“It is the subjective fever dream of a psyche carving fantasy out of reality as he goes.”
In 1976, with the box-office takings from A Woman Under the Influence (1974), John Cassavetes made his most personal film. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, like the preceding movie, was financed, released, and marketed by Cassavetes’ own production company. Unlike its predecessor, it was a box-office and critical failure. Bookie notably differed from Cassavetes’ previous films in its predominant focus on a single audience-identification figure, and in its comparatively baroque formality. Repeating both of these apparent excursions from his oeuvre, the director made Opening Night (1977) the following year, which inspired much of the same commercial and critical disfavour. Cassavetes might reasonably have been expected to recant his recent narrative and stylistic departures. After all, A Woman Under the Influence – which despite its title, was about family life – had been his greatest financial success, and had even brought him an elusive Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Characteristically, however, Cassavetes redoubled his efforts at innovation by re-examining the earlier text of Bookie, and re-releasing the previously 134-minute film in a 108-minute version in 1978. Regrettably, the contemporary response to the second version was no more enthusiastic than to the first. Nevertheless, the re-edited Bookie is the most fully realized of all Cassavetes’ films, and a viewing of both it and its prototype provides a rare opportunity to witness a great director’s substantive and formal evolution in the making.
The 1978 Bookie was not the first alternative version of a Cassavetes film. His first film, Shadows (1959), was famously a twin birth. However, these alternative takes are not strictly comparable, as the second version of Shadows is a remake – incorporating some of the original footage – rather than a re-edit. What they do have in common is that Cassavetes was obviously dissatisfied with their original form, and went to considerable time, effort, and expenditure to make available a rethought edition of both. But while the second Shadows was recognized as a significant deviation from the first – Jonas Mekas famously going so far as to denounce the remake – critical attention to the differences between the two versions of Bookie has been negligible. Contemporary critical responses took place in an overall climate in which Cassavetes’ work was undervalued, at least in his own country. More surprising is that the same indifference recurs in the current critical climate, where due to what Olivier Assayas has called “the intrinsic simple-mindedness of cinephilia, its entourage of fetishism and automatic approbation,” Cassavetes has become an undisputedly canonical figure.1 This indifference is perhaps attributable to the creative poverty of the modern “Director’s Cut,” which usually functions as no more than a commercial device or, worse still, as the comfort blanket of a spent force. There is little recognition afforded to the radical disparity between the two variants of Bookie. Cassavetes does not just remove or truncate scenes, he also introduces footage not present in the original, and strategically positions his cuts to radically shift the emphasis on facets of his subject and on elements of his own style. Even critics who are cognisant of the serious divergence of the re-release seem to attach little significance to it. Ray Carney, the self-proclaimed authority on Cassavetes, allows that “the versions represent two completely different edits with different shot selections and different scenes,” but strangely, he neglects to demarcate the two anywhere in his comprehensive The Films of John Cassavetes; Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies.2 When discussing the film – in a whole chapter dedicated to it – he never specifies which version, merely concluding in his endnotes that “both versions are of equal interest.”3 Similarly, George Kouvaros, another admirable Cassavetes commentator, discusses the film in his essay, “A Strange Sun: Cinema and Theatre in John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night,” and although he alludes to the alternative versions, he refrains from comparing or contrasting the two.4 Carney is famously unwilling to discuss Cassavetes’ work in terms of its stylistic strategies, preferring to focus on director-actor dynamics, but Kouvaros is considerably more formalistic in his approach, so it is surprising that they share this indifference. Taking issue with Carney’s performance-dominated interpretation of Cassavetes’ cinema as a whole, Adrian Martin has observed that “even the most matter-of-fact edit has the potential to flip the fictional world and its elements into a strange, parallel universe, in which bodies are suddenly snatched and identities trade their places.”5
This would be an apposite comment on Cassavetes’ 1978 editing of Bookie. The director takes the imperfectly evolved vision of the original, which might be described as an abutment of his earlier work, and underlines its advances, granting them a sculptural relief, in order to take up almost antithetical stances – diegetically and stylistically – to his previous filmography.
One thematic preoccupation from Cassavetes’ pre-1976 career that does survive into his subsequent films is the nature of performance: acting as a mode of living. The protagonists of Bookie, Opening Night and Love Streams (1984), are all performers – literally or metaphorically – and their creator’s fascination is with their motives for, and methods of, performing. The difference in these late films is that they privilege one character’s performance over the ensemble of the earlier movies. Both versions of Bookie bestow this attention on the figure of Cosmo Vitelli, strip-joint owner, gambler, and sometime murderer. The two edits differ chiefly in that Cosmo’s performance is examined, questioned, and finally undermined in the first, while in the second his efforts are affirmed: his self-conception is supported by the film’s very structure. The plot essentials are exactly the same in both films; it is how that information is provided that alters the spectator’s experience. The diegesis of the first film is comparable to those films preceding it in Cassavetes’ canon, in that it is presented objectively. As Maximillian Le Cain has suggested in Senses of Cinema, “up until this point his great films had all worked around the interaction of different characters against comparatively objectively rendered backgrounds.”6 The worlds of Shadows, Faces (1968), Husbands (1970), and A Woman Under the Influence belong as much to any one of the characters therein as to another. The world of the re-released Bookie by contrast, is filtered through the all-pervasive perception of Cosmo. The most basic way this is effected is through the alterations that Cassavetes makes to the chronology of the re-edit. An examination of the opening scene is instructive.
In the original, Cosmo is not situated in his club, the Crazy Horse West, until the third scene. The re-edit begins with him emerging from the club to chat to his doorman on a quiet night for business. The very first shot sees him emerge from an almost uterine cavity, and this immediately indicates the intimate congruity of Cosmo and his establishment: the club is where he feels most comfortable, a womb-like space to which he is usually anxious to return. “Don’t worry, Vince, it’ll pick up,” he reassures the doorman who responds with a gratified smile. This minimal exchange establishes Cosmo’s indomitable optimism as well as his paternal role within the club, where he functions as nurturer to an assortment of bruisers and strippers. This suggestion is developed by a pickup truck of rowdy young men who drive by, shouting some indecipherable obscenity at Cosmo. These apparitions, vague and ill defined, embody Cosmo’s perception of an external threat to his club, and portentously posit his figure as its necessary defender. After the credits, the scene moves inside, where Cosmo literally introduces himself, or at least his totemic vision of himself, when he addresses the audience over the PA system. “My name is Cosmo Vitelli. I’m the owner of this joint, I choose the numbers, I direct them, I arrange them,” he says, presenting himself as the arch-manipulator of his world. Furthermore, the performative nature of his behaviour is suggested by the way in which Cassavetes cuts to the next scene. The strippers, or the De-Lovelies, as Cosmo dubs them, enter the stage, and the emcee, Mr. Sophistication, doffs his hat to the lights; cut to Cosmo, framed with the sun behind his head refracting in the camera lens, as he goes to meet his loan shark and make a final payment (a scene that comes before in the original’s chronology). This cut – not present in the original – economically suggests that, like Mr. Sophistication, Cosmo is a performer. In making his final payment, he is striking a pose. “Marty, you’re a low-life,” he comments provocatively, “You’ve got no style.” In summary, then, everything within the opening scene and its cut to the next is determined for the spectator by Cosmo’s psychology, establishing a wholly subjective diegesis. The world of the re-edit is not a representation of reality, but rather a reflection of Cosmo’s personality and of his state of mind, which might be summarized as follows. The club is a haven from a potentially hostile world, both for himself and for his employees who are dependent on him. That haven is reliant on him in order to function; he must carefully orchestrate everything himself if it is not to fail. In order to protect his club and his dependents he must cultivate a veneer of unflustered cool with which to reassure his charges, and repel likely threats. That the opening scene should grant the spectator this insight into Cosmo’s mindset is crucial, because everything that follows is filtered through it.
Throughout the re-release, narrative excisions, additions, and transpositions support, confirm, and corroborate Cosmo’s interpretation of actuality, so that the “comparatively objectively rendered backgrounds” of the earlier films are never permitted to contradict or confound him. For instance, in the scene following the final payment to his loan shark, Cosmo goes to a bar where he proceeds to celebrate by getting drunk. In the original, his bemused taxi driver comes in and they discuss their respective childhoods, after which Cosmo is persuaded to leave the bar and go to work. In the re-release, by contrast, there is no taxi driver to manifest reality, and no hard night’s work ahead. Instead, Cosmo announces to a girl at an adjacent table, apropos of nothing, “I’m great,” which immediately cuts to a scene in the back of a hired limo ferrying him to a casino, as he marvels to himself “I am amazing.” In this way, Cosmo’s self-perception is seen as self-perpetuating – his vision of the limo is realized immediately. In the original, his experience is less visionary; objectivity is not excluded, it sits opposite Cosmo in the slightly concerned figure of the taxi driver. And the limo scene and “I am amazing” line do not follow on directly from the bar scene – his initial conjuration of them – but instead follow his intervening workaday hassles at the club, and therefore ring somewhat hollow.
Just as the taxi driver is permitted a voice in the original, so the first De-Lovely that Cosmo collects on his way to the casino is allowed to introduce an alternative perspective to Cosmo’s. In the original, she expresses indifference to the expensive champagne that Cosmo offers her, prompting a peeved response. In the re-edit, however, she raises the glass and happily observes as any obliging escort should, “Look at all those little bubbles.” Thus the trip is again made a reflection of Cosmo’s vision, rather than in the original where its unruly participants confound his best intentions. The Cosmo of the original is similarly discomfited once inside the casino, where his inability to control the reactions of those within his orbit continues. His vision of entering the club with his harem and wowing the crowd, as if he were bringing his stage show on the road, begins to fall apart quickly – he even has to call for chairs for the De-Lovelies, because no one is paying them any attention. When his girlfriend, Rachel, tries to tactfully remonstrate with him as he signs a large cheque to go further into debt, he querulously tells her, “Don’t do that – it irritates me.” In the re-edit, none of this occurs. Most significantly, Cassavetes has withheld from the audience information relating to an unlimited credit offer that Cosmo has earlier received from one of the gangsters who run the casino. Without this information, Cosmo’s decision to go to the casino and lose prodigiously is more directly linked to his conception of himself as “amazing.” So, while this initially seems to make Cosmo a less sympathetic character – in the first version he is manipulated into the situation, while in the second it is sheer recklessness – it ultimately makes his actions all the more audaciously willful, and his massive losses are brought about with correspondingly more chutzpah. The whole sequence thus becomes Cosmo’s subjective vision of how to lose big, rather than the shabby reality of the original. Cassavetes achieves this by trimming the aforementioned scene of the casino floor, but reinforces it with the addition of a scene, once the action has moved upstairs to the executive office. Before Cosmo is shown in to account for his losses, Cassavetes adds a scene of a bickering married couple who are similarly in hock to the casino management. As they begin to turn on each other, their fear and hysteria is at odds with and complements Cosmo’s serene, albeit tired, acceptance of his own situation. His elan is similarly emphasized by the re-edited version of his subsequent punishment beating. In the original, as he is led down an alleyway by the largest of his debtors, Cosmo tries to escape, only to be unceremoniously yanked back into the shadows. Following the beating, he is further humiliated by his assailant’s complacent sarcasm. In the re-release, the dialogue is removed altogether, as is Cosmo’s attempt to run away. The beating is thus made a transaction among equals, and Cosmo takes it without complaint, and without losing his dignity.
Cassavetes’ re-editing of the original is a process by which he accommodates Cosmo’s self-determined identity. The director’s sympathies are self-evident. He even goes some way to excusing, or at least lessening, the jarring impact of the titular murder. In the original, Cosmo is inadvertently made aware that the target of his hit is not actually who he’s been told, but he completes the mission regardless. In the re-edit, he is not made aware of the true identity of his target until afterward. Moreover, in the original there is no revelation of Cosmo’s army experience in Korea, where he has killed in the line of duty. As his chief tormentor phrases it, “You’ve killed gooks before.” So the murder he commits entails less of an inward schism, and its success is much less improbable than in the original, where Cosmo’s undertaking of the task seems the most desperate capitulation. Even the written directions he is given to the victim’s home allow him a little more autonomy than in the original, where they emphasize his puppet-like helplessness: “It’s all marked; the steps are in there . . . look in the book; the steps are marked – that’s your bible.” In the re-edit, his fate is never entirely out of his own hands; his will is never defeated.
A further addition to the scenario acts as a signifier of that moral independence. Cosmo is told to take his girls to Chinatown as bait for the bookie, and that on meeting him, he should invite the bookie to the club. Cosmo duly takes the girls, but he perversely plunges them into the darkness of a movie-house, and not surprisingly, fails to encounter the bookie. His only concern is that having spent so long in the movie, they are made late for that night’s show at the Crazy Horse West, his real priority. The same scene is in the original, but there is no preceding indication of Cosmo’s instructions to take the girls out as bait, and therefore correspondingly less significance attached to his wilful frustration of the plan. Cassavetes’ desire to spare his creation from moral injury in the re-release is replicated even in its depiction of Cosmo’s physical trauma. His bullet wound is likely intended as a mortal injury in both versions, but in the original, Cassavetes’ camera lingers excruciatingly on the stricken Cosmo, revealing his overwhelming pain as he twice doubles over in agony on the way to Rachel’s home. In the re-edit, his pain only manifests itself when he is with Betty, Rachel’s mother, where it is just another facet of his performance: “Call me a cab,” he tells her heroically. The terrifying ordeal of the original is diminished, and so even Cosmo’s shooting is made subordinate to his own vision of the death-careless hero.
Cosmo’s subjective experience is allowed to permeate even the film’s formal surface. In order to depict a visionary diegesis, Cassavetes adopts a host of more subjective formal tropes than can be found anywhere in his preceding work. The manifold personalities of the earlier films necessitated an all-accommodating, frenetic cinematography that could appear to react to its characters’ sovereign, ungovernable behaviour while privileging no one. For the same reason, the lighting and musical scoring of those films was not permitted to prioritise one character over another. Hence the prevalence of chaotic framings, anonymous photoflood lighting, and unrhetorical music. The adoption, however, of a single, unifying central character in Bookie demanded antithetical strategies. Ray Carney, suggesting the difference between Cassavetes’ filmmaking and Hollywood practice, writes that “The main line of American feature filmmaking uses the consciousness of one or more central characters as the organizing centre of the narrative, complemented by such conventions as expressive lighting effects, tendentious framings, mood-music orchestrations.”7
According to Carney, “Cassavetes breathtakingly rejects that entire tradition.”8 However, Bookie, Opening Night, and Love Streams demonstrate exactly the “subjectivizing tendency” that Carney abhors, and nowhere more strikingly than in Bookie.9 The lighting palette, in particular, functions as a series of simply coded devices by which Cassavetes evokes Cosmo’s personality and charts his state of mind. The film features three predominant effects. Noirish moments of physical action are defined by a low-key, chiaroscuro lighting whereby Cosmo’s elusiveness is emphasized and his aspiration to tough-guy status confirmed. The most instructive example is the scene in which he respectively dismisses, kills, and eludes his three would-be assassins, the physiognomical patterning of light and shadow transforming him into a wraith-like figure. By contrast, at moments of moral rather than physical threat, the lighting is high-key, almost overexposed, such as in the executive office of the casino following Cosmo’s losses, or in Betty’s parlour when he sheepishly reappears with his untreated bullet wound. The oppressive incandescence of these scenes characterizes Cosmo’s tension just when his performance is most under inquisition. The most abstract lighting scheme of all, and the most sensuous, is the adoption of theatre lighting. The film employs this scheme repeatedly throughout, utilizing the actual stage lighting of the club, or adapting ambient light sources such as sunlight and overhead lights, in order to suggest stage lights. This lighting connotes Cosmo’s performative tendency, his “all the world’s a stage” mentality. The camera frequently shoots directly into these light sources so that they become refracted in the lens, evoking starstruck Hollywood premieres. In addition to signifying Cosmo’s role, the stage lighting also suggests the role the Crazy Horse West occupies in his life. The surreal, magenta haze of the internal club scenes symbolizes the womb-like, amniotic safety that Cosmo retreats to when under threat; specifically moral threat, such as when he consoles himself over his gambling losses by taking a young wannabe back to the club to audition for him, or when Betty – a desired mother figure throughout – casts him out of her house in order to protect her daughter.
The expressionistic effect of the lighting is duplicated in the framing. The blocking and camera coverage in Bookie is, with a few exceptions, serenely measured. It reflects the surety of Cosmo’s elegant movements, which themselves reflect the premeditation of his behaviour. This is in contrast to the confused, disordered movement of earlier characters such as Ben, Freddy Draper, and Mabel Longhetti, whose physical clumsiness was an extension of their psychological disharmony. Their uncertainty was delineated by a suitably dizzying cinematography in which faces and bodies seemed to collide and ricochet, into and out of, the frame as if unsure or unaware of all boundaries. The framing in Bookie, on the other hand, is unambiguously precise, almost entirely concerning itself with the subjective record of one character only. Carney, again suggesting what differentiates Hollywood cinema from Cassavetes’ work, writes that “the point-of-view shooting and editing convention sinks a visionary and imaginative mineshaft into a character’s heart and brain . . . We have access to their ‘visions’ of life.”10 But this is precisely what Cassavetes repeatedly achieves in the re-edited Bookie. For example, in the scene in which Cosmo celebrates his newly debt-free status by getting drunk alone, the camera surveys his experience of the bar without becoming distracted by the behaviour of its other denizens. Cosmo enters, orders one drink, does a jig of delight, orders another, tries to play a song on the jukebox, and finally sits down before noticing, and briefly conversing with, a young woman sitting alone in the adjacent shadows. The camera, when not actually providing literal point-of-view coverage, acts as a tailing spectre of Cosmo, allowing the spectator to trace his steps and share in his subjective experience. The only time the ghosting camera moves from Cosmo is when it targets the focus of his own attention, such as the men playing the jukebox as he enters, the barmaid as he orders drinks, or the girl he notices in the shadows. At the only moment when a character returns Cosmo’s attention – the girl when she answers his smiling stare by asking wearily, “What are you lookin’ at?” – the editing employed is the standard POV shot/reverse shot coverage that Carney deplores.
The same scene also features notable use of the “mood-music” – written by Bo Harwood and Cassavetes himself – that Carney laments in American cinema. The bar scene is characterized by a mournful ballad, “Almost in Love with You,” which deals with loneliness, just as Cosmo goes to an unfamiliar bar and gets drunk alone. It is perhaps the first such rhetorical use of music in Cassavetes’ filmography. The song is selected on a jukebox just as Cosmo enters the bar. Minutes later, in a sequence not included in the original, he attempts to select something from the jukebox himself. He is unable to operate it, and “Almost in Love with You” plays on. Similarly, the later audition scene employs an equally melancholy song, “Rainy Fields of Frost and Magic,” as a dejected Cosmo auditions a young stripper. Provocatively, Cassavetes actually has Cosmo select the music himself – “Yeah, we got music,” he says in answer to the girl’s enquiry – trying and rejecting two other tracks, before settling on the most sorrowful tune. The music in these scenes is explicitly utilized in order to engender affective appreciation in the spectator, and Cassavetes draws attention to its function as such.
The audition scene as a whole is emblematic of the film in that it expertly applies all of its expressionistic tropes in the outward projection of Cosmo’s immanent emotive experience. Sitting on a café terrace, tired from his disastrous night’s gambling, Cosmo is approached by the waitress, who asks for an audition. The camera mimics his gaze in a POV pan from her face down to her chest. A brusque Cosmo ushers the pushy prospective employee from the bright California sunlight into his darkened club. “Damn thing never works,” he complains on trying a light switch, uncharacteristically deprecating his beloved establishment. While the girl changes in the dressing room, and after he has selected the aforementioned music, Cosmo mounts the stage, entering the magenta warmth of the stage lights. As the sombre music swells, he pauses pensively in full profile and leans on the prop staircase in an attitude of exhaustion. Cut to an over-the-shoulder POV shot as he stares into the light, its beams refracting in the lens – and in his eyes? – before he slowly walks toward it and becomes enveloped by its radiance. The only departure from Cosmo’s scope of awareness is a cut to the girl as she applies her makeup in the dressing room, and even this serves only to juxtapose her eagerness with Cosmo’s weariness. After he takes a seat in the stalls – the stage pictured in another over-the-shoulder POV shot – the girl emerges and begins her performance. The camera frames Cosmo’s spectatorship, and implies the anonymous proxy-ship of the girl – it could be any young wannabe, waiting tables in LA, and cheerfully on the make – by scrupulously framing her at the top of the shot, so that her face is never visible, her pale legs prancing and skipping back and forth. Cosmo smiles, initially charmed by the girl’s flamboyant routine – in the original, by contrast, her entrance elicits only a frown and an impatient drumming of his fingers on the table – recognizing her whimsical performance as a kindred manifestation of his own fantasy ethic. He soon becomes strangely irritated, however, as if aware of the futility of her efforts and, by extension, of his own. This is suggested by the harsh sunlight that streams through the windows behind him to form a dialectical opposition to the stage’s fantasy, with Cosmo as the intervening agent, desperately trying to transform cruel reality into the joyful pizzazz of his nightclub routines. Determined to impress him with something poetic, the girl’s own fantasy comes crashing down, when she is confronted with the reality of other people’s vulnerability and anger, as Cosmo’s girlfriend, Rachel, discovers them and flies into an hysterical rage, assaulting the unfortunate girl and sending her fleeing back out into the blinding sunlight with a plaintive cry. The fight’s jarring cuts, frame-exceeding close-ups, and confusion of bodies – indicative of the chaotic, uncontrolled emotions at large – is in stark contrast to the elaborately graceful blocking of the scene up to that point, the measured elegance of all three players’ movements redolent of Cosmo’s somnambulant fantasy.
What none of the above adequately conveys is the extraordinary beauty of the scene. The lighting, framing, music, and balletic choreography of the blocking combine to produce the most aesthetically satisfying scene in all of Cassavetes’ cinema, and perhaps the most affecting. It is emblematic not just of the film, but of the larger shift in Cassavetes’ diegetic ingredients and stylistic devices that took place in the 1970s. In this scene, and in the re-edit as a whole, he radically departs from Carney’s conception of his work as “an art devoid of gorgeousness . . . and stylistic dazzle.”11 No longer working “to delay understanding as long as possible,” but on the contrary, to enable a highly subjective, visionary world, Cassavetes makes liberal use of formal signification through lighting, framing, music, and editing.12 The embryonic visionary style of the original – perceptively described by Phillip Lopate as the “exploratory version” – prefigures the literal visions that will appear in Opening Night and Love Streams.13 And the subjective strategies located in the original are foregrounded in the re-edit’s more streamlined structure, whose function is to lend them prominence. The scenes most formally similar to Cassavetes’ earlier work are the stage act scenes featuring Mr Sophistication and the De-Lovelies, which necessarily deal with a troupe, in the manner of the earlier films, and must incorporate the spontaneous, unruly contributions of the onscreen audience. Significantly, these are the greatest casualty in the re-edit.
Carney has observed that “all of Cassavetes’ major characters are artists of their own lives.”14 In that sense, Cosmo is the quintessential Cassavetes character, and in contrast to the original, the re-edit does not impede him in that privilege. Whereas in his earlier films Cassavetes creates a world in which, as Carney recognizes, “the way others ‘script’ our lives invariably limits the independence of our performances,” in the re-edit of Bookie, Cosmo successfully withstands that world’s prescriptive attentions.15 In so doing, the patsy of the original becomes a kind of hero in the re-release. The ending of both films sees Cosmo still alive, still “on,” even with a bullet in him. This is in contrast to another 1970s movie that also takes as its subject an entrepreneurial romantic whose precarious trade in female flesh is encroached on by a more ruthless capitalist interest: McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971). Altman leaves the audience in no doubt of his hero’s complete and pointless annihilation at that film’s conclusion, having him shot in similar circumstances and then entombed alive by a relentless snowstorm. McCabe’s innocent machinations are shown to have been pathetically futile. Cosmo, on the other hand, is last glimpsed standing sentry outside his cherished nightclub, his would-be oppressors dead or scattered: he has achieved something. And in the re-edit, he has been less compromised in doing so. If he is to die, it will be as he has lived: obstinately and perversely on his own terms.
Casssavetes’ re-edit of Bookie is most emphatically not the self-indulgent “Director’s Cut” of modern parlance. It does not exist as a lazy recycling of cutting-room floor litter. Nor does it function as a shameless generator of DVD sales, or as a desperate re-rehearsal of former – and far distant – achievements. The 1978 version of Bookie is nothing less than an artistic advance in the making, as a filmmaker leaves behind one mode of expression in order to realize another. Just as Mekas criticized the remake of Shadows because it seemed to correspond less well with his conception of Cassavetes’ work – even after only one movie – so the original Bookie is superficially the more easily identifiable as “a Cassavetes movie,” and like the first incarnation of Shadows, it too failed to satisfy its creator. And if the remake of Shadows is in all probability the better version – in Cassavetes’ opinion, “it is a film far superior to the first” – and shows a process of maturation in its maker, so the re-edited Bookie is certainly the superior version, and indicates the direction that Cassavetes was going with his cinema – first glimpsed in the original, developed in Opening Night, and continued in Love Streams.16 The fact that he was prepared to re-edit an already released film is indicative of his determination to change direction, and effect the arguably logical amplification of naturalism into expressionism – “I feel that my filmic life has come to some kind of an end,” he told a journalist in 1974, on the completion of A Woman Under the Influence.17 Compared to the grimy reality of other 1970s crime movies, such as The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971), the formal surface of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is one of shimmering beauty. And that is because it is not a realistic film. It is the subjective fever dream of a psyche carving fantasy out of reality as he goes. And if the original version is a rough diamond, the re-release is a polished gem, its surfaces literally refracting light, and cut more precisely to its owner’s desire. Cassavetes’ sculpting of his own work into this most exotic of films mirrors the beatific contrivances of his creation, and thus most alter-egotistical subject, Cosmo Vitelli.
- Olivier Assayas, “Cassavetes, Posthumously,” included in Tom Charity, John Cassavetes; Lifeworks. (London: Omnibus Press, 2001), 199. [↩]
- Ray Carney, The Films of John Cassavetes; Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 137. [↩]
- Ibid, 314. [↩]
- George Kouvaros, A Strange Sun: Cinema and Theatre in John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night,” Screening the Past, Issue 13, September 2001. [↩]
- Adrian Martin, “John Cassavetes: Inventor of Forms,” Senses of Cinema, Issue 16, 2001. [↩]
- Maximilian Le Cain, “Identity in the Films of Cassavetes,” Senses of Cinema, Issue 16, 2001. [↩]
- Carney, 77. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Ibid, 78. [↩]
- Ibid, 77. [↩]
- Ibid, 231. [↩]
- Ibid, 19. [↩]
- Phillip Lopate, essay for The Criterion Collection (accessed July 17, 2008). [↩]
- Carney, 105. [↩]
- Ibid, 108. [↩]
- Tom Charity, John Cassavetes; Lifeworks. (London: Omnibus Press, 2001), 33. [↩]
- Ibid, 133. [↩]