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Intimacy and Chaos

In the realm of independent cinema, certain filmmakers stand out for their unique approaches to storytelling, their raw portrayal of emotions, and their ability to capture the essence of human experiences. Few have been able to masterfully achieve all of the above with such subtlety and finesse as John Cassavetes and the Safdie Brothers.



Unveiling the Authentic

(A Woman Under the Influence)


John Cassavetes, the pioneer of American independent cinema, left an indelible mark on the world of filmmaking. As an actor turned director, he embarked on a journey to tell authentic stories and revolutionize the art form. His approach, rooted in improvisation and capturing the essence of human emotions, set him apart from conventional Hollywood norms.


Cassavetes' cinema is rooted in his love for art, emphasizing the importance of capturing a film's essence and the freedom to do so with the available means. His films revolve around actions and reactions, delving into the lives of both professional and non-professional actors who portray imperfect characters striving to find meaning in their existence. Cassavetes' movies delve deep into the realms of love and hate, happiness and sadness, marriage and relationships, reflecting the raw and unabashed reality of human existence. These films explore the intricacies of human connections and the absence thereof, presenting both ordinary everyday life and dream-like qualities.


Hypocrisy and honesty are two extremes that pervade Cassavetes' films, manifested through individuals who strive to find purpose, feelings, and motivations to continue living, despite the lack of closure in their journeys. They face various crises, be it in love as depicted in "Shadows" and "Faces," mental health as portrayed in "A Woman Under the Influence," or even economic challenges as seen in "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie." These characters attempt to overcome these crises, but rarely succeed, instead learning to coexist with them. The endings of films like "Faces" and "Opening Night" exemplify this aspect.


Gena Rowland, Cassavetes' wife and muse, portrays many of the iconic characters in his filmography. Her touching performance as Mabel Longhetti in "A Woman Under the Influence" beautifully captures the struggles of a mentally unstable mother. Equally memorable is her portrayal of a theater actress grappling with an identity crisis in "Opening Night."


This very movie, Opening Night, also provides a glimpse into Cassavetes' thoughts on the American cinema of the time. He denounces the Hollywood studio system and directs a film that serves as a representation of the struggles involved in adapting one of Cassavetes' works for the theater, giving the film a metaphysical quality. Symbolic in this regard is the line recited in the film by Maurice, played by Cassavetes himself, regarding American studios and the ideas he considers essential: 'It's about time it took art and said, 'C'mon, baby! Show me something!'


Cassavetes' stylistic choices are defined by the extensive use of handheld cameras, close-ups to convey characters' emotional states, and the deliberate inclusion or absence of reactions. Films like "Faces" showcase the dominance of close-ups, featuring the infinite conversations captured on the faces of Gena Rowland, John Marley, and Lynn Carlin. Another notable stylistic element is the frenetic and almost musical editing, as demonstrated in "Shadows," which became a landmark film for New York City and the Beat Generation.


John Cassavetes has left an enduring and profound impact on the world of cinema and art. His raw and authentic approach to storytelling continues to resonate with filmmakers and audiences alike. His legacy as a pioneer of independent filmmaking inspires a new generation of storytellers to fearlessly explore the depths of human emotions. Cassavetes' contributions have shaped the medium of filmmaking, reminding us of the transformative power and lasting influence of his visionary work.




Embracing Realism, Crafting Chaos

(Good Time)


Josh and Benny Safdie, known collectively as the Safdie Brothers, have emerged as prominent figures in contemporary independent cinema. Their films are often described with words like adrenaline, frenzy, and impulse, capturing a sense of raw energy and intensity. However, reducing their work to a single adjective would fail to encompass the depth and breadth of their cinematic achievements.


From their earliest films, the Safdie Brothers showcased their ability to craft stories that are both frenetic and intimate, exploring the relationships between characters and objects. While their works possess a relentless pace and kinetic energy, it is the connections and dependencies among their characters that truly captivate the filmmakers.


In their debut film, "Daddy Longlegs," the focal point is the relationship between Lenny and his children. This choice is evident as the film is based on the brothers’ own experience with their father. Similarly, "Heaven Knows What" revolves around Harley's dependency on Ilya, driving the events of the story. In "Good Time," it is the bond between two brothers, Connie and Nick, that takes center stage. And in "Uncut Gems," the protagonist Howard's affinity for the titular gem and his inability to form meaningful connections with others are pivotal aspects. Moreover, New York City serves as a ubiquitous presence in the Safdies' filmography, with street encounters and conversations with strangers integrating the backdrop, environment, and atmosphere, making the city come alive.


The characters created by the Safdies are entangled with their surroundings, whether it be substance abuse for Harley in "Heaven Knows What" or gambling for Howard in "Uncut Gems." These dependencies lead the characters to make certain choices and push their lives to the edge. The chaotic rhythm of their existence is intensified by these choices and their inability to fully accept their own nature, often until the final frames. Connie Nikas from "Good Time" perfectly exemplifies this concept, as his very name, derived from the English word "con," reflects his penchant for deceiving and tricking others. Connie deceives his brother and anyone who obstructs his path, exhibiting self-destructive behavior that persists until his arrest, where he perhaps for the first time, confronts his true self. In "Uncut Gems," the film concludes with Howard Ratner lying lifeless on the floor of his jewelry store, wearing a smile that signifies his happiness in having met his demise while pursuing his passion.


The Safdie Brothers' cinema is heavily influenced by the cinéma vérité of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the New Hollywood movement. They draw inspiration from John Cassavetes and Robert Altman, two American filmmakers who left a significant impact on their work. From Cassavetes, they inherit the use of intense close-ups to capture characters' reactions to events and the rapid, at times disorienting, editing style. From Altman, they adopt the overlapping dialogue technique, creating a sense of chaotic realism. Notably, the script for "Uncut Gems" consisted of over 160 drafts, aiming to give the impression of an improvised narrative. The influence of documentaries is also evident in the Safdie Brothers' films, reflected in the use of long lenses that convey a sense of surveillance, as if the actions on screen are genuinely unfolding.


This is the cinema of Josh and Benny Safdie, and to quote one of their characters, "This is how they win."


 

John Cassavetes and the Safdie Brothers have left an indelible imprint on independent cinema, each forging their unique artistic visions that push boundaries and redefine the possibilities of filmmaking. Cassavetes' pioneering exploration of raw human emotions, complex relationships, and flawed characters laid the foundation for American independent film, setting a precedent for authenticity and personal storytelling. Building upon this legacy, the Safdie Brothers have emerged as modern-day torchbearers, infusing their works with an unrelenting energy, intimate connections, and a captivating chaos that pulsates through every frame. Their contributions serve as a testament to the enduring power of independent filmmaking, shedding light on the boundless potential to challenge conventions and delve deep into the complexities of the human experience. In the footsteps of Cassavetes, the Safdie Brothers continue to push the boundaries of cinematic art, reminding us of the profound impact that passionate and audacious storytellers can have on the world of film.


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