John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence

From the late 1960s to the mid 1970s, Hollywood existed in a pre-blockbuster golden era.  This era of film making contains many of my favorite films including Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate”, John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy”, Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” George Roy Hill’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and George Roy Hill’s “The Sting.” However, I had never seen any of Cassavetes’ films until watching “A Woman Under the Influence.” During this time, films emphasized realism and rejected traditional rules for dialogue.  Thomas Doherty, in his work, “Hollywood’s Pre-Blockbuster Golden Era” calls this era of film making “a New Hollywood Renaissance that matched the best of the classical era.” Many of the films of this time were more realistic and improvisational.

John Cassavetes’ film, “A Woman Under the Influence” encompasses this era of film making. The film follows Nick, a city construction worker, and his desire to help his crazy wife Mabel and their 3 kids. The film is very dramatic in a serious way. The instances where there is the most tension in the film, like when the doctor comes over and Nick’s mother is present are not unlike something that would happen in real life. The instance where this is most obvious is a the party Nick threw for his wife. Nick is really happy that his wife is coming home and invites dozens of people to celebrate. Nick’s mother advises him that there are too many people and she tells them to leave. As Todd Berliner, in his article “Hollywood Movie Dialogue and the “Real Realism” of John Cassavetes”, remarks, the mother’s speech is abnormal for cinema and more accurately reflects real life. She does not communicate effectively nor speak flawlessly.  Instead the mother changes direction and emphasis in her words, going from a loving tone, to a more demanding tone and back to a more loving tone. Here it reflects real life because she changes what she is saying as she is saying it. Cassavetes really accomplishes the “blending of art and reality” as Todd Berliner describes. The success of the movie lies in this bending. The movie’s reality makes it much more provocative and though inducing whereas a more traditional studio film would not leave as much of a response. Overall, I would recommend the film to others who want to understand how film evolved from early cinema to the blockbuster hits that we see today.

Cleo from 5 to 7

I really enjoyed Varda’s film because I felt like Cleo was a really fun character to be following. I could relate to her stress and frustration when she was getting the tarot cards red and related to her happiness when she went hat shopping for instance. I also enjoyed the pace of the movie. A lot of times a movie will condense time to fit the hour and a half time frame but this movie was not compressed all that much since the story happens only over 2 hours. Enough happened during those 2 hours that enabled it to fill an hour and a half and not feel boring. I chose to analyze the final scene because I really like the ending.

The scene opens with a wide shot of Cleo and the soldier sitting on the bench talking. Cleo seems very happy and not as stressed as before when she was in the hospital. She knows the soldier is leaving and wants to live in the moment.

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The next shot is a extreme wide shot. I loved the angle of this shot when I was watching it because at first I didn’t know what to look at. It is nice to see it from the perspective of the man on the bench.

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Next, a close-up of the doctor in the car is here. I really liked how this shot is a bit long. The camera is still focused on the doctor when Cleo and the soldier are talking. It brings a slower pace to the scene as the camera is not flipping back and forth as they are talking and makes the focus of this part of the scene the doctor, and not Cleo.

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Finally, a wide shot of Cleo talking to the doctor is shown. Here is where the focus shifts from the doctor to her.She is relieved that the doctor had good news.

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Next we see an extreme wide tracking shot. Here it seems as though the camera is on the car as it is driving away.I thought that this shot did a good job in applying depth and perspective to the scene in a rather quick way.

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Lastly, a long take close-up of Cleo and the soldier is shown. This scene reminded me of the very last scene of “The Graduate” where Ben and Elaine are sitting on the bus looking at each other and smiling. Nichols probably got the idea for that from Varda. Here, they are both happy about the test results but also serious and not sure about the future because the soldier was about to leave and Cleo still had to go through chemo. I feel like their emotions are the same as Ben and Elaine in “The Graduate” so it is kinda interesting that the last shot for both films are the same. That ending in Nichols’ film has become an iconic ending but it seems like the inspiration for that came from this film.

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