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USA 1978
Directed by
John Cassavetes
144 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Opening Night

Opening Night is a wonderfully intense attempt to bring the humanity of the individual to light in front of the camera, largely successful and only let down by a seeming self-indulgent ending.

Cassavete’s wife, Gena Rowlands, plays Myrtle, a theatre actress who is rehearsing a role that, she fears, will define her as an “older woman”, a reality which has already arrived but to which she is unable to relate and in undergoing a crisis as she simultaneously tries to balance public affirmation and private denial and is confusing the two with more or less acute consequences. Partly a portrait of Myrtle and partly an exploration of the process of acting and the demands it makes upon the performer, Cassavetes’ fine script is clearly indebted to Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1950 classic All About Eve (he dresses Myrtle's young fan in a coat and hat similar to the one worn by Anne Baxter at the beginning of that film) although he has taken the older woman/younger woman duology in a very different direction. Gena Rowlands gives a standout performance in the kind of woman-in-crisis role that Cassavettes’ regularly cast her in. The final near slap-stick sequence which involves Rowlands as a revitalized Myrtle and Cassavetes as her stage husband improvising the supposed play in front a live audience changes the tone of the film which ends with a backstage party that features many of the director’s regulars. Whilst this is supposed to represent a “happy ending” for me it was a glib resolution that could only elicit perplexity as to why Cassavetes felt it necessary to include such prosaic material. Bar this and the fact that the play in which Myrtle is supposed to be acting (screen veteran and former Busby Berkeley girl, Joan Blondell, plays the author) could have been better integrated into the storyNevertheless, Opening Night is a marvellous film.

DVD Extras: Stills Gallery. Available as part of Shock’s excellent 7 disc JOHN CASSAVETES COLLECTION that includes also Shadows, Faces, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (both the 108m and 135m versions) and A Woman Under The Influence in new transfers. Also included is the documentary, A Constant Forge - The Life and Art of John Cassavetes by Charles Kiselyak and a booklet of recent articles about the life and work of Cassavetes. Coming in at a total runtime of 945m this set will be a must-have for anyone interested in independent cinema.

Available from: Shock Entertainment




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