Cold night on Whyte Avenue. I take shelter from the cold by ducking into my neighbourhood pub. Familiar watering hole. Usually know at least 65% of the patrons. Bartender might even buy my first drink.
There are maybe six people in the whole place. I sit down at the bar, as is SOP for people who are by themselves. I’m just about to order a beer when I notice that the man sitting next to me is indisputably John Cassavetes.
“What brings you here, John?”
“Needed a drink.”
“I mean here.”
“I’m sick. You know where I live? Los Angeles. It’s a sissy town. It makes me sick because everyone is just such a bunch of sissies. I took the first flight out. I’m sick.”
“So you’re not up here for a picture or anything?”
“A picture? No. We’re not making a picture. Anyway. I can’t stay long. I’ll have to go back.”
“How’s Gena and the kids?”
“Terrific. Gena. Boy. She’s terrific. She’s a hell of woman. Hey, let me tell you something: have ever known a woman like that? I mean, a real hell of a woman.”
“Sure? Sure? Come on now. Have you or haven’t you?”
“See, I can tell that you haven’t. I can tell, because if you had you’d know. Listen to me: you gotta get to know a real woman. Build a life together. Beat the shit out of each other. You understand? You know what I’m talking about? Love. That’s what I’m talking about. Love. That’s all I’m interested in. I’m obsessed with it. What do you do?”
“I’m a filmmaker.”
“Jesus Christ. You’re a filmmaker. Figures. I get as far away from LA as I can and I sit down next to a filmmaker.”
“So you’re a director, or what?”
“Sometimes? Listen, if you’re a director, you’re a director all of the time. You may do other things, but you’re always a director, you understand?”
“So you’re a director. Wonderful. That’s terrific. You want to make pictures. Wonderful. Let me ask you something: what’s your philosophy?”
“What do mean? About filmmaking?”
“Your philosophy. Everyone’s gotta have a- Jesus are you…you’re sitting there like an idiot without a drink in your hand. Would you get a drink for Christ’s sake so that we can have a conversation? I mean what are you doing here? Excuse me! Can we get this gentleman a drink for the love of God? What do you want? Forget it, give him some of what I’m drinking here. Just put it on my tab, I don’t care. A philosophy. You don’t know what I mean by philosophy?”
“You mean like a world view? Weltanschauung, as The Germans say?”
He screws up his face and very much resembles a troll. He’s definitely a little tight.
“Nooooooooo! A philosophy. A person can’t live without a philosophy. Philos, in Greek, means ‘friend’ or ‘love.’ They’re synonymous. ‘Friend’ and ‘love.’ And then -osophy, any -osophy is ‘the study of.’ So it’s the study of love. You understand? So to have a philosophy is to know how to love. And to know where to put it. Because you can’t put it everywhere, you know, you’d have to be a priest or something. Pious. And people don’t live that way. They, we all, live with anger and hostility, problems. Lack of money. Tremendous, crippling disappointments in our lives. So what we need, what everybody needs, is a philosophy. A way to say: ‘where and how can I be in love, so that I can live with some degree of peace?’ And let me tell you: every picture that I have have ever done – have you seen my pictures? Every picture I have ever done, has been, in a way, to find some sort of a philosophy for the characters. You understand? That’s what it is. Directing. Having a need for the characters to analyze love, discuss it, kill it, destroy it, hurt each other. It’s a war. In that word polemic and picture polemic of what life is. That’s why you make pictures.”
Sitting there hoping that my mouth isn’t noticeably hanging open or something. Trying very hard to resemble a normal person having a conversation. I take a sip of the whiskey John’s purchased for me and I haven’t eaten in about four hours so it goes right to my head. The warmth of it feels amazing – I can feel it up against my cold lungs.
“So you see,” John says, “I’m obsessed. That’s all I’m interested in: love. I’m sorry, baby. That’s the way it is. And it’s sad because people are afraid. They’re afraid to be in love. To be wonderful. To be themselves. Or something greater than themselves. To be theatrical. To be bold. To take risks. To fail. It’s sad because I want to show them something. Something that they’ve never seen before. And I try it and I do it for them, because I believe in people. I look at a kid like you and I think you’re terrific. And you have no one to show you the way. And I’m not God. I don’t want to lead anybody. You lead, I’ll lead, the bartender will lead. We’ll all lead. And we’ll show people something of themselves that maybe they don’t want to see, but they can’t deny, you understand?”
That veritable liquid courage having, as I mentioned, gone straight to my head, I start to talk:
“John. I have to tell you that it’s amazing to see you. It’s amazing because I started watching your films and I was too young. Or maybe it had nothing to do with my age, but it was that I just hadn’t like seen enough, you know? So I saw your films, Faces was the first one I watched, and I thought it such a self-indulgent piece of garbage. I thought: ‘why is everyone so awful to one another? People aren’t like this! Why does this go on and on?’ And then I saw A Woman Under The Influence and I thought the same thing, but multiplied ten-fold. ‘Why are they so awful, why are they so mean, when we see that they have the capacity to be so wonderful?’ I couldn’t understand it, John. I hadn’t lived enough. I hadn’t made enough mistakes. I hadn’t hurt enough people to know that I could be horrible too, and that maybe that doesn’t mean that I’m a terrible person. That that’s what this is, why we’re here. To spend our entire lives trying to figure this out. How to love. How to be decent to people. And like we’re going to keep fucking up. All the time. I don’t know. Maybe some people are better at this. Maybe they don’t fuck up all the time. But I feel like most of us do. We fuck up all the time. And it’s okay. It’s okay because we can forgive each other. John, let me tell you: I have love. I do. I have so much love to give and I know I can’t put it everywhere and it drives me insane that I have to choose. Where to put it. So I’m trying to make films, because maybe I can put my love there, and maybe that’s a way to love everyone, you know? If it’s all right there for people to see. Anyone. Everyone. Can just see everything that’s me right there. And maybe they love that or maybe it makes them sick or whatever, but I can just love everything about the people in that movie and have that be okay. That’s my philosophy, John. That’s how I’m trying to do this. I have no clue what I’m doing and I’m terrified. But I know I have love. I have love, John. I have love.”
John Cassavetes had one of the greatest smirks in all of Christendom.
“Take it easy, kid. Let me buy you another drink.”
Until next time.
Dylan – Edmonton, AB