who love the mentally ill.

It is a true vision of illness. A film like Silver Linings Playbook is a sweet-natured little film, but it is in the end just a romantic comedy with likable characters. Robert and Sarah, on the other hand are not stuck in a formula. We have no idea how their journey will end. Ultimately, they are both mad and have so little to rely on, outside of their love for one another. Sarah begins with a declaration and by the end the sentence turns to a question.

“Is love a continuous stream?  Does it stop?”

The BFI put this film as one of the top 250 films of all time (no. 231 to be exact), and it absolutely deserves it.

This film is two and a half hours of living with very flawed, real people. It is, at times, excruciating. Such as the scene in the backyard of Jack’s house where Sarah tries desperately to make her husband and daughter laugh, and instead they stare blankly, without mercy. Rowlands is so in tune with her character that I began to see her as Sarah by the end.

Cassavetes performance is a tour de force of hard emotional avoidance. However, his performance is also funny and compassionate. At one moment, he turns to his son that he hasn’t seen since his birth (while giving him beer for breakfast) and explains, “I don’t like men.  I don’t make any money on them. They’re not interesting to me. Someday, when you’re 14, go hitch-hike across the country and see real men. Not the ones here in suits. See what they’re really like.” A few moments later, he leans back and says, “I don’t like women anyway, you know. I like kids and old people. They don’t need anything. They’re innocent.”

Love Streams is unavailable on DVD and to buy a used VHS in the states, it will cost you a pretty penny.

The Trylon’s 35mm screenings will be a rare treasure not to be missed.

Love Streams (1984) directed by John Cassavetes, starring Gena Rowlands and Cassavetes screens September 27-29, Friday and Saturday 7:00 & 9:30 pm, Sunday 5:00 & 7:30 pm. Advanced tickets available at trylon.org.

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Review by Trylon volunteer Michael Popham.

Count Dracula, Bram Stoker’s human vampire, who has chilled the spines of book readers and playgoers, is now to be seen at the Roxy in a talking film directed by Tod Browning, who delights in such bloodcurdling stories. It is a production that evidently had the desired effect upon many in the audience yesterday afternoon, for there was a general outburst of applause when Dr. Van Helsing produced a little cross that caused the dreaded Dracula to fling his cloak over his head and make himself scarce. –Mourdant Hall,  New York Times, February 13, 1931

Looking back, it’s difficult to imagine what audiences in 1931 made of Tod Browning’s Dracula.  While the snippet of Times review above gives us a glimpse, approaching the movie with fresh eyes is a challenge.  Even if you’ve never seen Dracula, you feel like you’ve seen it.  It’s been ripped off, built upon, remade, reimagined, parodied, sliced, diced and pureed for 82 years.

But there’s no question that this is still the definitive version of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel.  On its initial release it hit audiences like a piledriver, offering up a tale as ghastly as any that had been shown on a movie screen.

The wealthy Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) has arrived in England, charming the socks off his new neighbors, the Seward family. The Sewards don’t know – but we do – that the Count‘s urbane manner is only a façade.  He is in reality a vampire, a loathsome creature that sleeps in dirt, lives in darkness, and drinks the blood of the living.  Those unfortunates whom he does not kill become his slaves, and he has decided young Mina Seward (Helen Chandler) will be his next victim.  Mina’s only hope of salvation is the eccentric Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), a student of the occult. But Van Helsing discovers that it’s difficult to fight a vampire when everyone around you refuses to believe in them.

Browning’s directorial style isn’t particularly dynamic, and many of the vampire tropes he introduced to the movies might seem shopworn today.  But there are moments in this film that are still thrilling: the scenes in the Transylvanian village, where the superstitious folk beg Jonathan Harker (David Manners) not to journey to the castle; the ruins of Dracula’s great hall, looking frozen and otherworldly in the moonlight; Bela Lugosi’s peculiar mannerisms and his creepy over-pronunciation, which seems to mock the very language used by his victims.

We like to think of Dracula as tame stuff by today’s standards, and we regard the moviegoers of 1931 as innocent, almost child-like.  They screamed at scenes we’d yawn at.  But perhaps we’re not as sophisticated as we imagine.  Perhaps we’re just over stimulated, our senses dulled by a thousand pointless gore-fests and a million cheap shocks. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing, once in a while, to imagine what it would be like to be seeing Count Dracula on the movie screen for the first time.

Dracula (1931), directed by Tod Browning, at the Heights Theater, Thursday, September 26 at 7:30 pm.  Get tickets here.

 

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The following post is by Trylon volunteer and programer John Moret who is a regular contributor to All-Star Video.

The title of this film is so illuminating.  It is completely innocuous and completely definitive.  Men of a certain age, feeling a certain weight of responsibility.

Harry (Ben Gazzara), Archie (Peter Falk) and Gus (John Cassavetes) have just lost a good friend.  In response, the three leave their families and embark on a trip of supposed self-discovery.  What comes of this grief is just an escape into debauchery.  The final result is grown men trying so hard and never truly being vulnerable with each other.  Never honestly connecting with their wives or children, they find solace in each other.  And yet, their guard never truly comes down there either.

There is a scene about a half hour into the film that beautifully captures both what this film is about and what Cassavetes is saying about men in general.  Nearing the end of a night of binge drinking, all three congregate in the men’s room.  Archie is lying in a stall next to a toilet and turns to Gus, “I’m gonna tell you what I feel.  It’s not the sickness.  It’s about anxiety… I mean, what are we supposed to be feeling?”

That deep confusion is what Cassavetes sees so well in males.  Sensitive, searching and never truly allowing connection.  Though Harry later tells them both that he loves them, in the next moment Gus calls Harry a fairy and they laugh it off.

Cassavetes’ characters are incredibly complicated.  One minute they are lovable, gentle, and laughing.  You understand and feel for them in their vulnerability.  The next, they show a deep and violent rage that is repulsive.

And, so they are just like you and I; Husbands, wives, faces and shadows.

Husbands (1970) written and directed by John Cassavetes, starring Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes screens September 20-22, Friday and Saturday 7:00 & 9:30 pm, Sunday 5:00 & 7:30 pm. Advanced tickets available at trylon.org.

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Let me introduce you to Viola, Argentine filmmaker Matías Piñeiro’s most recent film. Viola is also one of the six female characters that Piñeiro’s fictional film eavesdrops on as they discuss intricacies of acting and love. And Viola is also a lead role in the Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night, a play that gets cyclical readings within the film’s plot. These themes get gently stirred against the backdrop of contemporary Buenos Aires into a thoughtful and lighthearted commentary about the affairs of the heart. Viola is one of those films that feels simple and slight, but that you will immediately want to watch again for all its clever contextual elements.

Piñeiro has received a fair share of attention this year, and much of it has to do with Viola. The film was chosen earlier this year for the Lincoln Center’s annual showcase New Directors/New Films and then was included in a retrospective of Piñeiro’s films, again at the Lincoln Center, as part of Latinbeat 2013. More recently, Piñeiro was tagged by the New York Times as one of 20 Directors to Watch. Perhaps more important to this groundswell is the praise specifically for Viola. Tomas Hachard for NPR calls it “a film that takes on the vicissitudes of life and love with honest concern, but also with a shrug of the shoulders,” and Calum March for the Village Voice adds that “The world the film describes is so vividly realized that it seems to spill over the edges of the frame.” Come see for yourself!

Viola screens September 16 and 17, Monday and Tuesday at 7 and 8:30pm. Advanced tickets are available from trylon.org.

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Last week we brought you what might be Cassavettes’ masterpiece, A Woman on Under the Influence, and this weekend we give you the master’s earliest work: Shadows and Faces, two of the very first great independent American features, from 1959 and 1968, respectively.

In the nine years between these two pictures, Cassavetes labored in Hollywood, directing two movies he himself didn’t regard all that highly (Too Late Blues and A Child is Waiting, the first of which was also written by Cassavetes and hurt by the unfortunate casting of Bobby Darin in the lead), and starring or supporting in a number of TV shows (Johnny Staccato among tons of others) and movies (The Killers remake, The Dirty Dozen, and, in the same year as Faces, Rosemary’s Baby.) This work, which he supposedly loathed, was both the result of disappointment (that Shadows didn’t get him the work he really wanted to do), and ambition (that at least he was able to land roles that brought him the money to finance his own work.)

The searing intensity of Cassavetes’ work deserves to be seen on the big screen. To a degree, they defy summary: Shadows is a supposedly improvised movie about interracial relationships in New York City during the height of the Beat Generation movement. (Many critics, most notably David Thomson, argue that Shadows is hardly improvised, but worked on over time, rehearsed, etc. Detractors to this point also argue that not being improvised doesn’t take anything away from it.) Faces, which propelled Cassavetes at the very least into the upper echelons of art house directors, and which landed a number of Oscar nominations, is the story of a couple whose lives begin collapsing when the husband demands a divorce.

But then, you don’t go to a Cassavetes movie to get caught up in an intricate plot, but to feel, to have your emotions wrung out like so much wet laundry, to marvel at the power of incredible performances and direction that supports the same.

Shadows plays this weekend at 7:00 on Friday, 9:30 on Saturday, and 7:30 on Sunday. Buy tickets here.
Faces screens Friday at 9:00, Saturday at 7:00, and Sunday at 5:00. Buy tickets here.