ASTORIA – The celebration of the life and work of John Cassavetes for the 90th anniversary of his birth culminated in the screening of his 1980 film Gloria, starring his wife Gena Rowlands in the title role. The Hellenic Film Society USA (HFS) presented the screening as part of the Always on Sunday film series at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria on December 15.
Hellenic Film Society President Jimmy DeMetro gave the welcoming remarks, thanking all those present, and then introducing filmmaker George Stephanopoulos who offered a brief introduction to the film. Stephanopoulos noted that he is not an expert on Cassavetes but in preparation for moderating the panel discussion hosted by EMBCA, AHEPA, and HFS on December 12, he familiarized himself with Cassavetes’ life and films. He said that Gloria was a rare commercial success for Cassavetes who had intended only to sell the screenplay to the studio, Columbia Pictures, but after his wife was cast in the title role, she asked for him to direct.
Stephanopoulos pointed out that Cassavetes is credited with being one of the pioneers of independent cinema. Cassavetes’ foundational film, Shadows, released in 1959, dealt with the subject of sex, race, and interracial relations, and was quite controversial for the late 1950s. Cassavetes edited his own films and often used non-professional actors. Shadows was mostly financed by Cassavetes and friends and through what we now call crowdfunding.
Gloria was one of Cassavetes’ “more mainstream films mostly because the critics liked it,” Stephanopoulos said, adding that “Gena Rowlands was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for the film and it won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival so it was very much recognized as an important industry film… This film was very different from the movies that he self-financed, self-produced and self-distributed like Faces, Husbands, and A Woman under the Influence.”
“Those movies were really for him, the movies that he cared most about, because it was a way for him to express himself, that’s what he saw as moviemaking, movies as entertainment was not anything he was interested in, in fact, he said, ‘I hate entertainment’ and… he speaks of his mom teaching him freedom from fear, which gave him the freedom to fail and allowed him to risk everything to express it all… He never thought of himself as a director, in fact he said ‘if anything I’m probably one of the worst directors,’ he really cared about his fellow man and movies for him were again about expressing himself and as an actor, he allowed his actors to have a lot of freedom, he wanted his actors to interpret their characters and really be as much a part of the making of the movie as he was as the director. In speaking about Gloria, his wife who plays Gloria, really interpreted the character the way she did, he said that ‘she didn’t really know why she was doing these things, she’s lost by it, and that’s the way I feel, I’m lost by life, I don’t know anything about life, if I make a movie I don’t know why I’m making the movie I just know that there’s something there, later on we all get to know what it is through the opinions of others.’”
The film itself, character-driven and violent, impressed the audience at the screening, many of whom noted Rowlands’ powerful performance and the fact that New York City itself was another character in the film lending a level of realism few other locations could match.
The audience applauded enthusiastically as the credits ran and looked forward to the next Always on Sunday film screening which returns with a new Greek film on January 12.
More information about the Hellenic Film Society USA is available online: https://hellenicfilmusa.org/.