Friday, February 03, 2012

Ben Gazzara 1930-2012

I've only mentioned it in passing five million times, but John Cassavetes is my favorite filmmaker. I am a fundamentalist proselytizer of the man and his movies. As corny as it sounds, his work can change your life. It changed mine. It didn't get me a job or a wife or a car or a spaghetti dinner or save me from drowning or move me to Bucharest or remove one of my legs (I did or didn't do those things on my own), but it did open all kinds of previously closed doors in my brain and heart and make me a more open, patient, receptive, alive person. I'm not shitting you. It killed a lot of cynicism in me while also toughening me up. His movies stuck to me like wet pieces of those really thick brown paper towels you used to find in elementary school restrooms. He didn't do this by himself. He created one of the two most exciting troupes of actors in 1960s/70s/80s film (the other being Rainer Werner Fassbinder's). Peter Falk, Seymour Cassel, Gena Rowlands, Tim Carey, Val Avery, others I'm momentarily forgetting. One of those close collaborators and friends and one of my favorite actors, Ben Gazzara, died today, Feb. 3, the same day Cassavetes died 23 years ago. With Falk's death last year and Avery's in 2009, Cassavetes' amazing troupe is down to just Rowlands and Cassel.

I don't mean to make this post solely about Cassavetes. Gazzara was a welcome presence in dozens of other films. He was reportedly a great stage actor, too, but I'd be telling tales out of school if I pretended to know anything about theater. I'm going to miss seeing him on the screen.

Husbands (John Cassavetes, 1970)
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)
Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)
Saint Jack (Peter Bogdanovich, 1979)
The Spanish Prisoner (David Mamet, 1997)
Buffalo '66 (Vincent Gallo, 1998)
The Big Lebowski (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1998)
Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998)
Dogville (Lars Von Trier, 2003)
"Quartier Latin" segment from Paris, je t'aime (Gerard Depardieu, 2006)

He's also good in Spike Lee's not very good Summer of Sam and totally bonkers in Road House.

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