Quick-Thoughts: John Cassavetes’ Opening Night (1977)

John Cassavetes Marathon Part V of V

Should I just assume that, from here on out, every director just makes a Limelight towards the end of their career? 

Myrtle Gordon has been a famous actor for quite some time now. After a teenaged fan of her’s gets hit by a car, though, Myrtle begins visualizing this dead girl as an echo of her younger self. The unhealthy drawbacks of this encourages her to begin jeopardizing a play writer’s vision by altering her latest role because of an interesting philosophy: the roles of mundanity and elderliness are what will kill her career, as whatever she plays is whatever the audience will forever see her as. The movie’s characters are uniquely aware of Myrtle’s delusions of reobtaining youth, reacting to it in frankly selfish ways, and it can occasionally make for a worthwhile discussion in Cassavetes’ catalog. 

What’s disappointing about Opening Nights when compared to Cassavetes’ previous films is that his meticulous camerawork and cinematography is almost entirely lost here. Too large of the time, the film is flat-looking and vanilla; sure, I can name maybe a few shots that I found to be well-choreographed, but that’s saying nothing when I was consistently absorbed in the anxious and plucky visual methodology of his previous movies such as Husbands or A Woman Under the Influence. Visually, this periodically reminded me of what Cassavetes had always detested from motion pictures to begin with: its spuriousness and modesties. The film overstays its welcome, as well, with its two-and-a-half hour runtime that begins losing justification throughout given how quickly the movie sets up the situation during its first act. Onward, the movie begins feeling tedious as it uses what it had already established over and over again with slight modifications.  

Another qualm I took from Opening Night was that it appeared as if Cassavetes had reworked the “mental illness” element from A Woman Under the Influence but made it… cheesy? Has he fantasized the very thing he sought out to make authentic in his initial feature-lengths? Fighting with an imaginary inner demon who degrades you, one that’s a reflection of your own self, etc. etc? Going to a medium, hurting yourself in a bipolar-esc way to a melodramatic extent? Other movies have done this far better before in far littler time — Persona, Repulsion, so on so forth — and the only clause that aided me to be okay with its familiarity was how Gena Rowlands substantially handles the character through another great performance. The play’s story being incorporated into Myrtle’s insecurities was also an intelligent way of showing her character’s battle between distinguishing reality and art due to her being typecasted into an older role, something that I would’ve rather preferred to be the only gist of the drama rather than adding a guilt-trip ghost stalker to the equation, as the live and rehearsal staging sequences outshined nearly everything else in this movie by a lightyear.  

But, it’s still decent! I believe that I can understand the power it grants to others who seem to find it essential given how personal it must’ve been as a reflection of Cassavetes’ own career, but then again, what film by him isn’t absurdly personal? 

Verdict: B-

John Cassavetes Ranked

“Opening Night” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

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