Opening Night

Director: John Cassavetes
Screenwriters: John Cassavetes

Institute History

  • 1989 Sundance Film Festival


With Opening Night, we are back in the realm of a master-work, but with a surprising shift in subject: the making of art. This is a subject Cassavetes’s severest critics have always insisted he knows nothing about, and which Cassavetes himself often claims, with a gleam in his eye, never to think of. Nevertheless, this story of an actress, Gena Rowlands, having a nervous breakdown in the process of rehearsing a play, is a many-faceted delineation of Cassavetes’s aesthetic. This breakdown is not like that of the inarticulate Mabel Longhetti in A Woman under the Influence. Here we have a highly sophisticated, deeply conscious woman watching herself in the process of breaking down and trying to create at the same time—and being watched, in turn, by equally sophisticated colleagues, played by Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart, and Cassavetes himself. We see people living on the interface between a controlled work of art and cacophonous reality—and sliding from there to the more dangerous interface between waking and dreaming. When these characters’ carefully observed theatrical conventions begin to crack, Cassavetes’s vision couldn’t be more explicit: there's more raw truth when the form breaks apart than when the present conventions of expression are upheld.

— Tony Safford

Screening Details

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