• Just when you thought it was safe to return to the tripod, he’s baa-ack. “Cassavetes earned a belated place in film history,” writes Darrell Hartman in his Artforum piece marking the Criterion breakout releases of A Woman Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Once he earned that place, though, he never budged. Hartman muses on the famously independent American actor-filmmaker’s “stubborn disregard for the traditional rules of planning and shooting a movie,” as well as on his difficult relationships with his audiences, critics, and producers. And that abrasiveness, Hartman argues, is played out in the dynamics between the characters in Cassavetes’ famously raw films. In comparing the seemingly wildly different protagonists in Woman and Bookie, the writer finds both Mabel and Cosmo to be victims of the same external forces, “constantly molding themselves for a world of impatient spectators . . . Few nonperiod American movies have made social pressures and influences feel so ever present.”

    Meanwhile, in the New Yorker this week, Richard Brody uses the occasion of the DVD releases to focus on Chinese Bookie, which he claims was an artistic breakthrough for Cassavetes that “set the stage for his daringly personal later works.” He sees the film’s story of a small-time criminal as perhaps autobiographical: “Cassavetes avoids psychological motivation in favor of a Beckett-like opacity and absurd humor, and turns the story into a portrait of an artist . . . Cosmo is no ordinary pander but an auteur of sorts.” And, of course, Cassavetes is no ordinary auteur.

    A Woman Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie are also still available in the Criterion eight-disc box set John Cassavetes: Five Films.

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