All the films from all the editions, including those subsequently removed, presently totalling 1154. An easy way of seeing how…
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
A proud strip club owner is forced to come to terms with himself as a man, when his gambling addiction gets him in hot water with the mob, who offer him only one alternative.
Ben Gazzara's performance here is one of those that so captures an actor's essence that it would be pointless to think about anyone else in the role. Beyond all the Cassavetes grace notes-- the dingy texture of the nightclub, the evident affection for his cast of outcasts and rogues, the dread-inducing inevitability of the title-- there's Gazzara, a wannabe big-shot who lacks the means, the common sense, and the luck to lead the kind of life he feels he deserves. His gregariousness becomes tragic.
It's been a long time since a film has instantly pushed to near the top of my favorite movies of all time. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is one of those occasions.
Cassavetes is a master of eliciting emotions through the most simple of verite style. Without broad sweeps of orchestration or tacky explanations, we truly see the troubled psyche of Cosmo Vittelli (played masterfully by Ben Gazzara) as he goes deeper and deeper down a self destructive rabbit hole in hopes of making something of himself.
I love how the strip club feels sad and dirty. I love the clown figure that works at the strip club (an ode to Sternberg's "The Blue Angel?). I love the realism…
The poster gives you an accurate representation of the shadows and moody reds that the film basks in. Released around the pivotal dirtiest city period of Taxi Driver, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie might as well be the West coast equivalent in look and feel. A Cassavetes noir. Seemingly everyone is corrupt and out to get something. The faces are lived in and molded by crime. The gangsters are dripping with sleaze and menace in equal measure.
Ben Gazzara is asked to represent this height of proud sleaze culture as the strip club owner Cosmo who is in way over his head with gambling debts. Even once filming commenced, he was hesitant in how to approach the character. Cassavetes…
Portrait of the artist as a corrupt man. Portrait of the art as the byproduct of a corrupt world. What Cassavetes achieves here in terms of style is a magnificent symbiosis of references, with Ben Gazzara as his surrogate artist caught in a scenario that is at once noir, expressionist and impressionist. Plot is secondary and becomes but an excuse to delve into the characters' psychology and visions of themselves through the focus on faces and outward expressions. Style, however, is elevated to new heights of meaning as the characters move from light to shadows and back, and from inside to outside the frame. (Al Ruban's and Mitch Breit's cinematography is excellent and appropriate). The very masculine and very beautiful Gazzara (yes, that matters) is the quintessential movie man, but such an idealized impression coexists with the tragic entrapment of life's fragility. Freedom is impossible, and art can do only so much. Or something.
So good I had to watch it twice. John Cassavetes was a unique eccentric, and having watched a handful of his films recently, he has become a new favorite director. His style was unashamedly intolerant of Hollywood formula, audience appeal and the business of Hollywood product.
He was a man who loved people and he showed people expressing themselves through a body of emotions. People have trouble communicating their thoughts into words. Cassavetes' goals were to examine human nature on a naked scale of emotion. More so than any filmmaker I can think of, he uses facial expression, body language, closeups and the visual depiction of characters interpreting their inner thoughts with their faces to elicit drama and move story.…
"Hey Hugh, it's me, your agent. Remember that script I was telling you about, 'A Chinese Bookie'? Well, I got you the part! YOU'RE the Chinese bookie! Isn't that great?" "Wow, do you mean it? That's great - this kind of exposure could really do wonders for my career. I knew I had a good feeling about that part!" "Yeah, it's gonna be great. This director, Cassavetes, he's a real actor's director. He respects the craft. It'll be hard work but you'll do great." "This is exactly the kind of opportunity I've been waiting for!"
That's show business.
It's great to see Cassavetes' take on the crime genre and inject it with his unique depiction of human behaviour. There are draggy sequences within (notably of Gazzara's stage show), but the version Cassavetes re-cut in 1978 is said to be a superior one. I hope to visit it in the near future.
Not as good execution.
Gazzara is cool and badass and what not, and it looks great, but I just wasn't really engaged in what was happening on screen and the lead really doesn't change as a result of everything he's going through. There's also probably about 40 minutes of waste that can be taken out without taking away from the story. Part of me feels like this "story" is better suited for a short film.
I love Cassavetes, but I ate too much pizza to stay awake.
Rewatches may grant a greater appreciation for this film, as it has a lot of good going for it: the trademark Casavettes seeming-improvised rawness and a memorable cast of characters that believeably exist in the efficiently used limited locations. Another positive that seems to come with much of the work from this actor's director is a good performance from the lead, a scummy nightclub owner who gets in over his head carrying a gambling debt owed to some local gangsters. However on first viewing things are paced so skittish and jerkily that it becomes frustrating and fatiguing (even watching the shorter of two cuts that exist).
Caught the original cut and have to agree with the sentiment of the film's star, Ben Gazzara, who felt this version was too long. By at least fifteen minutes, much of which could be trimmed from nearly every one of the performances at his character's strip club. They're not bad scenes, necessarily, and serve the film's theme of projecting false image, but like much of what I've seen from Cassavetes they meander undisciplined like improvised dry runs. I know, this proto-mumblecore approach is a big reason why people love this director, but it lacks structure and occasionally results in laughable dialogue that just makes the characters look bad. And since this approach is ostensibly all about character over traditional narrative…
Watched both cuts - if there's any one way to weaken a film, releasing multiple versions is it, it draws to much attention to the seams. Here, neither cut totally works. The first is too languid and far too long, not dragging as much as wandering. But the second moves so quickly it loses that leisurely feel, but it doesn't replace it. Disinterest can be felt for all the genre elements, the film is more about the side bits - Flo misquoting Marx, Cosmo ordering burgers, and Mr. Sophistication. That disinterest weakens the movie, but at least the first cut has some life to it. The killing may not be that interesting, but Cosmo and his club are.
On the one hand, Cassavetes uses genre conventions willingly. Anything outside of the club plays, to some degree, like a gangster picture. But the bad mobsters are purposefully on the outside, trying to trap Cosmo in a shallow genre game. This is why Cosmo finds extraordinary powers when he assumes the role of the hit-man, momentarily defying expectations to become the genre hero. Meanwhile, everything within the club is the make believe world of Cassavetes's dreams - like an ongoing burlesque show, with its roots in performance art, the interior language being theatrical, viz. Cosmo spends his last twenty minutes alive in soliloquy. When Cosmo's not obsessively fiddling with some contraption, he's talking to a mass of background noise rather…
There's a plot here, but it's incidental, as Cassavetes was clearly more interested in painting this portrait of an aging strip club owner in over his own head. But it's a fascinating portrait and Cassavetes made the brilliant choice to anchor this film on Ben Gazzara, a man who in amateur hands is still a genius, but here gives what his possibly his best performance excluding any that involve him lip syncing to Frank Sinatra. His eyes just contain such incredible sadness, and he's such a fascinating figure that it doesn't matter how little happens in this film because he's compelling even when he's standing backstage making sure his girls hit their marks on time. This is a prime example of performance as cinema, and it's an amazing performance and a damn fine film too.
- A Trip to the Moon
- The Great Train Robbery
- The Birth of a Nation
- Les Vampires
- Citizen Kane
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Tokyo Story
- The Rules of the Game
- Grand Illusion
- Seven Samurai
- The Lady Vanishes
- The 400 Blows
The entire Criterion collection organized by spine number.
I don't know why I did this.
Number I've Seen: 152/733