Tuesday, May 18, 2010

OPENING NIGHT (John Cassavetes, 1977, USA)

Myrtle Gordon is an aging actress haunted by the violent ghost of her first life, her fractured self-image now like jagged shards of glass. Writer/Director John Cassavetes and his soul mate Gena Rowlands conspire to create a palpable friction between delusion and reality, as the cult of personality searches in vain for the mythical fountain of youth.

Cassavetes films the stage performances before a live audience, a synergetic formula that blurs the line between actor and character, play and film, as the movie audience sees themselves reflected upon the silver screen. We witness the violent act of creation as fictional characters are conceived on paper but imbued with spirit by those who will physically give birth to them: a destructive interpolation between writer and actor; that is, what one person imagines must be filtered through the genius of another resulting in a completely different construct. OPENING NIGHT is an allegory concerning the filmmaking process where even an Auteur must make some concessions.

Myrtle Gordon stumbles through her life in an alcoholic fugue, hiding her aging visage in a haze of booze and cigarette smoke, futilely condemning the second law of thermodynamics. When a young girl dies, an adoring fan left outcast in the rain, Myrtle begins her decent into madness. She begins to lose herself in the fictional character she is rehearsing, and imagines the dead girl as a living reflection of her past, a vibrant physicality that condemns her future yet to come. Myrtle becomes possessed with the idea of consulting a psychic though her problems are embedded in the natural convolutions of her depressive condition. In two brutal scenes, Cassavetes cuts between Myrtle’s perceptions as she is assaulted by this angry girl and objectively, as others see her injuring herself.

Myrtle is barely coherent on opening night, though she discovers herself through the fictional character and deviates from the scripted routine to reach some form of emotional equilibrium: after all, the show (and life) must go on. Final Grade: (B+)

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