Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1977. Faces Distribution. Screenplay by John Cassavetes. Cinematography by Al Ruban. Produced by Al Ruban. Music by Bo Harwood. Production Design by Bryan Ryman. Costume Design by Aleka Corwin. Film Editing by Tom Cornwell. The Criterion Collection. Golden Globe Awards 1977.
A celebrated Broadway actress (Gena Rowlands) is accosted by an obsessed fan before a performance during her latest show’s New Haven preview run. The fan’s eventual demise in a car accident that Rowlands witnesses sends the actress into an emotional downward spiral that forces her to face the themes of aging and powerlessness that she has been ignoring in the play itself, much to the chagrin of its stern-faced author (1930s musical star Joan Blondell in a wonderful dramatic turn). Rowlands rages and stumbles her way brilliantly through this overlong but powerful piece that examines the emotional complexities of performance, professional integrity and the relationship that an artist has with the demands of their audience. Not all viewers will be entranced, however; Cassavetes always had a habit of creating characters who exist solely for themselves and fail to connect with those around them, making for some fascinating performances from his cast members but a rather cold feeling for those watching them. Given that this film came after his groundbreaking A Woman Under The Influence, it’s safe to assume that critics and audiences were not in the mood to watch Rowlands fall apart yet again (and therefore it’s no wonder that his next film had her playing a tough, indomitable gun moll). Still, for all its raggedy excess it is exceptionally well filmed, and features its lead actress at her finest and most captivating (plus that perfect hair!) How the hell she let Cassavetes get away with naming her character Myrtle, however, I’ll never know.