Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bill Mesce: Remember Me -- Ben Gazzara

Remember Me: Ben Gazzara
by Bill Mesce
Sound on Sight


In Husbands, Cassavetes, Gazzara, and Peter Falk play three long-time friends who react to the death of another buddy with a midlife crisis bender of booze and a jaunt to London. Think The Hangover – but serious and for grown-ups.

Like much of Cassavetes’ work, Husbands has the shapelessness and shambling pace of life, the same sense of spontaneity, the same chaotic tumbling of the comedic into the tragic. It’s a demanding watch, but a rewarding one, almost uncomfortable at times in its feel of intruding into the real.

The heart of the movie is the give-and-go between the three leading men, and it may be one of the most honest and vibrant portraits of male friendship – with all its awkward intimacy and macho bullshit – captured on film. The bond between the three seems so damned real, it’s a surprise to find out that the three hadn’t known each other before Husbands.

Watching the film, seeing how open and vulnerable the three made themselves to each other, at the obvious chemistry among them, it’s no surprise they came out of the project friends. Gazzara would act for Cassavetes twice more, in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Opening Night (1977), and direct several episodes of Falk’s hit TV series, Columbo, including one starring Cassavetes as a philandering orchestra conductor.

But if you really want to see how closely tied the film brought them, go to YouTube and find them on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show being interviewed about the film. It puts Danny DeVito and his limoncello hangover on The View to shame. On the one hand, it’s appalling to see three grown – and obviously half-crocked — men cackling and falling over themselves on network television like kids farting in the back pew during mass.

On the other hand, it seems almost a scene from Husbands, and shows just how right the three of them had gotten it on film. Some things you can’t create; you can only hope to capture.

Husbands, Chinese Bookie, et al was not work Gazzara or the others did for fame and fortune. These were art house films before there was much of an art house circuit. Most people didn’t hear about them, even fewer went to see them. It was work done for the sake of doing; art for art’s sake. Film actors tend to be judged by their commercial successes and their visibility; not their willingness to explore the art. In that sense, Gazzara’s artistry was bigger than his career.

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