Here's an excerpt from my piece John Cassavetes' romantic, poignant, emotionally volatile and movie-drenched, "Minnie and Moskowitz," playing this Saturday at the New Beverly. Read the entire piece here. And don't miss it at on the big screen in beautiful 35 MM at the New Beverly, Nov. 19 at midnight.
“I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show. A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes. Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain and celluloid heroes never really die.” – The Kinks, “Celluloid Heroes”
Movies set you up. That’s what movie lover Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands) emphatically states to her older friend and co-worker, Florence (Elsie Ames), after the two women spend an evening out watching Casablanca. They drink wine in Florence’s dark little apartment and they talk; they talk like realwomen. It’s a disarmingly frank discussion between a much older woman with a younger woman about sex, men, doing what they can to please men (who seem to want everything from them, their heart, their soul, as Minnie states, only to learn men really don’t want it when they finally get it), loneliness and… movies. And yet, that “set up,” that fantasy, hangs over Minnie and Moskowitz in a complicated manner that neither damns the siren call of cinema nor negates their delusional pull. Perhaps we need movies. Perhaps we need them to realize we don’t need to believe in them? Perhaps to realize they’re often lovely, but often a lot of lovey bullshit? That’s how beautifully complex writer director John Cassavetes makes Minnie and Moskowitz – it’s just not that simple. Nothing in the Cassavetes universe is that simple.
As Minnie says: “You know, I think that movies are a conspiracy. I mean it…. They are actually a conspiracy because they set you up, Florence. They set you up from the time you were a little kid. They set you up to believe in everything. They set you up to believe in ideals and strength and good guys and romance and of course, love. Love, Florence… So, you believe it. You go out. You start looking. Doesn’t happen and you keep looking…. There’s no Charles Boyer in my life, Florence. I never even met a Charles Boyer. I never met Clark Gable, I never met Humphrey Bogart. I never met any of them… They don’t exist, Florence. That’s the truth. But the movies set you up. They set you up and no matter how bright you are, you believe it. ”
Minnie’s monologue is a potent clarification within a movie full of movies, a movie in which characters go to the movies, talk about movies, even drive past movie marquees. And that the film, set in Hollywood, was a studio picture, a supposed “youth movie” (if Lew Wasserman had his way) and also, according to Cassavetes’ biographers, a movie inspired by the director’s own courtship with his real life wife Gena Rowlands. It’s both a valentine and a warning tale. Don’t believe all that movie mush but don’t deny your feelings either. Don’t harden. Don’t get cynical. Don’t shove it all away. Love is the thing, but how we get there is a frustrating almost violent struggle. It is not gorgeous, suave and smooth, like Charles Boyer; it’s embarrassing, volatile and weird, like Seymour Cassel.
Well, who knows? And considering Rowlands’ Minnie has been contending with so many messed-up, oppressive and abusive suitors at least Seymour sticks up for her, clumsily, when the moments arise (and they arise a few times, sometimes, his own fault). When she returns home after her night with Florence, a man is in her apartment. That man turns out to be her married boyfriend Jim (played by Cassavetes), whom she thinks she loves. What does he do? He hits her and knocks her on the ground. Why? Because he’s jealous (he justifies his behavior with the “I love you so much I just get jealous” routine.) Of course he’ll go back to his wife (after his wife attempts suicide) and Minnie’s left both depressed and disgusted. Then, in a standout scene, there’s another man (in a complicated scenario, he’s an accidental date) who berates her after she says she’s not interested in him over lunch. In a funny, sad and acerbic moment with a magnificent Val Avery as the never-in-a-million-years potential partner, Minnie listens to all he can give her (he’s very aggressive and nervous about this) only to get hollered at upon rejection: “Blondes. What is it with you blondes? You all have some Swedish suicide impulse? Huh? I took a blonde to lunch once, next think you know she wanted me to kick her… Bleached blonde, 90 dollar a week worker. I just wanted to take you out! Give you an education! Show you there’s a little love and understanding left in the world!”
And that’s where Seymour steps in to save the day. You know, like in the movies. Sort of. He really starts driving poor Minnie insane, even when he takes her to Pink’s (there are so many wonderful Los Angeles details in this movie). Seymour has just freshly arrived in L.A. from New York where his dating life wasn’t exactly aces either. But we learn that he does have at least one thing in common with Minnie – he loves movies too. The picture begins with Seymour watching The Maltese Falcon and also having a conversation with a fellow loner, in this case a stranger in a diner played by the brilliantly bizarre Timothy Carey (who adored working with Cassavetes). Carey is the unforgettably named Morgan Morgan and in a magnificently manic, sweaty scene, talks and yells about a lot of things: Aging, the kind of women he likes, his wife’s death… and again, movies. Seymour asks: “You like movies? I just saw a movie called The Maltese Falcon. You ever see that?”
Morgan Morgan: “Uh-uh. I don’t care anything… I don’t know anything about cinema. I don’t like it. Bunch of lonely people, looking up. Forget about it.
Seymour: You don’t like Bogart?
Morgan Morgan: I only like one: Wallace Beery
See, even Morgan Morgan likes one movie star.