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(Text in greek)


The unseen John Cassavetes.


“The labels don’t matter”, John Cassavetes used to say. “When you want to make a movie, it is not necessary for you to belong to a movement, aesthetic or other. You want to do and you do it. As Anyway, this is an act of individual responsibility”.
John Cassavetes was passionate about cinema, for which he worked as a director since 1959. He devoted his life to it. Like Orson Welles, he was forced to play in modest films, in order to gain the money needed for the production of his own projects. His insistence on working alone, doing exactly what he wanted without the pressure of the studios resulted in 12 wonderful films. Cassavetes started as an actor and that is why he appreciated the actors more than the directors. As an actor he had quarrels with writers and directors like Don Siegel in “The Killers”. “The only reason to do this job is to have something to express”, he insisted. “The directors are the ones who do not allow you to express yourself. The exceptions were Ingmar Bergman and Jean Luc Godard. Cassavetes allowed creative freedom. He was open to the actors’ ideas. After the shooting of “Husbands”, Peter Falk, one of the favorite actors of Cassavetes (he played in eight of his films), stated that he had never worked so freely and with such enthusiasm before. “Difficult” in cooperation, Cassavetes as a director never succumbed to the power of Hollywood empire. He made independent films, using his friends who were professional actors (Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassel), and even family members.

His antipathy for the studio’s great producers was evident. “The only contribution of these people is to say whether a movie will be made or not”, he said in his famous interview on “Playboy” in 1971. “They give money or they don’t. Anything else. They have no idea about the sweat of the cinematographer”. His collaboration with major studios (United Artists) in the early 60s led to the failure of the social melodrama “A child is waiting” with Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland and Cassavetes’s wife, Gena Rowlands. It also meant his leaving from the studio.

When he first saw Rowlands in 1954, Cassavetes had not yet started directing. When he saw her, he turned to the actor John Erickson and said: “This is the woman I will marry”. He said it, he did it and the couple stayed together until Cassavetes’ death in 1989 from liver cirrhosis. Rowlands was his ultimate muse, but his exact opposite. Timid, quiet, low-voiced. Together they did great things and had three children, all directors: Nick, Alexandra, Zoe. The actress played in 8 of his movies and won two Oscar nominations for the First Role in “A woman under the influence” and “Gloria”. As a director Cassavetes was nominated for an Oscar for “A woman under the influence” and as a writer for “Faces”.

A tireless studier of the human soul, Cassavetes was looking for it through the tired faces of his heroes. The face had a great significance for Cassavetes because he believed that it is the mirror of all the feelings that are buried within an individual. “Faces” was also the title of his fourth film as a director. A project small in quantity, but imposing and original, unusual for the majority of Hollywood’s productions.

Cassavetes also disagreed with the book adaptations in films, arguing that directors must write their own material. “Why should I make the Godfather?” he wonders in the interview he gave to “Playboy”. “Because it comes from a bestseller and everything suggests that it will become a bestseller in cinema too? That's great, but no thanks. I consider myself an artist and address to cinema as an art. For me, turning a bestseller into a movie is not art”. John Nicholas Cassavetes was born on December 9, 1929 in New York, son of Greek immigrants. His father, a travel agent and graduate of Harvard University had the talent to win and lose millions of dollars from one moment to another. John grew up to more than a dozen neighborhoods in Manhattan. “We never had money, but it didn’t really bother us. We had to move every now and then - every month to be accurate. The owners were so anxious to rent, that they offered the first month for free. When the month was over, we were also finished with the house. We were looking for another one”.

Many personal experiences can be found in his work and they even contain the element of self-sarcasm. One of these was his height. He was very short. Another one was his teeth that he had broken in a childhood fight, so for many years he did not laugh in public, for fear of being made fun of. In his most cinematic appearances there is a scene in which he deliberately emphasizes laughing in front of the camera, as if to demonstrate that he has ... teeth.

Student for some time at the University of Colgate, Cassavetes was inspired by the plays of Robert Sherwood, which led him to sign up for the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He also made a brief passage from the famous Actors Studio. But as with any artists’ first appearance, Cassavetes was unable to immediately find a job in Broadway, so he worked for a long time on TV. In 1959 he managed to get the main role in the successful television series “Johnny staccato”, an independent series with a jazz player-private detective as the main character, and Cassavetes eventually became a big name. So now he could begin the creation of his personal, favorite films. To express himself exactly the way he wanted to.

In 1959, “Shadows” was released in America. Filmed with a very low budget (less than $ 40,000), “Shadows” was a pilot, immature work by Cassavetes. The moments of the life of a negro-family that lives poorly in New York, could not be described as a film with a specific story, or as “Cinéma vérité” (cinema of truth), nor as a Hollywood product. It was more of a wandering improvisation in New York, where with the camera on hand Cassavetes recorded what he saw before him. Even before the start of the film shooting, not even Cassavetes himself had the slightest idea of what it would be exactly. The main financiers of the film - except for him with the money from “staccato” - were the actors Morris Makentri and Seymour Cassel, whom Cassavetes used very frequently in later productions. Most money, however, were collected in atypical ways, one of which was the radio. At the time, Cassavetes participated in a broadcast radio, expressing his views on cinema. One day the broadcast presenter John Sheppard, fascinated by the passion and enthusiasm of Cassavetes, suggested to the listeners that they send one US dollar each, so that they could collect an amount of money with which he could make his dream come true. In one day they gathered about $ 2,000.

The “Shadows” that started its career from the Venice Film Festival was something new, unpredictable, and revolutionary. No matter if Cassavetes was bothered by labels, this film placed him in a school or a movement that had started being born: the “New Wave of New York’s filmmakers”. However, when later a journalist tried to flatter him by extolling the realism of his pictures with the camera on hand, in movies such as “Shadows” and “Faces”, Cassavetes was annoyed saying that simply he did not have the money to buy a tripod. After the surprise they caused, Hollywood of course approached Cassavetes. He was tested in the commercial cinema, gaining the bitter experience of the film “A child is waiting”. If he wanted to create, he would have to do it away from the “system” of Hollywood, without this meaning that he was completely off: in 1967 he was nominated for the Oscar of the Best Supporting Actor, for his performance in the film of Robert Aldrich “The dirty dozen”. In the films of John Cassavetes they all suffer, from the actors up to him and his audience. In none of his 12 stressful works we willnot find the solutions’ contract. But there, his great value may lies.