A Sunday With Gary Oldman and Ben Gazzara
(feat. The Strange One, The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie & Saint Jack -- Ben Gazzara and Gary Oldman in person!)
Gary Oldman the actor and filmmaker, well-known to audiences for his portrayals of dark and morally ambiguous characters in films such as State of Grace, True Romance, Léon, The Fifth Element, The Contender and Dracula. known for his portrayals of real-life figures, having portrayed Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, Ludwig Van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved and Pontius Pilate in Jesus. In recent years he is recognizable as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter film series and James Gordon in Christopher Nolan's reboot of the Batman film series.
This Sunday, Gary Oldman will conduct a Q&A with long time legendary film and Broadway actor Ben Gazzara for a triple feature of John Cassavetes films.
Oldman came to prominence in the mid-1980s with a string of performances that prompted pre-eminent film critic, Roger Ebert, to describe him as "the best young British actor around". He has since come to be regarded as one of film's most diverse actors, and has been cited as an influence by a number of successful actors. In addition to leading and central supporting roles in big-budget Hollywood films, Oldman has frequently acted in independent films, as well as having appeared on television shows such as Fallen Angels and Friends, his performance in the latter bringing him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. He also directed, wrote and co-produced the Palme d'Or-nominated, double BAFTA-winning Nil by Mouth, a film partially based on his own childhood, and served as a producer on The Contender, Plunkett & Macleane and Nobody's Baby. Apathetic towards celebrity and the Oscars, Oldman has been cited by The Guardian as arguably the best actor never nominated for such an award. Nonetheless, he has won, and been nominated for, multiple major film and television awards during his career.
Tonight's Cassavetes films are as follows:
The Strange One is an odd little movie, an allegory of evil that seems made by a studio that only exists in an alternate reality, and beamed onto a local TV station late into the night. In his first starring role, Gazzara immediately proved he had serious acting chops, oiling up the screen with his creepy, charismatic portrayal of a Machiavellian military cadet who’s rotten to the core. Looking dapper in a sailor cap and robe, a casually manipulative Benny spews out his hyper-articulate lines with the coolness of a proto-Buddy Love type, sadistically getting pleasure out of destroying the lives of everyone he touches. Directed by fascinating film footnote Jack Garfein (a teenage Holocaust survivor cum successful Broadway theater director who only directed two films) and largely populated with fellow skilled Actors Studio members including George Peppard and Pat Hingle, is not quite like any other film you’ve seen, and is not easily forgotten. The Strange One is indeed a strange one.
Dir. Jack Garfein, 1957, 35mm, 100 min. (Archival 35mm print courtesy of Sony)
The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie - 8p-ish
Only Cassavetes would couch a love letter to the art and the life of Theater inside a neo-noir take on the sleazy side of ‘70s Southland life! In what other film will you find a scene of a waitress from the famed proto-vegan L.A. restaurant The Source takeing her morning break to walk next door and audition for Ben Gazzara’s bizarro stripclub/ performance art venue? Rather than focusing on the bottom line, Gazzara’s character seems more obsessed with directing and coaching his strippers in charmingly inept, dated burlesque numbers -- and when his high-flying life style produces a gambling debt owed to a sinister syndicate of low-lifes (led by Cassavetes regulars Seymour Cassel and a wonderfully mushy Timothy Carey), he’s given a tough choice: knocking off a Chinese “bookie”, or losing his beloved theatre. Cassavetes renders all of this with a somewhat hallucinatory eye, subverting all crime genre conventions with his unsettled, staccato rhythms and a tone that drifts freely from absurdist to sweet, and back again. Likewise, Gazzara embodies perfectly the fractured, contradictory persona of Vitelli, a character as filled with frailty and vice as he is with ambition and integrity.
Dir. John Cassavetes, 1976, 35mm, 135 min.
Saint Jack - 10:45p-ish
After decades of portraying stern fathers, captains of industry and denziens of the underworld, Ben Gazzara gave one of his most happy-go-lucky turns in Saint Jack, the tale of an American hustler whose chaotic business it is to “satisfy the needs” of visiting businessmen in Vietnam War-era Singapore. “Saint Jack” Flowers’ philosophy is “people make love for so many crazy reasons, why shouldn’t money be one of them,” and, indeed, Gazzara plays Flowers as a breezy Fitzcarraldo type, a man preternaturally driven towards delivering the classiest brothel and the absolute best in carnal pleasures to the GIs, ex-pats and generally wayward souls lost amongst the luscious backdrop of southeast Asia. Based upon the Paul Theroux novel, the film marked a considerable critical comeback for director Peter Bogdanovich. In a humanist return to form that matches the subtle heights of The Last Picture Show, Bogdanovich exercises the precious instinct that gives Gazzara the room to ride the breathtaking line between savvy, charismatic huckster and moralistic citizen of the world.
Dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1979, digital presentation, 112 min.