FILM LOUNGE : Michael Pattison – 3 May 2013
Indiebisboa 2013 International Film Festival
Beginning with actor Ben Gazzara (1930-2012) playing out a one-man sketch on stage with Rezwin as his sole audience member, the film comprises a series of conversations between the two, who met when Rezwin scored his first professional film job working on John Cassavetes’ Opening Night way back in 1976.
Details touched upon include Gazzara’s childhood, life, career, achievements and, poignantly, approaching death. Perhaps not unusual for an actor whose performances were so effortlessly and intensely naturalistic, Gazzara himself comes across as shy and sensitive, and his most outrageous or more actorly moments in the film are those of an intelligent artist deeply sceptical of the mythmaking bullshit that pervades the film industry, and which is particularly at work in Hollywood’s love for biographical overviews.
At one moment, for instance, Rezwin mentions different performers with whom Gazzara collaborated, and the actor avoids comment by mimicking chat-show rhetoric and saying each one was “the best human being I ever worked with”. It’s not until the final conversation, in Central Park, that Rezwin confronts and reveals the reasons why he wanted to make the project, admitting that he might have just wanted to hang out with the actor – who he clearly admires.
If such proximity to one’s subject makes a documentarian’s work problematic and prone to sentiment, the director’s intentions are unashamedly personal and his delivery admirably unassuming, while cinematographer Trevor Tweeten imbues conceptually ordinary material with a real cinematic edge.
EYE ON FILM : Michael Pattison – 1 May 2013
Indiebisboa 2013 International Film Festival
The opening scene of Gazzara establishes its tête-à-tête style: Ben Gazzara (1930- 2012), an actor of considerable esteem, performs a short sketch to a spectacular theatre hall that is empty but for one sole audience member, Joseph Rezwin, who claps heartily in response. As he tells us in voice-over, Rezwin first met Gazzara in 1976, when he landed his first professional role in the film industry working on John Cassavetes’s Opening Night. For the purpose of this documentary, he met with Gazzara over several days in New York, to muse on the actor’s life, career, achievements and fears as he headed towards his final battle against pancreatic cancer.
The subject of death is broached early, in fact. Gazzara walks past the hospital where his dad died, and soon after tells Rezwin that his first confrontation with death was when a friend jumped into a river and subsequently drowned. At the same time, death might be seen as a starting point for his acting career: when his bawdy Aunt Ida died of cancer when he was aged 15, he remembers, he played truant from school for 46 days in a row, in order to go to the cinema; consequently, he became “tunnelled into this idea [of acting]”.
Rezwin uses footage of Gazzara’s screen performances sparingly, though we do see him as murder defendant Manion in Anatomy Of A Murder (1959), and as Jocko De Paris in The Strange One (1957). Effortlessly naturalistic, his performances were also indefinably intense. In Husbands (1970), he pulls off drunken affection with a palpable sense of both inner hurt and inexpressible love. You get the sense, furthermore, that for Gazzara acting itself was a means of channelling certain gestures and feelings that the awkwardness of everyday real-life denied. Unsurprisingly, then, the actor appears in Rezwin’s film to be as shy as he is sensitive; “I was a melancholy boy”, he says, “a loner”.
Rezwin is a clear admirer of Gazzara, and readily admits to him, in the film’s final sequence (a stroll through Central Park, beautifully captured by DoP Trevor Tweeten), that he might have wanted to make the documentary simply as a means of getting to hang out with the actor. This personal perspective might account for the film’s overall and admirable avoidance of those limitations that commonly characterise actor biographies.
Gazzara himself is fully aware of the bullshit that pervades show business, and with bursts of actorly energy he frequently mimics the kind of schmaltz with which too many career overviews are romanticised. Smelling myth at the mere mention of Jimmy Stewart, for instance, he feigns the rhetoric of a chat-show guest and declares “he was the best human being I ever worked with” – and then repeats the line in reference to Lee Remick and George C. Scott. It’s clear that even if he did feel a certain respect or even love for such contemporaries, Gazzara considers verbalising such emotions to be somehow falsifying or weakening them (as wife Elke tells Rezwin, “Ben doesn’t talk much, he’s Sicilian”).
Down to earth till the end (“what made you wanna make a film about me?”), Gazzara indulges the women and men who ask for his photograph and autograph in the street, and who tell him repeatedly that they’ve “seen all of [his] films” (which somehow never quite rings true). Remaining unvocal, Gazzara seems to take such claims with a pinch of salt, though later in the film, when he is told the title of a movie, his reply, in that same feigned chat-show voice, is telling: “Oh that was great, I never saw it.”
38ème Festival Américain de Deauville – Un bilan
EXCERPT: ENGLISH TRANSLATION
38th Deauville American Film Festival – Summary
Click on the following link to view the PDF of the review in French
The 38th American Film Festival in Deauville: a less somber season than previous years. Our three “coups de cœur“ (favourites) : by Benh Zeitlin’s The Beasts of the Southern Wild (Cartier Revelation Award and the festival’s Grand Prize), Lucy Mulloy’s Una Noche (Deauville Jury Prize Winner) and the documentary Gazzara by Joseph Rezwin….
…The Deauville American Film Festival is also the opportunity to discover some amazing films in search of distributors. Amongst these are two documentaries, Gazzara by Joseph Rezwin and The Queen of Versailles by Lauren Greenfield which deserve to be seen on the big screen in movie theatres throughout France. The first film (Gazzara) is a unique tribute to Ben Gazzara and was shot on the eve of the actor’s death. The relationship that evolves into a sacred bond through the encounter of two men, the legendary actor of Cassavetes and a film director in search of a father figure, verges on cinematic catharsis…
MbM – Brian Mills : 28 August 2012
MbM previews GAZZARA, a documentary directed by Joe Rezwin
Click on the following link to view the PDF of the review in English
The first time I became aware of this was when I noticed that it was being screened at Locarno. I instantly e-mailed Joe that this film had to be distributed world-wide as a tribute to Ben Gazzara, the great actor who died in February. I have been a fan of Ben since I first saw him in THE STRANGE ONE (aka END AS A MAN in the UK).
This documentary beautifully captures 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. We the viewers are projected onto the streets of New York and shadow Ben and Joe as they retrace some of the actor’s favourite haunts from his early beginnings as an actor. The influence that his early days of going to the movies had on him and visiting the magnificent Radio City Music Hall. Clips from many of Ben’s movies are included. But what really stands out is the unexpected interruptions by passers-by on the street who stop Ben and shake his hand and tell him how they loved him…those moments, like this movie, are priceless. Thanks Ben for the memory. Thanks Joe for capturing it.
Ciné-recontres : Locarno review : “Les Coups de Coeur”
Joseph Rezwin’s film GAZZARA (USA: 2012 – screened at the Rialto 2) is a pure delight! While a documentary film on Ben Gazzara could only but interest me, my surprise was made even greater with the on-screen bantering and verbal jousting between the filmmaker himself and one of John Cassavetes’ favourite actors. Strolling through New York, they reminisce on special moments in Ben’s past and run into some fans, friends and actors until the extraordinary final scene in Central Park…
CINEMAITALINO : Carlo Griseri – 8 August 2012
Gazzra – Un ritratto in movimento di un attore unico http://www.cinemaitaliano.info/news/14133/gazzara-un-ritratto-in-movimento-di-un-attore.html
Click on the following link to view the PDF of the review in Italian
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Gazzara – A moving portrait of a unique actor
Joseph Rezwin’s Gazzara is no typical documentary, but a portrayal as unique and unconventional as the career of Ben Gazzara himself; a film where we learn that the actor’s life was maybe less glamorous than “legend” would have us believe. Indeed, despite his strong Sicilian roots which, according to his wife of over 30 years, were responsible for his reserved and silent manner, Gazzara always considered New York his home.
This splendid documentary dedicated to Ben Gazzara takes the form of a leisurely stroll through New York in the company of this honest and authentic actor who speaks openly about his life with the same sincerity and passion which were characteristic of his whole career to producer/director Joseph Rezwin who accompanies him on screen throughout the entire film.
The voice of the octogenarian actor may bear the scars of time but everything else about him is still the same as the many movie clips show: the same sparkling eyes, the same vivacity, the playful animal-like gestures and the unforgettable and exhilarating laugh.
Rezwin and Gazzara first met over 30 years ago on the set of John Cassavetes’ Opening Night in 1977. Although the two men kept loosely in contact over the years, they never actually established a close friendship. This doesn’t prevent Ben, who obviously feels comfortable enough with his director, from telling him, in his own very particular way, that he doesn’t really consider him a friend.
Nonetheless, the relationship between the two men is indeed a special one; an understanding based on instinctive trust that helps Gazzara to open up, evoke some very personal memories, and to speak freely about himself, his work and even about his friend Cassavetes, who, he says, continues to haunt him wherever he goes: “Whatever I do they always ask me about him!” (Cassavetes).”
Encounters with some of Gazzara’s friends, such as Matthew Modine (who Ben and Joe bump into by chance, on his bicycle in Manhattan) or Julian Schnabel (in the artist’s studio), add another dimension to this story that you wish would never end, or at least not quite so soon.
And finally, in the last act, hearing Gazzara talk about death with such peace of mind, knowing that he was to leave us in February 2012, is indeed unsettling: “Some time ago”, he tells Joe, “I clinically died for three minutes during a surgical operation, then I came back. I can tell you that during those minutes, I did not see anything, no white light or such thing. After death there is nothing: and how can you be afraid of nothing?”
SCREEN DAILY – Dan Fainaru – 5 August, 2012 http://www.screendaily.com/reviews/the-latest/gazzara/5045039.article
Click on the following link to view the PDF of the review in English
A light, pleasant stroll through New York, from the Lower East Side to Central Park, in the company of an American icon of the stage and the movies, who could ask for anything more? That is exactly what Joseph Rezwin provides in this memorial to the late Ben Gazzara, who died earlier this year, a documentary that will no doubt travel to plenty of festivals and an easy fit for television programming.
Age and his bout with cancer may have left their traces on him and the voice may be cracked and lacking its past sonority, but the lively twinkle in his subject’s eyes is still there, his personal charm is as infectious as it ever was and there are always bits and pieces of a rich past to easily fill up this film, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival.
But better forget any expectation of a serious discussion on Ben Gazzara, the actor, whose formidable potential was believed at the time to be the equal, if not greater, than any of his colleagues at the Actors’ Studio; any revelations of rarely seen clips from his stage performances (which he specifically mentions in the film as his best work); visual reminders of his rich TV career (that he is less fond of), or even a detailed review of his long film career (clips from Anatomy Of A Murder or a couple of Cassavetes’ films are not sufficient). Scholars looking in future for such information will have to seek it elsewhere.
Rezwin, who first met Gazzara 34 years ago on the set of Cassavetes’ Opening Night and kept loosely in touch with him since, was evidently looking for Gazzara, the man behind the actor’s mask, and therefore went out with him from the lower tip of Manhattan, where he was born, and on from one milestone to another through the city, soliciting Gazzara’s personal memories rather than the secrets of his profession.
Seeing the actor walking through the streets of the city he loved most and always considered home, delighted that passers-by still remember him, you feel just like joining Rezwin’s team and maybe sneak in a question or two, but not about his work, on which he never goes into great details, but rather his personal life. The Actors’ Studio is only seen from outside and all the celebrated names that were brought up, be it James Stewart, James Dean or Marlon Brando, get the kind of typical deferential treatment you’d expect to be given at a press junket.
The testimonies in the film, by people like Frank Ghery, Julian Schnabel or Al Ruban, who knew him intimately, all refer to Gazzara the person rather than the actor and Gazzara himself, when reminiscing about the family he had in his pals John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, once again talks about their intimacy rather than their work.
Some pieces of wisdom do slip through, however, whether it is his remark that if you’re not an interesting individual in your private life, there is very little chance of your becoming an interesting actor, and the end titles soliloquy about the importance of style in whatever you do.
Gazzara concedes early in the film that from early childhood he never wanted to be “anything but myself”. Later on, Reswin remembers he was terrified when he stepped on the set of Opening Night, because he could never tell when these people were acting and when they were being themselves. This may explain why Reswin was looking for the person to find the actor, because there is no real way to separate between the two.
L’ EXPRESS CINEMA : Thierry Chèze (Studio Ciné Live) – 3 August 2012
Click on the following links to view the PDF of the review in French
Gazzara does not claim to give a documented account of the actor’s career but is rather a leisurely conversation between Ben Gazzara and director Joseph Rezwin who he met on the set of Opening night in 1978. And that is exactly what gives this film its charm. It is fascinating to see Gazzara act with the one that not only films but admires him and a pleasure to observe the way Rezwin, by taking his time and avoiding the classical rhythm of the traditional interview, manages to communicate with and illicit information from this extremely modest man.
We may not necessarily learn anything new about his career during these 90 minutes, but it is delightful to see Gazzara stroll through New York, evoke his childhood memories, meet up with such friends as painter/film director Julian Schnabel and architect Franck Gehry, revisit the place where he learned his craft as an actor and, in the magnificent, final sequence in Central Park, hear him talk about the subject of death, which was to take him several months after the film was shot.
Fortunately, this documentary does not turn into a gushing, over-sentimental tear-jerker but ultimately tells the story of a relationship between a spiritual « father » and a « son » who in a way is striving to “cut the cord » with this extremely charming and modest paternal figure. Yet, in this we know that Rezwin will find it as difficult as Gazzara did to free himself from the powerful influence of Cassavetes.
|Prado 2 : Boris Sollazzo: 3 August 2012
Ben Gazzara e l’apertura di una scatola di sardine
Click on the following links to view the PDF of the review in Italian
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Ben Gazzara and the art of opening a can of sardines
“Histoire(s) du cinema” – the history of film and stories from the movies” was undoubtedly the best section in the 2012 Locarno International Film festival for the documentary Gazzara, a love letter to one of the most fascinating and charismatic actors of all time.The film, which starts out as a tribute to the actor Ben Gazzara, gradually develops into a major life-learning experience for director, Joseph Rezwin In a supporting role, Rezwin accompanies and prompts Gazzara,as a privileged spectator throughout this “road movie on foot” around New York.Through his generosity and sincerity, this sublime icon of the stage and screen eventually projects Joe into the role of the protagonist, helping the director to reflect upon his own talent, the need to overcome his obsession with the actor (Gazzara) and Cassavetes (cultivated since Joe and Ben first met on the set of “Opening night”), and to follow his own creative path.Gazzara achieves this in the same graceful way he reveals how he owes his playboy reputation to his chauffeur; in the same way he talks about his first encounter with death when he witnessed the drowning of one of his childhood friends; and in the same way he talks about his films, his training to become an actor, his love of art and his emotions of being on a movie set or on stage.Joe, the director, reveals that meeting such an exceptional man as Ben Gazzara can only be a life-transforming experience; one shared by the audience who learn of the actor’s death on February the 3rd, 2012.Gazzara is the story of a gentle man who touches the audience with his wit, somewhat subdued with age, and his charisma which is possibly even stronger than it was when he was a younger man; a portrait woven around the actor’s extraordinary repertoire and which is highlighted by a subtle and carefully-constructed musical score.For Gazzara, the artist must have passion; a conviction reflected in the closing monologue from Marco Ferreri’s Tales of Ordinary Madness, “To do a dull thing with style”, he quotes, “ is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without style”…… “to do a dangerous thing with style, is what I call art. Bullfighting can be an art.
Boxing can be an art….Opening a can of sardines can be an art.”If this is indeed true, then Ben Gazzara, was also blessed with that rare gift of being able to do such a banal thing as telling a simple anecdote, signing an autograph or sharing a memory with such “style” and, by doing so, transforming it into a work of art.