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For Starters 

C.H. May decided on a rather appropriate-sounding premiere for a film to kick off his Meanwhile ... Productions' film series at the Bridge Lounge: John Cassavetes' 1977 film, Opening Night. But the better news is, considering Opening Night's place in the Cassavetes canon -- it's not considered one of his best -- this series picks up rather nicely after that.

Screening each Sunday through May 23, the schedule is impressive: Vincente Minelli's Some Came Running (1958), Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders (1964), Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), Robert Altman's Images (1972), Carl Dreyer's Vampyr (1972), Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd (1957), Peter Greenaway's Drowning by Numbers (1987), Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), Roman Polanski's Cul-De-Sac (1966), Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep (1997), Frank Perry's The Swimmer (1968) and Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971).

They all have a whiff of art-house fun to them, and May promises post-screening discussions with the audience (the debate over the merits of The Last Picture Show should be a hoot).

In Opening Night, we have all the things that made Cassavetes such a controversial director. There is the look at a delusional character, drowning herself in booze -- this time Cassavetes' wife and frequent star, Gena Rowlands. And there are the wide-open spaces that Cassavetes was noted for creating for his actors to do their thing, even if we're not always sure just what it is they're doing. Call it scripted improv, and Rowlands was great at it. She's one of the great sad-eyed beauties, our American Jeanne Moreau perhaps.

But Rowlands' character -- an alcoholic actress playing an alcoholic actress onstage -- grates on the nerves after awhile, and all the notions of enabling and self-pity themselves start to feel drowned.

Opening Night came after Cassavetes' creative peak, but still features a great supporting cast, including Cassavetes himself as Rowlands' stage co-star (natch), along with Ben Gazzara as a cajoling director, Joan Blondell as a smirking playwright, and personal favorite Paul Stewart as an adoring older colleague.



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