John Cassavetes Making “Husbands” – A Rare Insight

Published On November 21, 2011 | By Mike Carroll | Director-Cameraman, Filmmakers, John Cassavetes

John Cassavetes as he was happiest -- with a 35mm Arriflex IIC in his hands.

Years ago PBS’ American Masters broadcast a 90-minute profile on John Cassavetes. To be honest, I’d grown up reading about the importance of Cassavetes and how critics raved about his films. My first Cassavetes movie was Husbands, which CBS ran in their early days of late-night programming. I hated it. This was not filmmaking to me at that time. This was just turning on the camera and rolling. There was no story and no drama. It was just filling time. Keep in mind, I was still a teenager at the time.

A few years later A Woman Under The Influence came out. I was nineteen. I went on a Sunday afternoon. I though, “I’m going to give this guy one more try.” I felt like I was having needles stuck in my eyes. “What is it about Cassavetes??? This guy is crazy!” That was it. I was done.

Then in the 1990s, after Cassavetes passed away, PBS ran a profile on him. In the documentary were film clips of him making Husbands. I always love watching behind-the-scenes footage and this looked very intriguing. I’ve tried to track this footage down with no luck. It’s not even available as an extra on the DVD of Husbands.

Some years back A Woman Under The Influence was being run on Turner Classic Movies. I told my wife Bonnie about this thing I had about his movies, but that Cassavetes is revered and I’d like to give this movie another try. We watched. I was amazed. This time out it was brilliant. It had everything in a movie that I’d been looking for in cinema and that I was not getting – honesty.

I then read Accidental Genius: How John Cassavetes Invented the Independent Film a biography of Cassavetes by Marshall Fine. This book explained how Cassavetes’ movies grew and changed as he grew older and how his films were always about people who were his own age.

This explained everything! It wasn’t that his films were bad — it was that I was too young for them! I had to grow into an age in adulthood where what was going on made sense. You needed a background in life in order to fully appreciate what was happening and the nuances of life and behavior that maturing gives you.

I will confess one thing, that as much of an American masterpiece that I revere A Woman Under The Influence to be, I still cannot watch Husbands all the way through. It’s just too dense for me. Also, the type of men that John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk are in this movie are not the type of people that I have any understanding for.

It’s also worth noting that Peter Falk never knew what Cassavetes was doing either. And Cassavetes edited Husbands twice. The first version is supposed to be hilarious. He didn’t like people having such a good time, so he recut the movie. This one didn’t do so well at the box-office. But that wasn’t an issue with Cassavetes. Perhaps when he made A Woman Under The Influence he had a different take because he and his wife Gena Rowlands self-financed that film and it returned a fortune.

I also learned that Cassavetes loved actors, but not necessarily acting himself. He always saw himself as a director doing stories about people and that he wanted honest acting in the films. He also loved the filming and doing his own camerawork. Some of it does not have the cleanness that someone with more knowledge of photography would have, but his eye is different — Cassavetes is looking at the faces and the eyes and what they are saying. This gives him a totally different edge as a self-taught cinematographer. He was closer to photojournalism in his filming. Cassavetes was always, always, looking for Truth.

At any rate, I typed in a search on Youtube over the weekend and, lo and behold, the documentary about the making of Husbands turned up! So here all all the links. Watch and discover for yourselves.

BBC John Cassavetes Making Husbands – Part One:

BBC John Cassavetes Making Husbands – Part Two:

BBC John Cassavetes Making Husbands – Part Three:

BBC John Cassavetes Making Husbands – Part Four:

BBC John Cassavetes Making Husbands – Part Five:

BBC John Cassavetes Making Husbands – Part Six:


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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

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