John Cassavetes was a filmmaker who lived deeply inside his own world. He was a passionate man of extremes, possessed with a fierce talent that bordered on madness. Dismissive to the critiques of others, he was only interested in matters of the heart—what meant something to him and those he loved—shedding light on what it meant to be a human and the relationships that make us so. His defensiveness and quick-draw hinted at a vulnerability behind the volatile man, yet Cassavetes was adamant about facing the fear which motivates us. He said, “The most difficult thing in the world is to reveal yourself, to express what you have to. As an artist, I feel that we must try many things—but above all we must dare to fail. You must be willing to risk everything to express it all.”
Coming from an actor’s background, he was truly an actor’s director—focused on characterization and pulling forth genuine performances at any cost and by whatever means possible. He believed that “We are people already, so all we have to do is be someone in a given situation,” an idea so simple but that seems to escape so many of those on camera. No matter if he was screaming at his crew or working intimately with an actor, Cassavetes was never short of emotion or excitement. His energy was non-stop and his tendency towards perfectionism caused him to craft films that allowed him to be involved in every aspect of the process. And for all his work, the 1970 film Husbands—which he wrote, directed, and starred in alongside Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara—was possibly his most exposed film, characteristic of his own honest questions about the emptiness of existence and what it means to be in the middle of your life and still not know who you are or where you’re supposed to be. His cinematic style allows the audience to get close to the characters in a way that almost feels intrusive—never knowing if you should turn away and allow them to have this private moment, both exposing the character while making us reveal ourselves as well.
Husbands tells the story of three men who, following a friend’s sudden death, are forced to examine their own states of being and exhibit a mutual midlife crisis of personal faith. The film follows them between New York and London as they drink and maniacally laugh their way into one situation after another, blurring the pains of reality for brief moments, only to have them smack them in the face the next. It’s a sincere and sensitive yet tough and biting force of a film that veers off into misogyny at times but never without a glimmer of remorse and guilt lingering behind. Their flaws are entirely on display and as Cassavetes is wont to do, their performances are as unapologetic as their character’s behavior. Working with two co-stars who were close personal friends of his in real life, Cassavetes’ dynamic is unparalleled—playing so naturally with a mix of fear, aggression, love, and, at times, the mundane moments that audiences may find tedious but serve to remind us how starkly realistic he is willing to go as a filmmaker to expose the condition of the human soul and its complexities.
While searching for a video in which Cassavetes explains that if he were to do a musical, it would be of Dostoevsky‘s Crime and Punishment, I came across the making of Husbands. It’s an incredible watch for those who love his work but also for anyone who cares about cinema and the dire passion of those who create it. Enjoy.