|Directed by||John Cassavetes|
|Produced by||Al Ruban|
|Written by||John Cassavetes|
|Music by||Bo Harwood|
|Edited by||Tom Cornwell|
|Distributed by||Faces Distribution|
Opening Night is a 1977 American psychological drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes, and starring Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart, Zohra Lampert, and Cassavetes. Its plot follows a stage actress who, after witnessing the accidental death of one of her fans, is haunted by a recurring apparition of the deceased woman, spurring a nervous breakdown while she prepares for the premiere of a Broadway play.
Though set in Connecticut and New York City, Opening Night was shot on location in Los Angeles and Pasadena, California, with the theatrical performance sequences taking place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Myrtle Gordon is a famous but troubled middle-aged actress performing out-of-town previews in New Haven, Connecticut of a new play called The Second Woman before its Broadway run. While leaving the theatre after a performance, Myrtle signs autographs and encounters an obsessive teenaged fan, Nancy, who runs after Myrtle into the street and is struck by a car. Myrtle is unsettled by the incident, and even goes to the girl's shiva, though her family greets her coolly.
Myrtle struggles to connect with the character she is playing in The Second Woman, finding her to have no motivation beyond her age. Over the course of numerous performances, Myrtle departs from the play's script in myriad ways, including changing her lines, throwing props around the set, breaking the fourth wall, and collapsing on stage. This frustrates others involved with the play. The writer, Sarah Goode, attempts to force Myrtle into facing her age. Myrtle admits to her that she has been seeing the apparition of Nancy—the teenager killed in the car accident—which Myrtle believes is a projection of her youth.
Myrtle's state of mind continues to deteriorate, and she begins to drink heavily. She imagines Nancy attacking her, and later she throws herself against the walls of Sarah's hotel room, breaking her sunglasses and slashing her face. The incident disturbs Sarah, who expresses her wish to have Myrtle replaced in the play, feeling she is psychologically unable to perform. After storming out of a rehearsal, Myrtle visits Sarah's spiritual medium for help and has another violent encounter with her vision of Nancy, this time fighting back and “killing” Nancy's ghost. Myrtle attempts to seduce Maurice Aarons—her leading man and a former lover—but he refuses.
Myrtle fails to show up on time for her call on opening night. When she finally arrives, Myrtle is so drunk that she can barely stand. With the audience growing restless, director Manny Victor demands the show go on. Myrtle struggles through the show's opening scenes, collapsing before her entrance and again on stage. As the show continues, Myrtle finds something of a rhythm. By the end, she and Maurice go off script and improvise the play's final act, to the producers’ chagrin and the audience's rapturous applause.
Writing in a 2018 retrospective for Esquire , critic Dom Nero describes Opening Night as a horror film, writing: "In the way that its title sequence magnifies the mundane cheers of an audience into a violently furious sound, it takes our reality and presents the concurrent darkness within like the truth-driven horror films such as Get Out . In the way that it drapes Gena Rowlands in long, black, specter-like capes and collars—and the primal world around her colored in bright, bloody reds—it turns a funhouse mirror onto the crushing, almost satanic rituals of film acting and movie star culture like in Mulholland Drive . In the way that its haunting and minimalistic score is reminiscent of a John Carpenter theme, it makes a psychological break as foreboding as a masked bogeyman haunting suburban teenagers."
Though set in New Haven, Connecticut and New York City, Opening Night was shot on location in Los Angeles and Pasadena, California.The film's theater sequences were shot at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
In common with earlier films, Cassavetes struggled to get Opening Night distributed in the United States. After a number of preview screenings, it opened on December 25, 1977, at the Fox Wilshire Theater, Los Angeles where it played to almost empty houses, and closed in February having never been commercially shown elsewhere. Screenings in New York City that March were similarly ignored. The film was only picked up by an American distributor in 1991, two years after Cassavetes' death.
In 1978, it was entered into the 28th Berlin International Film Festival, where Gena Rowlands won the Silver Bear for Best Actress.
The film was screened out of competition at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.
Opening Night was critically panned in the US on its release. The review in Variety that appeared after a press screening concluded, "One must question whether more than a handful of moviegoers are interested in the effort, whether audiences have not already seen enough of Cassavetes' characters ... He's made these films before and not many seemed interested in them." When it opened in New York, the film was not reviewed at all in most newspapers and magazines.
The film was better received in Europe, with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominating Rowlands and Blondell for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, at the 35th Golden Globe Awards.
Its reputation has improved since its initial release. It currently holds a 96% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 26 reviews; the consensus states: "Opening Night is as dense and difficult as one would expect from John Cassavetes, but even the director's detractors will be unable to deny the power of Gena Rowlands' performance."
Film critic Dan Schneider wrote, of the film's narrative structure:
Many critics have taken this film to be a portrait of an alcoholic ... But this is wrong, for alcohol isn't her problem - nor is her chain smoking. They are merely diversions from whatever thing is really compelling her to her own destruction, and much to Cassavetes' credit, as a storyteller, he never lets us find out exactly what's wrong with Myrtle, and despite her coming through in the end, there's no reason to expect that she has really resolved anything of consequence. This sort of end without resolution links Cassavetes directly with the more daring European directors of the recent past, who were comfortable in not revealing everything to an audience, and forcing their viewers to cogitate, even if it hurts.
The film has been referenced by several musicians. Back to the Beat, an EP from the band, Motion City Soundtrack, features a song titled "Opening Night", in reference to the film. The Hold Steady's 2008 album Stay Positive makes various allusions to the film; the closing song "Slapped Actress" is the most explicit. "Shut Up"—the first track on Savages' 2013 album Silence Yourself —opens with dialogue between Rowlands and Blondell sampled from the film.
Jessica Pratt cited the film as an influence on her album Quiet Signs and titled the instrumental first track "Opening Night." Describing her reaction to the film after viewing it at a screening, she said, “Sometimes when you see a film, especially an emotional, anguishing film like that, it can just simmer in your subconscious for a while. It definitely did that for me.”
Pedro Almodóvar repeats the film's accident scene in his film All About My Mother as the center of the dramatic conflict.
A Woman Under the Influence is a 1974 American drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes. The story follows a woman whose unusual behavior leads to conflict with her blue-collar husband and family. It received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Actress and Best Director.
Virginia Cathryn "Gena" Rowlands is a retired American actress, whose career in film, stage, and television has spanned over six decades. A four-time Emmy and two-time Golden Globe winner, she is known for her collaborations with her late actor-director husband John Cassavetes in ten films, including A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980), which earned her nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Opening Night (1977). She is also known for her performances in Woody Allen's Another Woman (1988), and her son, Nick Cassavetes' film, The Notebook (2004). In 2021, The New Yorker said, “The most important and original movie actor of the past half century-plus is Gena Rowlands.” In November 2015, Rowlands received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of her unique screen performances.
Gloria is a 1980 American neo-noir crime thriller film written and directed by John Cassavetes. It tells the story of a gangster's girlfriend who goes on the run with a young boy who is being hunted by the mob for information he may or may not have. It stars Gena Rowlands, Julie Carmen, Buck Henry, and John Adames.
Rose Joan Blondell was an American actress who performed in film and television for half a century.
John Nicholas Cassavetes was an American actor, film director, and screenwriter. First known as an actor on television and in film, Cassavetes also became a pioneer of American independent cinema, writing and directing movies financed in part with income from his acting work. AllMovie called him "an iconoclastic maverick," while The New Yorker suggested that he "may be the most influential American director of the last half century."
Faces is a 1968 American drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes. It stars John Marley, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin, Seymour Cassel, Fred Draper and Val Avery.
Hysterical Blindness is a 2002 American television film directed by Mira Nair and starring Gena Rowlands, Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis and Ben Gazzara. The film premiered on HBO on August 21, 2002. In 2003, Uma Thurman won a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of Debby Miller. Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands also won Best Supporting Actor/Actress awards for their performances as Virginia Miller and Nick Piccolo at the 2003 Emmy Awards. The opening titles by Trollbäck + Company won a Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Main Title Design in 2003.
Biagio Anthony Gazzarra, known as Ben Gazzara, was an American film, stage, and television actor and director. His best-known films include Anatomy of a Murder (1959), The Bridge at Remagen (1969), Voyage of the Damned (1976), Inchon (1981), Road House (1989), The Big Lebowski (1998), Buffalo '66 (1998), Happiness (1998), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), Summer of Sam (1999), Dogville (2003) and Paris, je t'aime (2006). He was a recurring collaborator with John Cassavetes, working with him on Husbands (1970), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Opening Night (1977).
An Early Frost is a 1985 American made-for-television drama film. It was the first major film with major motion picture stars, Aidan Quinn, Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, and Sylvia Sidney, broadcast on a major television network, NBC, to deal with the topic of AIDS. It was viewed by 34 million households in its initial airing, the highest rated show of the night, even beating Monday Night Football, received 14 Emmy nominations, winning three including Best Original Teleplay, a Peabody Award, as well as multiple Golden Globe nominations, including one for Sylvia Sidney who won for Best Supporting Actress. It was a major breakthrough into mass culture, as it was the first time an American audience of that size saw a film about a gay man who had AIDS, which up until then was considered a gay disease.
Zohra Lampert is an American actress, who has had roles on film, television, and stage, including as the title character in the 1971 cult horror film Let's Scare Jessica to Death; she also starred alongside Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in the 1961 Splendor in the Grass. Lampert achieved critical acclaim for her work on Broadway as well, earning two Tony Award nominations for her roles in Look: We've Come Through (1962) and Mother Courage and Her Children (1963). She won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role in a 1975 episode of Kojak.
Alexandra "Xan" Cassavetes is an American actress and director. She is the daughter of Greek-American actor-director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands. She is the granddaughter of actress Katherine Cassavetes. She is the sister of actor-director Nick Cassavetes and actor-screenwriter-director Zoe Cassavetes.
She's So Lovely is a 1997 American romantic drama film directed by Nick Cassavetes, written by John Cassavetes. At the time of its release, it received special attention because, eight years after his death, it was the first posthumous film to feature previously unreleased material from John Cassavetes.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a 1976 American neo-noir crime film written and directed by John Cassavetes and starring Ben Gazzara. A rough and gritty film, this is the second of their three collaborations, following Husbands and preceding Opening Night. Timothy Carey, Seymour Cassel, Morgan Woodward, Meade Roberts, and Azizi Johari appear in supporting roles.
Love Streams is a 1984 American film directed by John Cassavetes, in what would be his final independent feature and penultimate directorial project. The film tells the story of a middle-aged brother (Cassavetes) and sister who find themselves relying on one another after being abandoned by their loved ones.
Katherine Cassavetes was a Greek American actress. She was the mother of actor-director John Cassavetes and mother-in-law of actress Gena Rowlands. Her grandchildren are actor-directors Nick Cassavetes, Zoe Cassavetes, and Alexandra Cassavetes. She appeared in four films, three of which were written and directed by her son, including Minnie and Moskowitz (1971).
Unhook the Stars is a 1996 American drama film directed by Nick Cassavetes, and starring his mother Gena Rowlands, Marisa Tomei, Gérard Depardieu, and Jake Lloyd in his film debut.
Broken English is a 2007 American romance film written and directed by Zoe Cassavetes and starring Parker Posey, Melvil Poupaud, Drea de Matteo, Justin Theroux, Peter Bogdanovich, and Gena Rowlands.
Tempest is a 1982 American adventure comedy-drama romance film directed by Paul Mazursky. It is a loosely based, modern-day adaptation of the William Shakespeare play The Tempest. The picture features John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, Raúl Juliá and Molly Ringwald in her feature film debut. A highlight of the film is a duet of Susan Sarandon and Molly Ringwald singing Why Do Fools Fall in Love while washing a rug in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean by stomping on it.
Zoe Rowlands Cassavetes is an American film director, screenwriter, and actress. She is the daughter of filmmaker John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands. She is best known for her 2007 film Broken English.
Lady Rowlands was an Irish-American film actress. Most of her work came in the films of John Cassavetes, who was married to her daughter, the Academy Award-nominated and four-time Emmy Award-winning actress Gena Rowlands.
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