|Gena Rowlands: Fabulous|
Opening Night (1977)
d. John Cassavetes
Criterion Collection #255
Part of John Cassavetes: Five Films
Criterion Collection #250
Opening Night completes the Criterion Collection boxed set of John Cassavetes: Five Films, which essentially includes his "must-sees": First, they start with Shadows (1959) which is his "first" film. Next comes Faces (1968), which is his take on domestic relations in the mid to late 60s among Hollywood types. Then you've got A Woman Under the Influence from 1974, another movie about intense domestic relations. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, from 1976, is Cassavetes' take on film noir, and probably his most watched feature. Finally there is Opening Night (1977)- which was not actually distributed in theaters until 1991, making it the very definition of a "lost classic." If you watch all five films it is easy to grasp the essential attributes of the Cassavetes style: The feel of unscripted dialogue (but not really as it turns out,) intimate, not standard camera work, emotional explosiveness, virtuoso performances from Gena Rowlands, an absence of conventionally developed plots.
Opening Night embodies all of these attributes, and at two and a half hours is a good deal longer then the other four films in the boxed set. It is also unusual because it has what is essentially a conventional Hollywood style happy ending, where Rowlands, playing aging, willful actress Myrtle Gordon, gets her shit together and pulls off her lead role in the play within the film. The tug of wills between Gordon, defiant as she resists playing a character whose spiritual loneliness hits too close home, and the other actors- notably Ben Gazzara as the put-upon director and