By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
The John Cassavetes–Gena Rowlands house, in a canyon off Mulholland, is as familiar to art-house moviegoers as Tara is to those who’ve never heard of these two film artists. The long, steep driveway, the yellow awning over the carport, the window behind the living-room sofa, the dark paneling, even the main-floor bathroom with its witty ladies-in-waiting mural (painted by Gena’s mother, Lady Rowlands), inspire a feeling of déjà vu. They should, for it was in these rooms that Cassavetes shot most of the nine films that made him the father of independent film — a term that hadn’t yet been coined when he first stretched lighting cable across the living-room floor.
Legend has it that this house was mortgaged over and over as Cassavetes and Rowlands scrimped and scrambled to complete the films that were their life. Sometimes it took two or three years to finish a film, with each going off, as necessary, to work in Hollywood or mainstream theater in order to raise the cash to keep their films, as well as their family of five, moving forward. In this marriage, this collaboration, there was no dividing line between work and life. From this unprecedented fusion came films such as Faces(1968), Husbands (1970), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Opening Night (1977) and Love Streams (1984), titles that were never famous but are clutched dearly to the hearts of serious movie lovers.
If Cassavetes caught Rowlands off guard when he fell in love with filmmaking in the late 1950s (she preferred the stage), she was, before long, happily movie mad — because she loves to work and because she loves to be tested, and few actors have been tested as Rowlands was by the roles her husband wrote for her. After he died in 1989 at the age of 59, Rowlands threw herself into work, giving performances that would verify her genius, including Unhook the Stars (1996), a film directed by her and John’s son, Nick. She was also the first major actress of her time to recognize that the strongest roles for women are being written for television, as evidenced most recently in Wild Iris (2001), a Showtime movie directed by Daniel Petrie Sr., who gave John his first big break, in the 1950s. That connection to Petrie is typical of the life she and Cassavetes made, where collaborators such as Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Seymour Cassel became lifelong family friends.
A few days after sitting across from her, this writer has to fight the temptation to describe Gena Rowlands’ face with ecstatic adjectives, praise she would deem irrelevant; it’s the work that’s important. So. Just this then: She is simply beautiful. Sitting in an elegant gold armchair, Rowlands takes a deep, bracing breath at the first question. The air around her quivers in that pause, as if a torrent of feeling is attempting to rise up in her, the very thing she does not want. Moved beyond measure, her visitor thinks: She’s still in love with him; the real story here is that this is still a love story. And he understands, suddenly, that in this house, love streams.
L.A. WEEKLY:As thrilling as it is that you’ve agreed to talk about John and the movies you made together, it feels funny, as if we’re pulling you back to a place you’ve moved on from.
GENA ROWLANDS:You’re right. I don’t do this very often, because it would be too hard emotionally. But I’m so delighted these pictures are going to come out and that people will see them, especially kids who haven’t seen any of John’s work. I know that a lot of people have seen them on television, but for them to see it on the screen that it was made for and actually sit with other people in a dark room and watch it, I’m delighted.
All these movie posters [of Cassavetes’ films] are great, a collector’s dream.
They were all on John’s office walls and I was about to bubble-wrap them and store them and I thought, “No, it’s our whole life. I’m going to put them all over and just look at them.” Every one of them is a very happy memory.
One gets the sense, from the early days, of this friendship network that was available to you at all times, that everybody eventually passed through this living room for dinner.
It was so like John to bring home an infinite amount of people to feed, and it was like them to all join in. This house seems so strange to me now, to have it quiet, because it always was packed to the rafters, people cooking in the kitchen, people eating in the dining room. We’d always have at least four or five people who were staying with us, and the whole house had lights set up with cameras you’d fall over. The children just took it as a normal kind of thing. It was a feast. The spaghetti pot was always boiling.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city