John Simon

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702

The films of John Cassavetes are, by and large, sterile actors' exercises. They are not even for all kinds of actors, but mostly for the friends of Cassavetes and amateurs like his family or his wife's family. They are doggedly pretentious and often of enormous duration; unless you are an actor, or a friend or relative of the director, you should find them quintessentially trivial and boring. Cassavetes, who is quite a good actor but a bad director and worse writer, has insisted ever more emphatically over the years that his films are "scripted," though they seem to be taped and transcribed improvisations, possibly re-enacted from such "scripts." At least I hope that this is how it is done; if Cassavetes is telling the truth, and he really writes this trash that postures as plot, characterization, and dialogue, he would be an even bigger simpleton than I take him to be….

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[Consider] A Woman Under the Influence. It did not begin to enlighten us about whether the woman was demented or unjustly viewed as such, whether her husband loved her or not, whether her family and her doctor treated her rightly or wrongly. It did not remotely come to grips with whether she had extramarital relations, whether her love for her children was genuine or some form of infantilism and hysteria, and whether anything was changed after her return from the asylum. Many feminists hailed the picture as a major plea in behalf of oppressed womanhood; yet it was by no means clear whether and by what the heroine was oppressed, and whether her abject stupidity, indeed near-idiocy, made her a representative specimen….

In any case, A Woman Under the Influence struck me as muddleheaded, pretentious, and interminable, fooling some people because of its factitious social significance. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, cut from the same burlap, makes two strategic errors: its subject cannot even lay claim to significant social comment, and it tries for something like a thriller plot, for which Cassavetes and his pals have no real affinity. On top of kids playing with typical improvisations and cameras, we get kids playing with guns—disastrously. (p. 65)

[When] not very bright or clever people try to convey to the movie audience that someone or something is supposed to be dumb, they sink to levels of stupidity and ineptitude that strike people of normal intelligence as positively feeble-minded.

So, for example, when Cosmo tells about two girls in Memphis who cut off a gopher's tail, ate it, and died of botulism, we wonder—there being no botulism outside of canned food—who is being inept: the character, the improvising actor, or the filmmaker…. Not only are ignorance and witlessness fulgurating in the movie, we do not even know whom to...

(The entire section contains 702 words.)

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