The 2nd annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival held a tribute to honor the collaboration between director/actor John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands on Friday, June 27 at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood. Director Peter Bogdanovich moderated a panel discussion which featured Gena Rowlands, actor Seymour Cassel, producer Al Ruban, and composer Bo Harwood. Following the discussion, there was a screening of “Faces”, the 1968 film directed by Cassavetes which starred John Marley, Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel.
John Cassavetes was a Greek American director and actor who is credited with inspiring the American independent film industry with the release of his film “Faces”, which was one of the first independently financed films to receive Academy Award nominations. Gena Rowlands explained that her husband’s interest in filmmaking was “in reality and what people say in their homes to each other.”
“Faces” explores the relationship between a married couple, played by John Marley and Lynn Carlin, who decide to separate after 14 years of marriage. Marley seeks the company of a young professional escort played by Gena Rowlands, and Carlin spends her time with a hippie cowboy played by Seymour Cassel. When Rowlands first saw “Faces”, she described it as “so stunningly different and honest… and not an easy picture to watch.”
The panel remarked that Cassavetes’ films were all personal and intimate stories about people. John Cassavetes himself said in a brief montage that was shown at the beginning of the presentation that he wanted his characters to “analyze love… the rest of the stuff doesn’t interest me. I have a one-track mind for love.”
In his own life, Cassavetes found love with Gena Rowlands. They met in New York City when they were both young actors in the 1950s. They married in 1954 and had three children, Nick, Alexandra and Zoe. Since Cassavetes passed away in 1989 at the age of 59, his film company, Faces Distribution, is overseen by Gena Rowlands and Julian Schlossberg. All three Cassavetes children are involved in filmmaking.
Director Peter Bogdanovich said Cassavetes had an “extraordinary understanding of women” as evidenced in many of his films including “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974) which Rowlands starred in and calls her favorite movie. Rowlands explained that just because an actor is playing a realistic role does not mean it is based on that person’s own life. She plays her characters as if she is their “defense lawyer”. Her acting on screen is driven by her need to defend her character no matter if they are right or wrong.
The panel agreed that in addition to all his talent, Cassavetes was a truly caring and compassionate person– a rarity in show business. Composer Bo Harwood said that when Cassavetes liked what you did, “he empowered you.” Producer Al Ruban, who worked on every film that Cassavetes made, said Cassavetes “changed my life. It was a privilege.” Actor Seymour Cassel, who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in “Faces”, said “I was lucky to work with the best.”
Bogdanovich described Cassavetes as the “only director of his generation that could be called a poet”. A collection of five of Cassavetes’ independent films was released on DVD in 2004 called “John Cassavetes–Five Films” by The Criterion Collection.