Cassavetes in Newark: Gloria (1980)

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These images are supposed to be Newark, but I’m pretty sure they’re not (look closely at the bottom right corner–was there ever a Barnes & Noble downtown?).

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This is a maybe, but I have my doubts:

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Edited to add, 9/6/16: that last image conclusively established as Hoboken by our friend and OMGcatrevolution co-editor, the film scholar Hannah Frank! How she ascertained this, I am not sure, but voila:

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Gloria is one hell of an NYC movie, as attested to by its opening scene, where the usually rigorous Cassavetes even indulges in a Statue of Liberty shot, albeit a pretty fantastic one.

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This is a film that seems hard to reconcile with the grueling, demanding run of Seventies films that culminate with his final burst of glory in Love Streams. Diehard Cassavetes hagiographers—a group matched in tenacity perhaps only by the De Palma fanatics who insist that The Fury (featuring none other than John C. himself!) is something more than a cheesy b-movie—pass over this the way they do with his early-Sixties Hollywood double strike-out of Too Late Blues and A Child is Waiting.

Ray Carney, who links the three as Cassavetes’ weakest (since he rationalizes Big Trouble out of existence), mentions Gloria about two dozen times in The Films of John Cassavetes, but his single substantive comment is buried in a footnote, where he makes the bizarre claim that it “explores the ethical consequences of being a postmodern personality,” on which, I just can’t even.

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my reality ain’t discursive, ya got that?

In Cassavetes on Cassavetes, which Carney edited, he does allow Gloria a whopping 16 pages (of 520—by way of contrast, Husbands and Faces each get 70), though a good portion of that is about things other than film. There’s some discussion of locations, but NYC only—800 Riverside Drive (at 158th St.) for three different apartments in the film, and non-touristy outdoor spots to avoid what Carney calls “the Woody Allen movie feeling.”

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But the point here isn’t really Cassavetes, it’s Newark. And Gloria does finally reach the Brick City for real in its home stretch, as Gena Rowlands and weirdly amazing one-off child actor John Adames, whose hard-edged performance drew unfair Razzie attention, hole up next to Newark Penn Station to hide. So it’s a fairly minor appearance by the city, but one that reflects a recurring metanarrative of Newark as a place to hide out when on the lam in NYC (see also Once in the Life, for instance), and a neat capturing of Penn Station 35 years ago, which doesn’t look that different from today, plus or minus a Dunkin Donuts or so.

Here’s Cassavetes’ take, versus my own from last night (looks like I forgot to match a few of these, but this is a strictly fly-by-night operation, what can I say):

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Alas, the 1999 Sidney Lumet remake with Sharon Stone is mediocre at best. Whereas the 1980 version prominently features a cat, this one only talks about cats in dialogue, which seems a loss. And while the great strength of the original is, to me, its invocation of an older, rougher Hollywood tradition—think early-30s William Wellman, or the tough dames of the pre-Code era—Lumet’s has a more polished feel that occasionally veers into sitcom territory. I love Lumet’s approach to filmmaking; as he admits in his memoir, Making Movies, he’d often take on projects just to test out specific formal experiments, and IMDB trivia asserts that “When asked why he decided to direct this film, Sidney Lumet frankly replied that he liked to work all the time, and if he couldn’t find a good script he’d take a fair one.” I can respect that.

What’s astonishing is that the remake doesn’t credit Cassavetes at all—not in the opening credits, and not in the end credits either, unless I missed something. No idea why that is, but it casts an ugly shadow over the whole thing (not to mention calling into question the point of it, since . . . uh, what else is the point? the box-office draw of post-Sliver Stone and a seven-year-old? then again, neither does “a John Cassavetes remake” scream out surefire-hit. I’m perplexed).

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LOLwut?

There’s also no Newark in the ’99 version. No Sonny Landham, either–Lumet does great supporting-role casting, Cassavetes does the best. Even the NYC shooting is pretty lackluster for a director like Lumet, who is as associated with the city as any filmmaker out there. But there’s a great, empty opening scene with Stone leaving prison in Miami (in another, much worse, life, where I didn’t utterly fail at my first teaching job and crawl back to Los Angeles in shame, I’d be living in Miami and maybe blogging about films shot there!), so as a random way to end, here’s one oblique tribute to John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, the structuring absences of this great scene in an otherwise entirely un-noteworthy feature. They all—Cassavetes, Lumet, William Wellman too!—should’ve come to Newark more often as far as I’m concerned.

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