Unless you’re a fan of cult Japanese film, chances are you don’t know who Seijun Suzuki is. One way to describe him would be a studio hack director for Nikkatsu who primarily worked in the 60’s. You’d be just as justified in describing his as an auteur working within a genre to find his niche. Or even as a visual maverick whose flare for the garish has left an indelible mark on cinema. Yes you could refer to him as all those things and more, but you’d be pompous. What’s worse is that you’d be doing a disservice to the man and his films. So we’re going to take a more humanist look at one of the best directors has ever produced.
To understand Seijun Suzuki’s place in film you have to understand how the Japanese film industry operated for the better part of the last century. The studios in Japan signed directors, actors, lighting technicians, and everybody else who worked in movies, to contracts obligating them to work only for their company except in rare instances when talent or crew would be ‘loaned out’. This is basically the system that existed in before United Artists broke the mold in the 1930’s. Unlike however, Japanese studios had a rigidly defined system in which an aspiring director would have to rise through the ranks before being given control over a film. There existed a three tier qualifier for movies. A level films starred the best actors, got the most money, and the biggest marketing push. Top B movies were usually the bottom half of a double feature bill, got less money than A pictures, but still could be avenues for talent. C pictures were the top half of a double feature, were almost always black and white, and were really the testing ground for up and comers within the company. A director would enter the studio as a script assistant for an older mentor-like director. If they showed promise they would move on to be an assistant director and eventually move into directing C pictures, than B pictures. Only the masters like Ozu, Mizoguchi, Shinoda, and Kurosawa directed A level films for the major studios. This is the system that Suzuki entered into when he went to work for Nikkatsu, the nastiest and lowest of studios, in the mid 1950’s a fter leaving the lower paying Shochiku studio. It’s a system that ended up being a perfect fit for him.
Suzuki got the chance to direct his first feature with 1956’s Satan’s Town: a basic action-exploitation picture with truly awful acting. Between 1956 and 1963, when his acknowledged breakthrough film Youth of the Beast was released, he directed 25 films. This may seem like a lot, but for a production line genre director like Suzuki it was par for the course. Most productions were given 25 days for shooting and 3 for editing. With a week prior to shooting to iron out the pre-written script. Each type of film A, B, and C, had a specific budget for its type, not the film itself. The director was expected to turn in a completed film every five weeks, and going over budget was unheard of. In fact refusing scripts was also a taboo. The studio assigned directors to scripts, believing at that time that a director was no more important to a film than a camera operator. A director turned down a script at the peril of losing their job. Suzuki himself only turned down 2 while at Nikkatsu. This all may seem like things weren't geared towards making quality films, and that's basically correct. It did, however, offer amazing opportunities for directors like Suzuki to learn all sorts of techniques, and hone their craft over a relatively short period of time. Within one year of producing films you could be considered a veteran.
He never moved above the B level status, something he has never felt bad about. For Suzuki, who never thought of himself as an auteur, that is where he thrived. Eventually though, making whatever film comes down the pipeline can get extremely boring. For a person like Suzuki, who has an extremely short tolerance level it had to be maddening. This is why he began to experiment with films. If he couldn't change the script he would change lighting cues, add unrelenting music, strange scenery, out of place extras, or extreme time changes within a scene. He would do anything and everything to make the films he was creating interesting to him. 1963's Kanto Wanderer is a perfect example of his desire to imbue a typical yakuza film with some interesting flare. The film plays like any number of its genre kin up until the last 15 minutes when suddenly, it takes a turn into the surreal. As our hero yakuza exacts his revenge a wall falls to reveal a brilliant red background, as if his rage has just exploded on screen. It's as if Suzuki knew the audience would be flagging under the weight of this mediocre film by the time the climax rolled around. It's his way of saying, "okay pay attention now." It works like gangbusters, and you can't help but watch that sequence 2 or 3 more times afterwards to be sure you saw what you think you saw.
While his flourishes in Kanto Wanderer piqued the interests of some of Nikkatsu's execs it was One Generation of Tattoos, also known as Tattooed Life, that earned Suzuki his first official caution from the studio. Ever wondered where the under the floor shot during Kill Bill's 'house of blue leaves' sequence comes from? You guessed it, Tattooed Life. This scene, shot for only about 20 seconds form under a tatami mat was the climax of an elaborate fight scene that highlighted a thrilling chase through a house with a seemingly endless number of sliding doors. Once again red is used as a symbol for our hero's, White Fox Tetsu, seething rage. This time is appears in the form of window dressings, and lights that lead intot he final showdown.
Under strict orders to 'play it straight', he went on to make 1966's Tokyo Dirfter which can be nothing else than a total 'fuck you' to his bosses. Using the most dramatic color changes yet, Suzuki crafted a pop art masterpiece. The story concerns the last honorable yakuza battling for survival against the corporate corruption of his own gang as they attempt to wipe him out to make peace with their rivals. With its minimalist plot, and total disregard for narrative flow Tokyo Drifter is what you might have expected from Andy Warhol, had he ever made a James Bond movie. During one sequence we see the seasons change from Spring, to Winter, to Fall, back to Winter, and then Summer. It's unclear if these time shifts are disjointed to reflect the main characters unstable state of mind, are meant to leap over a few years of story, or have any meaning at all other than to liven things up a bit. The final showdown between our hero yakuza and his old boss is set in the most surreal nightclub I have ever seen. Everything contained within it, which isn't much, from the floor, to the walls, the bar and piano is white. As the shoot out begins between the parties, a sculpture is flooded with corresponding colored light to mirror the escalating tensions. It's simply the most beautiful scene I have ever watched in a film. Hero's Chinese landscapes have nothing on this film's interiors.
All of these experiments culminated in the film that finally got him fired from Nikkatsu in 1967: Branded to Kill. The film starts out as many others of the genre did. It concerns a yakuza assassin, called '#3 Killer', who must escort a VIP through a perilous cityscape. While doing so he realizes this is no ordinary assignment when, in a shoot out, the VIP takes deadly aim on their pursuers. Aroused only by the smell of rice, '#3 Killer' begins to get intertwined with a series of foxy go-go girls, to no romantic avail, and one who wants him to show her the ropes a la The Professional. When our man commits the greatest hit man sin by bungling as assignment he must go into hiding from '#1 Killer' who must put him down. This is where the film veers off wildly into Suzuki's most elaborate time shifts and narrative disruptions. '#1 Killer' gets pleasure out of torturing his mark, playing a twisted form of cat and mouse. By the time '#3 Killer' emerges from his seclusion to take on his enemy and the his entire yakuza clan the film has broken down into an extremely cerebral experience heavy on the symbolism.
This turned out to be absolutely more than the studio could take. After repeated warnings, Suzuki had defied them again and they excised him for it. Being that he had a contract with them, he sued Nikkatsu to, as he put it 'protect his dignity'. While the lawsuit didn't really amount to much, he did receive support from film fans and the public at large. Protests of Nikkatsu cost the ailing company so much money that it ended up being the death nail for them, they closed their doors a few years later. It has come to light since, that while Nikkatsu didn't appreciate Suzuki's films, the real reason they fired him was to cut expenses. Why they decided to go about in such a way as they did, we will never know, but Suzuki wasn't the only director to lose his job at that time.
In his 12 twelve years at Nikkatsu, Seijun Suzuki made 42 films. The last 13 of which are some of the most provocative, thrilling, and inspiring genre films ever made. In the 26 years since, he has gone on to make only 6 features. Many of these seem to be merely retreads of themes and ideas he has already visited. While he definitely thrived under the strict rules and regulations of the 1960's Japanese studio system, his years since can definitely not be counted as a failure. He has had quite a successful career as a tv actor in his homeland, and in 1985 he was voted 'Best Dressed Japanese Man' by the Japanese Fashion Society. Only recently have his films found critical acceptance abroad, with many retrospectives of his films taking place in , , the , and the US, but he has always been loved in . It would be easy to compare him to the auteur directors of , or , but he contends that his movies are not about himself. 'Films should be about ideas', Suzuki says, and if there's anything you can say about his work it's that his certainly do contain some rather imaginative ideas.
Fun with film names! Part one: Yasuharu Hasabe
Hilarious films names (most credit goes to translation!)
10. Cosmic Hitman
8. Fossilized Wilderness
7. A Gun for Annihilation
6. Machine Animal
5. Savage Wolf Pack
4. Stray Cat Rock: Female Juvenile Delinquent Leader
3. I Own Your Turf
2. Our Blood Won’t Allow It
and the number one awesome film title from Yasuharu Hasabe is:
The Wild Blue Yonder is unlike any other film, except for Herzog’s own Fata Morgana. Herzog uses found NASA footage in conjunction with film from an underwater exploration below Antarctica’s ice shelf to create a science fiction fantasy tale about a dying Earth and man‘s last ditch effort to find a new home. In addition to this pre-existing footage, new material has been shot to flesh out the story, and add in a few main characters. The primary is fictional, and the remaining characters play themselves. The movie is a strange and mesmerizing hybrid of fiction and documentary.
Werner Herzog is known for his film scores, and Yonder’s is one of the best he has ever produced. The combination of Mola Sylla, Ernst Reijseger and Sardinian Voices creates a swimmy and ethereal soup for the movie to exist in. The scenes of the astronauts exploring the alien liquid helium depths are especially poignant with musical cues and notes hanging and floating just as the explorers appear to be suspended in air.
The dreamy film is grounded by David Lynch alum, Brad Dourif, who plays an alien from a far distant planet, which he refers to as The Wild Blue Yonder. His role is mainly to serve as direct narrator and to punctuate the film with emotional outbursts concerning the impossibility of intergalactic space travel. The intense irony of the film is that Dourif and his fellow aliens left their dying home world to seek refuge on Earth. Now humanity is looking to his planet as a possible surrogate for the plague stricken Earth, something Dourif and his comrades had an unwitting hand in.
Besides Dourif, The Wild Blue Yonder is also punctuated with fringe mathematicians who, along with the narration, add cohesion and a very human backbone to the film. Their near innocence when discussing the possibilities of space travel flies in the face of the alien’s very common sense view of the limitations that huge distances create. It is the over-optimism of some of the NASA crew and the mathematicians that Herzog seems to hold in contempt. Yonder’s basic point is that the Earth is lot more rare in the universe than we can possibly imagine. While it’s interesting to speculate on man’s possible future as a galactic colonizer, it’s simply a very difficult proposition. The chances of creating or finding a habitat conducive to human life are so slim, that we better take care of what we have, while we have it. Earth may be one of a kind.
Werner Herzog has always claimed to use his films to search for a deeper human truth, what he calls the “ecstatic truth”. The Wild Blue Yonder is the closest he has come to capturing that truth so far.
Most people who watch Blaxploitation movies do so with tongue firmly in cheek. They laugh at the clothes, the music, the hairstyles, the bad special effects, and the usually out of place nudity. I must admit that I too, am guilty of the same sort of kitsch exploration that prompts many to pick up a copy of Detroit 9000, or Black Caesar. While these films do provide laughs for the wrong reasons it would be to your detriment to merely dismiss them all as trite, fluff pieces. In many of these films there is a lot of serious social and political commentary taking place. It’s just that Pam Grier’s breasts can sometimes get in your way of seeing this.
Many consider Mario Van Peebles 1969 classic: Sweet Sweetback’s Badasss Song, to be the first Blaxploitation film. It was the first to be written, directed, and produced by a primarily black crew. The unexpected success (unexpected by the white bread establishment that is) of this film made many small studios, and even some large ones, take notice. It seemed that black people, wanted to see movies about, gasp, black people!?? This set into motion a whole slew of films created independently and by studios such as American International Pictures. It was these early AIP films that so epitomized what the genre had to offer.
By 1970 AIP was a flagging, medium sized studio. The success they had had with the gothic horror films of Vincent Price in the 60’s was ending and there was no clear direction for them. When Sweet Sweetback hit, AIP jumped on the bandwagon, by creating some of the most vicious, and intelligent black films of the decade. Their first super hit was 1973’s Coffy starring Pam Grier, and directed by Larry Cohen (who would go on to make the It’s Alive series). A white guy directed the film, like much of AIP’s Blaxploitation fare. Some people decry this as an affront to the genre, but when you consider the quality of their films compared to something like Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite, the argument loses weight.
Coffy is a perfect example of the first wave of important Blaxploitation films: films that have a message and intelligently propose it, while not skimping on the action. The movie concerns Pam Grier, by day a nurse, by night a one-woman shotgun wielding avenger of her inner city neighborhood. When the white mafia threatens her good-cop boyfriend, Coffy must go under cover as a Jamaican hooker to infiltrate this white dominated crime world. These are classic themes of the genre: white devil criminals preying on the black community, which is at war with itself over its own future. It’s a community being pulled apart by the lingering socio-economic effects of Jim Crowe and slavery. Characters like Coffy and her boyfriend represent the positive, hopeful, forward-looking members of the community who seek true equality so they can pull their culture out of despair. They are always at odds with weaker social members, like Coffy’s brother, who is hopelessly locked in a downward spiral of black on black crime. The film embodies the promise of the civil rights movement i.e. we can better our community if given the chance, and we don’t want any help from whitey either.
These ideas of hope, self-determination, and pride in community are reflected again in films like Foxy Brown, Shaft, Across 110 St., and Superfly. The latter however, takes it into a whole new realm. Directed by the son of legendary photographer Gordon Parks, Superfly is often dismissed as a colorful romp through the life of a pimp. Upon further inspection though, it becomes evident that the film is an indictment of the social conditions that led Priest, the main character, to become a hustler to begin with.
I’m sure everyone had heard the famous title song: Superfly by Curtis Mayfield, but I doubt many have actually bothered to listen to the lyrics. “Superly, you’re gonna make you’re fortune by and by, but if you lose, don’t ask no questions why. The only game you know is do or die.” This is as succinct a portrait of Priest as one could paint. He is a strong, intelligent, man who just happens to be a hustler. The film proposes that had he born been into a different condition he might very well be a lawyer, or legitimate businessman. It is society’s fault that he is what he is. The condition of Harlem, and the racism of America has given Priest no other avenue for success. If he wants money, women, and a decent lifestyle he must be a criminal because all other avenues are closed to him. This is an incendiary claim, however, many did not even get the message because the movie also plays as a straight action piece, much like Shaft.
Superfly is about a man trying to turn his back on his hustler life. As in Coffy, Priest is confronted by the usual obstacles to his freedom white criminal underworld, and black friends manipulated by this white devil establishment to keep their community down. In the end he overcomes, and outwits all these obstacles with the help of a strong, good woman, and his intelligence. The film also features the prerequisite fights, car chases, shoot-outs, and explosions that mark all films within the genre.
This initial positive voice was short lived though, by 1974 most Blaxploitation films had given up including intelligent messages in their context. Where films like Coffy, and Superfly were a great mix of entertainment, the films that came later split into two categories. They either took the notion of the black do-gooder battling against the white criminal establishment to comic book, PG rated depths as in Cleopatra Jones, and Friday Foster, or they exploded with meaningless violence directed at any and all comers, like Dolemite and Hell Up In Harlem.
While either avenue offers merely a watered down version of what the genre began to be, it is this last, violent, type that so squandered the message. Take Dolemite for example, a film so indebted to Superfly that a lawsuit could easily be filed. It concerns a pimp, again, who is trying to grow his business in opposition to the white mafia. The main difference however, besides its atrocious script and production values, is that Dolemite does not seek to ‘get out of the life’ as Priest did. Instead he is content to consolidate his power as a pimp, and go to great lengths to remain the stereotype that he is. This turn is important, not only in the genre, but in black culture as a whole. It is a sign that the promise and hopes of the civil rights movement, the desire to overcome your obstacles, and better yourself through education and a functioning community, are on the wane. Dolemite doesn’t care about any of those things he just wants to get paid, by any means necessary.
In a way Dolemite’s line of reasoning is kind of genius. Because it’s like saying “That’s who you think we are? Ok, we are going to make money off you honkey bastards by epitomizing your stereotype of us. We are going to wear the blackface this time.” It’s a way of circumventing the ‘white’ norm of success by succeeding through the portrayal of violence, ignorance, and racial bias. All you have to do is look at music videos, or films today to see how this trend has played out. From Master P’s video featuring a golden basketball court and black men in ape suits, to Snoop Dogg’s film Soul Plane, we are witnessing the end product of the mentality proposed by Dolemite. Coffy, Priest, or Jesse Jackson might say: “sure you’re getting rich, but at what price to the community, don’t these negative stereotypes hurt the social accomplishments of the 60’s?”
For a few short years (1969 – 1974) Blaxploitation cinema offered a socially progressive, and hugely entertaining option for cinema patrons. By the middle of that decade, however, the progressive aspect had been sapped out of it, leaving only trite fare behind. The legacy of the genre is with us still however, and every now and then that initial thread of worth pops up in films like Hollywood Shuffle, Do the Right Thing, and Boyz n’ tha Hood. For the most part though, it’s as if Superfy lost the battle, and his conniving, backstabbing friend, Freddie, won. As Curtis Mayfield sings: “Freddie what have you done? Turned your back on your friend, sold him out, and in the end, your just another tool for the man.”
Cassavetes is one of those directors you either love or hate. Much the same way people are totally polarized on the works of Tarantino, or the film Magnolia, Cassavetes has driven film fanatics to loathe him, critics to praise him, and general audiences to simultaneously revile and admire him. He can either open an entire world of film to you, or simply reinforce your preconceived notions of the pretentiousness of auteur films, and in that he is singular. If the validity of art were based on its ability to produce extreme emotion Cassavetes would be considered a DaVinci. The way in which he achieves this provocation of emotion is special too. No other director, not Ozu, Renior, Scorsese, or Anderson (either of them), has successfully captured the essence of feeling in their films the way Cassavetes does. You don’t watch one of his films, you feel it, you live it. The audience registers every second of joy, anguish, or pain that floats across the characters’ faces. This is why his films create such a variation of comment: some people are not comfortable with how they feel while viewing them. But I think I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me slow down, back up, and give you a little background on the man and his works.
John Cassavetes is considered to be the father of American Independent film. When the French New Wave was exploding in , Cassavetes was developing his own answer to in NYC. But unlike his European counterparts who were seeking to take ‘cinema into the streets’, Cassavetes was seeking a more interior and personal space. He always called himself an amateur director and professional actor. Indeed many people know him better as the husband in Rosemary’s Baby, or from The Dirty Dozen, than they do as the creator of Shadows. But it is his work as a writer/director that means the most to us today.
His first film, Shadows (1958), was born out of improvisational routines he developed in his acting workshop class. The film proudly proclaims ‘this film was improvised’ at its conclusion, but the reality was it was quite scripted by the time it came to start shooting. It was, however, always fluid, and open to change on set. After the initial shooting of 1958, Cassavetes came back in 1959 to shoot a few more scenes to flesh out the main characters. Presumably because at the time of original shooting it was not clear were the story would end up. Many of these additional scenes involve Lelia and her relationship with her brothers.
The heart of the film concerns their sibling relationship, and the reaction of Lelia’s white boyfriend when he realizes, upon meeting one of her darker skinned brothers, that she has been passing for white. In the pivotal scene of realization no words are spoken between the lovers, everything is conveyed in glances and body language. This is what I am getting at with Cassavetes. He doesn’t need excessive dialogue or score to make sure we understand exactly what each character is feeling. He achieves it through his shot composition and by eliciting real moments from his actors. Moments that are all too recognizable to us. We don’t need to be told how Lelia’s boyfriend feels; it’s all there, in his face. The way his eyes dart from Leila to her brother, and then down to the floor. The way his body tightens with revulsion and then immediately loosens to say he is aware of the vibe he’s giving off. He is ashamed of how he feels, but cannot help it. He loves Lelia, but is also repulsed by her. Lelia and her brother recognize that look immediately; they know what he’s thinking and want no part of it. Her heart is broken with his glances, and her brother steps in to be her protector. As he demands the ashamed boyfriend leave his house, Lelia’s would-be beau apologizes, asks them all out for dinner, he is sorry; he wants to prove he is no racist. All this comes too late for Lelia and her kin. The damage has been done; they see him for what he is, for what he thought, if even only for a second. Their world is a world without compromise, they cannot flinch on this issue for one second. They will not be denied, or judged on their race. Her boyfriend knows this too, knows it’s too late, but he cannot help himself, he loves her.
This scene in Shadows lasts about 3 minutes, but is so riveting, real, and amazing to behold, that you cannot watch the rest of the movie without it dominating your thoughts. Of course this is not the only instance in which Cassavetes captures real life, there are many others. The diner cruising scene, scenes between the siblings, and between Lelia’s brother (a sad sack jazz singer) and his manager, all resonate with authenticity.
Cassavetes went on to develop this style in subsequent movies, each one primarily financed with his own money. Many paid for with cash generated from his growing acting career. He looked at acting as the means to make these intensely personal films. Take 1977’s Opening Night for example. It’s a movie about the lengths one actress (Gena Rowlands) will go to embody the character she plays in a Broadway play. (Cassavetes also stars in this one, as her husband in the play within the movie.) No doubt the desire to ‘get it right’ was something he often sought for himself when making movies, either as an actor or director. Through increasingly disturbing events, we witness the self-destruction of an actress. A woman who is subsuming her own identity within the character she is playing. As this strains her relationship with the play’s writer, the director (Ben Garazza), and the cast, she begins to understand the depths she will really have to sink if she is to be successful. Unwilling to play the ‘desperate woman over 40’ that is written into the script, she attempts to develop her character into a living human being: someone real.
This scenario of ‘woman on the edge’ was a recurring theme in his films. With 1974’s A Woman Under the Influence, starring Gena Rowlands (again) and Peter Falk, Cassavetes received some extremely negative criticism for his portrayal of a woman ‘going nuts’ in a suburban home. Those that would label this a perfect example of the inherent sexism in his films would miss the point of the character entirely. As Cassavetes saw it, this was a film about a free spirit who loved life, and was admittedly socially inept in her transition to suburban mother and wife. It did not help her predicament that her spouse is a blue-collar guy with mother issues. This film is Cassavetes condemnation of the routine and monotony of the standardized life that the suburbs can force onto someone. Rowlands isn’t crazy as defined by Cassavetes, she’s simply a woman under the influence of these pressures to conform, and she can’t cope, it’s just not her. For his credit, his husband loves her, demanding throughout the film that she ‘just be herself’. It’s the wild side he loves about her, and he is determined to have her live a happy and fulfilling life, but at the start of the film he is also concerned with the perceptions of his coworkers and family.
To free himself, and his marriage of these exterior pressures, this family must endure tests of its unity, culminating in Rowlands’ committal to a psychiatric facility following her nervous breakdown. Her breakdown is brought on by the perception by her husband that some very odd things were going on while she was throwing a party for her children. Sure, allowing them and the neighborhood kids to play dress up, and asking them to imitate for a visitor by yelling ‘Die kids, die for Mr. Jenkins’, is a bit off, but no real impropriety took place. When Faulk comes home to find the children running around his house nude, and a strange man standing in his living room, he doesn’t wait for explanations, he simply unloads onto his wife. As his rage builds, Falk elicits the help of the family doctor and his mother to confront his wife about, as he sees it, her crazy behavior. All this proves too much for Rowlands. As her world turns against her, she desperately clings to her children while begging her husband to help her. When she realizes the futility of her pleadings, she begins to spiral out of control. She mounts the couch, begins rambling and jabbering about the events of the day, and demands that ‘everyone leave her alone’. All of this is to no avail as the doctor and her mother-in-law are convinced that she is certifiable, and should be committed. Her husband however is reluctant to do so. His love for his wife makes him waiver on what was previously a drawn conclusion of action for him. He doesn’t know if he should sign the paper, doesn’t know if it’ll do any good. He blames himself, he loves her, he wants his wife back, the free spirit, yet he cannot allow such outbursts to overturn his home, and his world. He is too entrenched in what he sees as ‘normal and acceptable’ for Rowlands’ eccentricities to be tolerated.
This is perhaps the most extreme scene in any of Cassavetes’ films, yet it doesn’t seem like soap opera. Somehow it all comes off as believable and real. Somehow we sympathize not only with Rowlands, and Falk, but the mother-in-law, the doctor, all the characters in fact. Each one is so eloquently drawn that we can imagine ourselves in any one of those positions. We understand the desire of the family friends to ignore the problem, the same as we can concede that the mother-in-law is right in wanting to keep Rowlands from influencing her grandchildren. It paints the most realistic portrait of coping with someone’s mental illness, or seeming insanity, ever committed to celluloid before or since. It’s a much more truthful portrayal than Harmony Korine’s self-indulgent ‘Julien Donkey-Boy’ which was more about getting a Dogme 95 certificate than it was about looking into life with someone who is schizophrenic.
What Cassavetes accomplished with Shadows, Opening Night, A Woman Under the Influence, and every other film he made was the most precise and honest capturing of raw human power in the movies. His achievements cannot be dismissed as pretentious, arty, or self-indulgent, because he never indulged his own ego, rather the egos of his characters. He allowed them to develop and grow within the story as real people do, through believable experiences and trials. While doing so he created some of the most riveting cinema ever. He took these very personal stories that came from within him, and filtered them into something we can all enjoy, connect with, and appreciate. Because of the extremes of emotion his films portray, they polarize their audience. Some people are just afraid to admit to themselves they see their own flaws when watching one of his masterpieces.
Shadows, Opening Night, and A Woman Under the Influence are available in a Cassavetes box set of DVDs from Criterion, which also includes Faces, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.