1929–89, American film actor and director, a pioneer of independent filmmaking, b. New York City. The son of Greek immigrants, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and began his acting career in 1950s television. He appeared in numerous Hollywood movies; his best-known roles were in The Dirty Dozen
(1967) and Rosemary's Baby
(1968). His directorial debut, Shadows
(1960), an innovative and largely improvised feature, was made on a shoestring budget on 16-mm film. Cassavetes gathered around him a group of talented actors, such as Gina Rowlands (his wife), Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara, who collaborated in the filmmaking process. His films are largely domestic dramas that have an edgy realism and cinéma vérité
style and often deal with questions of identity, love, and marriage. They include Faces
(1970), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
(1976), A Woman under the Influence
(1974), and Gloria
(1980). He wrote most of his films and acted in many of them. Never very successful commercially, he maintained a modest but enthusiastic following and strongly influenced such filmmakers as Oliver Stone
and Martin Scorsese
See R. Carney, ed., Cassavetes on Cassavetes (2001); biography by M. Fine (2006); studies by R. Carney (rev. ed. 2000) and T. Charity (2001); M. Ventura, dir. I'm Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes (documentary film, 1984) and D. Cazenave, dir., Anything for John (documentary film, 1995).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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