There are plenty of anecdotes about the late John Cassavetes — the director often cited as the “godfather of American independent cinema” — but my favorite is the one regarding an advance screening he did for his 1977 film “Opening Night,” about an alcoholic actress overcoming a personal trauma to pour her soul into a role. After noting the parts where the audience spontaneously burst into applause, he went back and recut the film, removing them all.
It’s a tale that reveals both the best and worst sides of the director, which are utterly inseparable in his films. Cassavetes — who mostly self-financed his films — answered only to himself, and successfully brought a personal, uncompromised vision to the screen. Yet his films make no concessions to the audience while offering many indulgences to his actors. Watching a film such as “Opening Night” is rather like watching a band go deep into a jam: You have to suffer through the patches where it runs on aimlessly if you want to be around for that magical moment where it all comes together.