John Cassavetes—An Independent Filmmaker’s Fantasy

Published On September 26, 2012 | By Mike Carroll | DSLR, Filmmakers, John Cassavetes

Husband-wife filmmakers John Cassavetes & Gena Rowlands

I often find myself wondering what certain filmmakers would be doing if they were still with us today. For instance, if John Cassavetes—the original American independent and rebel—were still alive and healthy and enjoying his senior years, what might he be up to today . (I think it’s always nice when you can imagine someone you admire in their best of conditions.)

 

Morning at the Cassavetes’ house. Gena Rowlands was sitting up in bed, sipping coffee and reading the Los Angeles Times.

Downstairs in the kitchen of their Hollywood Hills home, where she and her husband John Cassavetes filmed Faces and Love Streams, another pot of coffee was perking.

John Cassavetes had already been up for hours, his imagination and energy level running in fifth gear. He’d gotten the bug to make something new.

Gena had thought they were both enjoying their quiet, retired later years in their house, which was finally paid off since John hasn’t taken out any new mortgages to finance his movies. That chapter of their lives was behind them and now they were just enjoying the good life. John had even gone so far as to pick up a bag of golf clubs that he’d found at a yard sale in the Valley.

What Gena Rowlands didn’t know was that John Cassavetes was down in the kitchen pouring his fourth cup coffee before hunkering back down at the kitchen table where he’d just opened the box to his new toy—a Canon DSLR camera. He was sick to death of hearing about the digital camera revolution and reading endless articles in the L.A. Times about new young filmmakers making names for themselves shooting movies on their Christmas breaks for practically no money and premiering them at Sundance. He couldn’t take being out of the loop a minute longer.

“To be able to make movie for practically no money at all,” John had been thinking to himself. “Gena can’t possibly have a problem with this!”

Gena was just finishing her cup of coffee and the front page section of the paper when John came to the bedroom door.

“Honey, it’s beautiful outside. Let’s take the dogs out for a walk!”

Gena looked at him for a moment before saying, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“The dogs, they’re antsy. It’s great outside. Throw some clothes on and let’s take them around the block!”

Gena was still looking at him, not having budged an inch. “John, what the hell are you up to?”

The dogs, honey! They have to be walked? Come on, let’s go! They’re waiting for us!” John said, clapping his hands together loudly to emphasize the point. “Come on, baby—let’s shake some ass!”

Gena Rowlands reviewing a scene from "Faces" while John Cassavetes selects another reel to look at in their editing room in the garage of their Hollywood Hills home.

A few minutes later. Gena Rowlands had thrown on some jeans, white sneakers, a stylish blouse and her Dior sunglasses. John was waiting on the front steps with the dogs, holding out their leashes to her.

“Okay now, honey. Take these, but wait for me to call you to come down the driveway.”

Gena just stared at him. “Wait for me to hear you call before I come down the driveway? I thought we were taking the dogs out together. What the hell is this?”

John shoved the dog leashes in her hands. “Here, and remember—wait for me to give you the call!”

With that, he grabbed up the Canon DSLR camera and went running off down the driveway.

Gena stood on the stoop with the leashes in her hands. “Jesus. I should have stayed in bed.”

Just then from down the street she faintly heard, “Okay, honey! Come on down the driveway and make a turn to the right and start walking the dogs. And what ever you do—don’t look at me!”

Gena sighed. She wanted to turn and go back inside and go back to bed, but the dogs were looking at her with their tails wagging. There was no getting out of this now. “Sonuvabitch.”

She gave the leashes a tug and reluctantly started down the driveway. “Okay, come on, kids. Let’s get this over with. And remember, whatever we do—don’t look at daddy.”

Gena trudged down her driveway to the road at the bottom of the hill and, as told, made a turn to the right.

And there at the end of the corner she saw John peering at her through a small camera held up to his eye. She just stood there looking at him for a moment. Then John took took one hand off of the camera and waved, “No, no, no! No looking at me! Come on, keep walking this way! Just walk! I am not here!”

The Dior sunglasses concealed the venom in her eyes. Then, as instructed, she started walking with the dogs down the road towards him.

Once past him, John put the camera down and excitedly pressed the button to playback the video.

“John,” Gena said, now turning around him, “what the hell is going on?”

“Oh, I’m just trying something out.”

“And what the hell is that thing?”

“It’s a camera. And it’s amazing! Here, look,” he said holding up the back of the camera to her displaying the shot he’d just filmed of her coming down the sidewalk with the dogs.

“Uh-huh, yeah, very nice. Now what the hell should I be looking at?”

“What should you be looking at? That’s you! Don’t you look amazing? Look at that—that’s high definition! Can you believe it?”

“John, I can’t take any more of this. Can’t you just go back to smoking?”

“You’re not going to believe this thing! This little camera that I paid next to nothing for shoots full high-definition video in 1080—and at 24 frames per second! It’s a goddamn movie camera! And I got it at Costco! It cost me practically nothing! I’ve got to give Orson a call–he’s gonna love this thing!”

“Uh-huh, great. So what the hell are you doing with it?”

“What am I doing with it? I’m making a new goddamn movie! And it’s all about you! You and the dogs! This is going to be my greatest film yet! The whole thing is going to be about you! You! You!

“Oh, Jesus. Another movie, John? You told me that was all behind us. What do you want to make another goddamn movie for?”

Why? Don’t you get it? It’s not going to cost us anything this time. I don’t have mortgage the goddamn house again. I can make the whole thing on a month or two to of our Social Security checks. Don’t you love that? Isn’t this great!”

“John, John, John—”

“Okay, now turn around and keep on walking down the hill. I’m going to get a shot of you walking away from me, so start walking that way and go right at the corner. But once you get around the corner and you can’t see me anymore, stop and wait. I’m going to come down and walk backwards with you and get a great shot of you walking the dogs so. So go ahead and get going.”

“John—”

“John what? You’re not walking. Get walking. Go! Action!”

Gena Rowlands being filmed by John Cassavetes for "A Woman Under The Influence."

 

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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.

3 Responses to John Cassavetes—An Independent Filmmaker’s Fantasy

  1. jennifer richard says:

    Hi Mike,
    These are 3 wonderful pictures of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands.
    As I’m working on a documentary about them for French television, I’d like to know if these pictures are available for license and use in our production, and under which conditions.
    Thank you very much,
    Jennifer
    Footage researcher

  2. JP Carpio says:

    Dear Mr. Carroll:

    Thank you for writing and posting this.

    I am a filmmaker from the Philippines. Ever since a friend introduced me to John and his work in 2000, I consider him a spiritual mentor and a lifelong inspiration.

    You write very well and based on what I’ve seen and experienced with John and Gena’s acting roles and their interviews, you have also captured part of their personality and character in this piece.

    It’s a lovely thought to imagine him and Gena still going at it in their eighties using HD video.

    The sad part to me is considering how much abuse his work got during this lifetime, I predict that he would have just as been ignored if he had lived to this day. The happy part is that we would have been seeing more films from him as you have written.

    Thank you again.

    P.S. Even though I have obviously never met him, he’s the only filmmaker I feel close enough to to be on a first name basis.

  3. JP V. Carpio says:

    Dear Mr. Carroll:

    Thank you for writing and posting this.

    I am a filmmaker from the Philippines. Ever since a friend introduced me to John and his work in 2000, I consider him a spiritual mentor and a lifelong inspiration.

    You write very well and based on what I’ve seen and experienced with John and Gena’s acting roles and their interviews, you have also captured part of their personality and character in this piece.

    It’s a lovely thought to imagine him and Gena still going at it in their eighties using HD video.

    The sad part to me is considering how much abuse his work got during this lifetime, I predict that he would have just as been ignored if he had lived to this day. The happy part is that we would have been seeing more films from him as you have written.

    Thank you again.

    P.S. Even though I have obviously never met him, he’s the only filmmaker I’ve never met who I feel close enough to to be on a first name basis.

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