Famous Greeks [13]: John Cassavetes

more than a year ago
John Cassavetes 1929 - 1989

Jim Giannopoulos, CEO of 20th Century Fox, not showing the bias of his Greek origin, he named John Cassavetes as the father of independent American cinema – every mention of the actor naturally conjures up the coveted title. A Greek-American born in New York City, Cassavetes was baptised into acting upon graduation from the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts in 1950. His long career in the film, television, and stage arts broadly includes involvement in acting, directing, scoring, shooting, editing, producing, and marketing. Film credits include acting roles in iconic movies The Dirty Dozen, in which Cassavetes received his only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and Rosemary’s Baby. Trained in the sub-Stanislavsky method, Cassavetes found poetry in introspection, and refused to conform to Hollywood ideals. As a writer, his distaste for constructs that impinged on character development gave way to plot structures that focused on improvisation. As such, it is fitting Cassavetes was the first filmmaker to employ an experimental jazz musician in the form of Charles Mingus to create the soundtrack for Shadows, a general-release film focusing on the American outsider. Cassavetes’s self-funded writing and directorial debut failed to achieve American distribution upon release in 1959, though it won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival and proved popular with European audiences.
American success as a director and producer came with his second independent endeavour, Faces, released in 1968. Filmed mostly in Cassavetes’s own home, the movie featured his wife, actress Gena Rowlands, and depicted the gradual breakdown of a contemporary marriage – breakdown being a popular theme in Cassavetes’s oeuvre. Nominated for three Academy Awards, Faces became the first independent film produced and distributed by Cassavetes’s own production company, Faces International, a company that would garner Academy Award nominations throughout Cassavetes’s career. In 1984, Cassavetes was told he had six months to live, his body having been battered by the ravages of alcoholism. This marked the final period of creativity life that would eventually end in 1989, five years after initial prognosis. His final film, She’s So Lovely, was produced posthumously, directed by Cassavetes’s son, Nick Cassavetes, starring John Travolta, Robin Wright-Penn, and Sean Penn who received the Best Actor Award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 1997 for his role.


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