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.

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