Friday, 13 January 2012

John Cassavetes: On Writing for Films

A Woman Under the Influence (Directed by John Cassavetes)
An excerpt from a rare interview with John Cassavetes by Nicholas Pasquariello published in The Daily Californian, May 1975, in which he discusses the writing and themes of A Woman Under the Influence which starred Gene Rowlands and Peter Falk. Two years in the making, independently-produced,  financed largely by family and friends, and with an extraordinary performance from Gena Rowlands, it remains one of Cassavetes’ most popular and provocative films. This interview was conducted during the editing of the film.

D.C.: How did you write A Woman Under The Influence?

Cassavetes: When I first start writing, there’s a sense of discovery. In some way it’s not just working, it’s finding some romance in the lives of these people. You get fascinated with their lives. If they stay with you than you want to do something – make it into a movie, put it on in some way. It was that which propelled us to keep on working at it. I wrote it originally as a play for Gena [Rowlands] and then Peter [Falk] read one of the plays and he said he’d like to act the part. I say ‘Why, I mean, the husband’s part is not nearly as good as the woman’s part.‘ He said, ‘Well, I still like it and I’d like to do it.’ So I began with that in mind, knowing who the two central characters are, and wrote a screenplay in about a month, and then revised it.

I have a very funny view on writing for films. It keeps changing, but my current view on writing for films is that dialogue should be tied up so heavily with the incident that you don’t feel dialogue and you don’t feel talk, rather you feel the emotions of the people.

D.C.: How much improvisation was involved in the making of A Woman Under The lnfluence?

Cassavetes: Hardly any. On Faces there was none either. On the first picture I did, Shadows, was all improvised, Faces was not, Husbands was about fifty-fifty, Minnie And Moskowitz was all written and this one was all written.

D.C.: Can you tell me the story of A Woman Under The Influence, as you now see it?

Cassavetes: It’s about a woman, it’s about her husband. The influence is the male, and she’s terribly in love with this man, and she’s crazy. He’s in love with her, and she counts on him. The rest of the story involves their lives, how they resolve the problem of her being crazy and him being sane, and being in love with each other.

You deal with an impossible situation, a woman who is really nuts, who can only function with the deepest love and respect from her mate, and when she has that she functions just admirably fine. When it’s taken away in the slightest form, if the man is human and has a bad mood, the woman goes totally berserk. Ordinarily you just let that woman go and say she’s a pain in the ass. Outside of having sympathy for her, she’d be impossible, but he happens to be in love with her, so strongly that it’s taken two people who absolutely have no right to be together except that they’re in love with each other, and they find a way to work it out through enormous difficulties.

He’s a working man, a guy that lays sewer pipes. He has a gang and they work outside in the fields, and they’re quite happy. She’s a prisoner in her household, not really caring about anything except a love affair that exists between herself and her husband. It’s impossible for him really to cope, to understand fully his need for her. And he has an enormous need for her. Every scene in the picture is dealing with their mothers, their friends, their families. Everything is on a level that he doesn’t understand, he can’t comply with, because he doesn’t think that she has any friends except himself.

People love her, and when she goes insane and comes back from the institution, when she’s so-called cured, no one likes her that way, they want her to be what she was, in a controlled area. He’s the only one that can make it that way, that can make her that way. A Woman Under the Influence really is about all women being crazy, because I believe that’s true (laughter).

D.C.: Don’t you think all men are crazy, too?

Cassavetes: I think they wish they were crazy (laughter). Our [men’s] stakes are not as high, and our weapons are greater. Their [women’s] weapons are sharp and finely honed and steeled, but their problems remain constant. And sometimes they can’t use their weapons, and then they don’t know what to do because they have no way of fighting, and then they go crazy. So, a woman who is absolutely in love with a man cannot in any way compete, because she’s in love with him, and so she’s not in competition with him. But I do believe at the end of the picture that love is possible, not only possible but it’s practical and appealing and not maudlin and quite noble.

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