Masks and Faces: The Films of John Cassavetes at TIFF Bell Lightbox

From July 14-31, TIFF Bell Lightbox is presenting a retrospective of the work of pioneering American independent filmmaker John Cassavetes (1929-1989). It’s the first time in 20 years that such a major exhibition of Cassavetes’ work has taken place in Toronto.

Beginning his career as an actor with roles on stage as well as on television and film (including a memorable turn as Mia Farrow’s husband in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby), Cassavetes always chafed against the strictly economic focus of the studio system, and was one of the first filmmakers to finance, make and exhibit his films outside the existing infrastructure of the Hollywood movie business. Working with a small group of collaborators and friends, including his wife Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes made a handful of films that have had an enduring influence on American filmmaking, including the work of directors as different as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

I am eagerly looking forward to correcting yet another blind spot in my knowledge of American film history, especially since Cassavetes’ obsession with characters rather than plots is right up my alley. In many of his films, his characters are ordinary people facing difficult situations or at major turning points in their lives. He also chose to work with actors who looked and spoke like regular people, using his friendships to challenge them to dig deeper and to give some of their rawest and most direct performances. Some of his regular collaborators (Peter Falk, Seymour Cassel) are among my favourite actors, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing the recently-departed Falk light up the screen again.

Tickets are available online for the entire series, including a very special conversation with Gena Rowlands on July 14th at 6:30pm. She will also introduce her Oscar-nominated performance in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) at 8:45pm that evening, as well as Cassavetes’ second feature Faces (1968) on Friday July 15th at 6:30pm. More information on the series is available on the TIFF Bell Lightbox site.

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