MbM’s new on-line movie magazine champions GAZZARA as
FILM OF THE MONTH in special “PLEASE RELEASE ME” review,
featuring exclusive interview with director, Joseph Rezwin
PLEASE RELEASE ME !
In my book 101 Forgotten Films I highlighted films that were not available on DVD and in many instances had not even received a theatrical screening, that was over four years ago, fortunately many, not all, have since been released. Most films are first seen at film festivals, often meeting with critical acclaim and then totally disappearing having not been bought by a distributor – it is these films that Please Release Me will examine, films which MbM has championed as being worthy of theatrical distribution. Such a film is the documentary Gazzara about one of America’s greatest actors – Ben Gazzara. The film was premiered at the Locarno International Film Festival, where it first came to my notice and prompted my enthusiasm. It has since screened at Deauville and was chosen to close the Soho Film Festival in New York on April 12.
Joseph Rezwin first met Ben on the set of John Cassavetes’s Opening Night and years later asked Ben if he would agree to him making a documentary about him. The result is Gazzara a film that is both nostalgic for the viewer and for Ben too as he revisits his Brooklyn background and tours the labyrinth of his memories on stage and on film. It becomes a treasured legacy of the actor who sadly passed away in February 2012.
Directed by JOSEPH REZWIN
The first time I became aware of this film was when I was scanning the screening schedule of the Locarno International Film Festival and I immediately contacted Joe and told him that this film had to be distributed world-wide as a tribute to Ben.
The documentary allows us to eavesdrop on an absorbing conversation between Joe and Ben as they walk together, a fan and his muse. The film is a candid portrait of the man by a man who admired him from a distance after they first met on the set of Cassavetes’ Opening Night. Gazzara’s life on and off screen was as rich and deep as his voice. Here we shadow Ben and Joe’s steps as they retrace some of the actor’s favourite haunts from the early beginnings: the influence of the Actor’s Studio, visiting the magnificent Radio City Music Hall. Interspersed are clips of some of Ben’s movies that resonated a lot with me having screened many as a projectionist. But what really stood out were the unexpected interruptions by passers-by on the street that stopped Ben to shake his hand and tell him how they loved him…those memories, like this movie, are priceless.
Thanks Ben for the memory.
Thanks Joe for capturing it.
I never got to meet Ben Gazzara but I felt knew him like a brother. Our relationship was via the silver screen, treasured moments of time. He died on February 3rd the same date as his dear friend John Cassavetes died. One can imagine the laughter and tears that that reunion would have brought in a starry heaven.
From his meteoric debut as Jocko De Paris, the sadistic military cadet sergeant in The Strange One, his silver screen lineage has been impressive: Anatomy of a Murder opposite James Stewart where he played army Lieutenant Frederick Manion charged with murdering the rapist of his seductive wife. He was behind bars again in Convicts 4, a film that had not been released on video until only a few years ago. Ben was memorable as John Resko, a convicted murderer who became an artist. His supporting players were Sammy Davis Junior and Rod Steiger. Ten years later Ben made the first of three films with John Cassavetes, Husbands was about three friends away from their wives. The film, because of money difficulties, nearly never happened but John’s ingenuity convinced backers. It formed a strong relationship between Ben and John off screen and on and the The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night followed. Ben was also memorable in Saint Jack and They All Laughed both directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Whatever part Ben played he had style.
Q & A between Brian Mills and Joseph Rezwin
BM: Prior to meeting Ben on the set of Opening Night I should imagine that your relationship with him would have been as a moviegoer? What films had you seen of his before you met him?
JR: As a child, I knew who Ben was from Anatomy of a Murder, Run For Your Life, his TV series, but I didn’t really discover him until I became aware of Cassavetes’ films. Prior to working on Opening Night in 1976 where I first met Ben, I had seen Faces, A Woman Under The Influence and Husbands which is where I really became aware of who he was. Later, I saw him in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, but I think that was after I had met him on Opening Night.
BM: Did Ben take a lot of persuading to make the documentary on him?
JR: Not at all. I called him one day from Paris while he was driving somewhere in Italy and I proposed the idea of a film to be shot in New York about him, but also about him and me, visiting important places that had been significant in his life and career and meeting people who were also important to him. I told him that I wasn’t interested in making a “classic bio-documentary” at all, but that I also wanted the film to be about my personal relationship with him and Cassavetes and how he and John had affected my life. I told him that I had no money but had friends in New York who had some equipment; Ben accepted to do the film over the phone saying, “It could be interesting. Let’s do it.”
BM: Were there questions that in retrospect you wished that you had asked?
FR: Not really. I am not a journalist or a documentary filmmaker. I asked him questions that were important to me; subjects that I was curious about but questions which I thought many people might ask.
BM: How did you prepare for the film? Did you read his autobiography or meet and talk with any of his friends or acquaintances?
JR: I read Ben’s book, In The Moment which is loaded with facts and anecdotes about his life and career. That helped me to understand what I didn’t need to examine in the film. I wasn’t interested in repeating what was in the book. Other than that I simply reflected a lot and approached the film as any film I was preparing to shoot.
BM: Did Ben ever hint at his favourite movie or movies?
JR: He told me that he was very proud of the work he had done with Cassavetes, particularly, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. As far as other films in which he did not appear, I know that he always admired Gary Cooper as a great film actor. Of course he had admired Marlon Brando who he met in the 1950’s in New York.
BM: What sort of reaction have you had at screenings of Gazzara?
JR: Audiences who have seen Gazzara screened at film festivals in Europe and recently in New York aged 18 to 80 from varied cultures and backgrounds have adored the film. They are moved, some to tears, telling me afterwards that they found the film very touching and human; they say that they fall in love with Ben Gazzara. Some say they feel transformed after seeing the film and how refreshing it is to see a film that is so honest. They also laugh their heads off during the screenings as the audiences find the film very funny, which I believe it is as well. The younger people who didn’t know Ben very well before they saw the film told me afterwards that they wanted to discover more about him and were fascinated by this extraordinary man and that they regret that he is no longer with us.
BM: At the end of the movie Ben advised you to get on with your own life. Have you taken his advice?
JR: I would love to get on with my life. We shot this film in November 2010 and I am still trying to get it distributed and out there in the world. It’s a long process especially when you have limited means and few people to help.
In my head, I’ve moved on to developing and working on other projects but the film, Gazzara has not yet detached itself from my daily life or from my “being”. But I did learn and grow from this project and that is what one hopes for with every film otherwise the process remains an empty experience and that is really depressing.
BM: What are your hopes for your film and what have you learnt from making it?
JR: I want the film to be seen by as many people all over the world. I really believe that there is a huge international audience for Gazzara and that word of mouth, especially “electronic word of mouth” will create interest in the film and encourage people to want to see it. Making movies is hell most of the time, it is exhausting, painful and frustrating with intermittent moments of joy that are mostly far and few between. But in the end, if audiences are moved and feel that they have lived through something after seeing the film as they say they do after seeing Gazzara ; then for the filmmaker it almost seems worth it all; and for some ridiculous, masochistic reason we want to go through it again and make another film…
Brian Mills : Movies-by-mills on-line
Read the article and Brian Mills’ Movies-by-mills on-line magazine @ issuu.com/brianalbertjohnmills/docs/www.movies-by-mills.com
Read more reviews on Gazzara @ http://www.gazzarathemovie.com/reviews/