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Too Early, Too Late

I’ve never understood why “Too Late Blues,” John Cassavetes’s second film as a director (1961) and his first for a Hollywood studio, is so seldom mentioned in discussions of Cassavetes’s work. It may not be a fully mature effort, but the outlines of his style and thematic preoccupations are there — more vividly, in many ways, than they are in “Shadows.” But somehow — with perhaps from encouragement from Cassavetes — “Too Late Blues” has been classified as a concession to commercialism, when in fact Paramount seems to have been far more liberal in its accommodation of Cassavetes’s eccentricities than Stanley Kramer, who produced Cassavetes’s next film, “A Child Is Waiting” (1963), and did his best to remove any trace of Cassavetes’s style from the final cut.

Thanks to Olive Films, there’s now a fine Blu-ray edition on the market, which I review in this week’s New York Times column, along with Olive’s DVD release of another second feature by a promising young director, Joseph Losey’s 1950 “The Lawless.”

59 comments to Too Early, Too Late

  • patrick henry

    I’d like to mention Stella Stevens’ most offbeat role (that I know of) in Robert Parrish’s spaghetti western (Question: is it a “real” spaghetti if not directed by an Italian?) A TOWN CALL HELL, in which she plays, more or less, the Angel of Death. If you got to go, Stella is definitely the angel you’d want to meet.

  • Larry Kart

    One of the many problems that ROUND MIDNIGHT has is Dexter Gordon’s then-playing (as opposed to his acting and/or on-screen persona, which is a joy). That is, it’s crucial to the storyline that Dexter’s character be almost on the rocks as a musician, then return to significantly more vigorous form as the result of ministrations of the character based on F. Paudras, then descend to death when he returns to evil New York City. The problem is that at the time the film was made, Dexter was not in great shape musically or physically, and thus there is no evidence on the soundtrack of his playing getting any better/stronger when it needs to do so to fit and to further the arc of the plot. Of course, one could argue that any film that calls upon its audience to resolve such matters on the basis of what it hears (i.e. in musical terms) rather than on the basis of what it sees has got a big problem going right there.

    For example, the musical virtues and emotional tone of the cello concerto (or parts thereof) that Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote for Paul Henreid’s character to play in DECEPTION are what they are to us not solely (or even primarily?) because of what Korngold wrote but because of the mise-en-scene of Irving Rapper and the acting of Bette Davis, Henried, and above all Claude Rains (as Alexander Hollenius, the on-screen composer of the work.)

  • Larry Kart

    Re: my previous post. I’m not saying that Tavernier is anything other than a very artful filmmaker. Rather, I think that in ROUND MIDNIGHT he got a bit too caught up for the overall health of the film in the gravitational field that Dexter Gordon could generate as an acknowledged jazz giant and one who had a genuinely romantic aura — Dexter of course being fully aware of his powers in this regard and more than willing to exploit them to his own advantage. Hey, I was the eventually willing, though a bit slow on the uptake, “victim” of one of Dexter’s amiable con games myself.

  • nicolas saada

    The intensity of Cassavetes’work has ironically leftna devastating imprint on the work of many young and older directors in France. The common cliche being the confusion between Cassavetes’ spontaneity with improvisation. Those who still think they can reproduce the feel of Cassavetes by having actors go wild in front of the camera should look at his more controlled films, like A CHILD IS WAITING. The fact was that Cassavetes was fortunate enough to work with the same group of very talented people. So Cassavetes was very much a director in control who learned how to use chaos within a controlled environment. I always believed they were two sort of jazzman, the directors, like Ellington, Gil Evans, and the performers, like Liles Davis and Coltrane. Cassavetes would belong to the second category, shifting from the organized style of his early studio films to the controlled chaos of the later sixties and seventies pictures. OPENING NIGHT is an extremely precise script, built, “disorganized” by its director. That would make Cassavetes the John Coltrane of cinema.

  • On the subject of Cassavetes, I was surprised that Jean-Luc Godard shouts him out in his “Histoire(s) du cinéma” along with Hollis Frampton. It was the first time that I heard of any connection, or knowledge that, Godard knew about, or was influenced by, Cassavetes or Frampton.

  • Alex

    If I recall correctly somewhere above someone refers to TOO LATE BLUES and ChILD IS WAITING as failures. I’m not sure “failure” isn’t a bit too strong for what are, after all, good films (Stanley Kramer and Abby Mann’s involvement in WAITING notwithstanding). Indeed, some of Cassavettess’ more excitingly innovative films — like “Faces”– may be failures by som;e standards (e.g., insufficiently realized or not fully effective effective or marked by lapses), indeed instances of those “failed experiments” brough up a stream or two ago.

  • Brad Stevens

    “On the subject of Cassavetes, I was surprised that Jean-Luc Godard shouts him out in his “Histoire(s) du cinéma” along with Hollis Frampton. It was the first time that I heard of any connection, or knowledge that, Godard knew about, or was influenced by, Cassavetes or Frampton.”

    Godard dedicated DETECTIVE to Cassavetes, alongside Edgar Ulmer and Clint Eastwood.

  • Haven’t seen TOO LATE BLUES yet. But sneaked a peak at its opening on youTube. This is a delightful scene, in which the power of music to reach out and cause communication is highlighted. It shows black people and white people communicating, and adults and children. It shows people relating to each other as human beings.
    On THE LAWLESS: this is one of my favorite Losey films. It has a very “lived in” feel. Partly due to the location feeling. It shows a way of life: a small agricultural town somewhere in California.
    One of screenwriter Geoffrey Homes’ mystery novels is Six Silver Handles (1944), also known as The Case of the Unhappy Angels. It’s best in its opening (Chapters 1,2), a look at a young soldier and would-be writer wandering around rural California. The story pays tribute to the aspiring author’s hero, John Steinbeck, and his novel The Grapes of Wrath. There is much atmospheric writing, describing the “Steinbeck country” in California, to which the youthful author is paying a pilgrimage. While Homes pokes some good-natured fun at the young would-be writer’s naivete, this is basically a sympathetic portrait. One suspects that it is also a sincere tribute to Steinbeck.

    THE LAWLESS also seems Steinbeck inspired: the California agricultural community, the search for social justice.

  • Digressing to the previous topic: I returned from Midnight Sun Film Festival last night. The image of Harriet Andersson as Monika was the emblem of the festival on the poster, the catalogue and the t-shirt. Every morning started with a two hour discussion with an artist with the final question “Which movie would you take to the desert island?”. Harriet’s choice was A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE with Marlon Brando – her inspiration for Monika. Reportedly in Paris Jeanne Moreau saw SUMMER WITH MONIKA which in turn inspired her. A fascinating chain of influence.

    Joe Dante had an enthusiastic reception, and there was a devoted audience even for the 4 h 40 min version of THE MOVIE ORGY, which was screened past midnight. I watched enough to appreciate the serious undercurrents beyond the madness.