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A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE
1974 - John Cassavetes
United States
40
Opening Shot

We see a group of men doing work in a river over the opening title cards and music. We then see the group of men riding in the back of a pickup truck which pulls to a cafe.

The Film

Filmmaker John Cassavetes was a key pioneer American filmmaker during the influential and important 1970s era. He had a truly unique style. A documentary type approach with intentional camera movements, and medium leveled shots that put the audience all but inside the film. This creates an incredibly involving experience. The audience deeply connects with the characters that everyone can relate to. A Woman Under the Influence is quintessential Cassavetes! A masterfully skillful, original, honest, and moving examination of everyday people living through a crisis. It's ultimately a look into the human psyche of control and madness. From the very first frame the film has the look and feel of Cassavetes unique style and structure. There is a freedom the filmmaking that really allows the cast to shine. The performances are outstanding, particularly that of Gena Rowlands, who give one of cinema's finest as a wife and mother dealing with a mental breakdown. The film is incredibly powerful and beautiful and even hopeful in its honesty (the final moments are especially moving). Cassavetes films may not connect with everyone, but those who are, will certainly be fascinated. To me, A Woman Under the Influence is his best film and among the great American achievements from an influential decade in filmmaking.

The Filmmaker

John Cassavetes stands as one of the truly great maverick filmmakers of American cinema. In many ways he is the pioneer of American Independent cinema. Cassavetes began in television and film as an actor. Like Orson Welles or Erich von Stroheim, Cassavetes would continue to work as an actor throughout his career simply so he could earn money to make his own independent films. Over a span of nearly 40 years, Cassavetes only made 12 feature films but they represent what is a truly unique visionary who undoubtedly made his films with a personal and groundbreaking style of his own. His status as a revolutionary filmmaker began with his debut feature, 1958's Shadows. The film was shot on 16mm and without a script on a very limited budget. The film was not widely seen upon its release, but now stands as one of the most important films in the history of independent cinema. It really wasn't until the release of 1968's masterpiece Faces that Cassavetes became recognized as the innovative filmmaker he was. Cassavetes style is not for everyone, but his vision never seems to focus on the mainstream. His films require a certain patience and willingness to go outside the conventions of narrative filmmaking and be willing to expect the unexpected- even after you think you know what to expect. Cassavetes films attempt to capture the raw essence of human behavior and emotions. He tried to capture reality through a documentary-like shooting style and complex examinations of character and personal expression over plot. Since his background is in acting, Cassavetes had a deep connection with the actors of his films and would very often give them complete freedom. This openness gave the actors opportunities to capture the very essence of their characters emotions and behaviors. While this approach stripped the film of an elegant visual style it gave Cassavetes work a combination of remarkable performances and a personal and energetic atmosphere that was completely free of formula and artificial explanations. Cassavetes wrote, directed, produced and even sometimes acted in his films which very often centered around the complexities and pressures of life (usually focused on relationships). While there is undeniably a gloomy and depressing atmosphere to his films, they always leave an undertone of optimism as his characters are never discouraged by the problems and difficult challenges they face in life. The characters of his films are flawed, but yet the way they face and meet the advertises of living, give them a heroic quality. Above all his characters are authentic portrayals of human lives. Cassavetes is one of filmmakings great experimentalists and his films remain among the most emotionally intense and groundbreaking in the history of American film.

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