Monday, June 28, 2010

THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976-'78) - John Cassavetes


For years, I saw grubby stills from this movie with Gazzara as a mob-indebted strip club owner bathed in red lights. I heard rave reviews, savored the provocatively pulpy title. I knew for sure I would love this movie, Cassavetes' serious foray into the gangster/crime genre, and even had notions it would be like an artier, scuzzier and much better version of an Abel Ferrara film.

I was wrong.

Cassavetes's style does not cater to genre, much less the crime genre. Here he teases you with some very basic genre elements -- a gambler (Gazzara) in over his head, some mafia types, the pre-requisite killing -- and then focuses his lens on almost anything and everything else, namely a very arty burlesque show the strip club is putting on. No wonder Gazzara's in debt!

Like club owner Cosmo, Cassavetes doesn't seem to care about giving his audience what they came for, be it bosoms or a decent crime flick. This would be fine if what he put in place of the typical genre elements was more interesting. Sadly, it's not. I would call this a character study if there were more character. Cassavetes seems bored with his scant crime plot and disinterested when it comes to shooting anything resembling an "action" scene. I know the man's an indie auteur, but maybe he could have used a week or so in the Michael Mann-Sam Peckinpah boot camp. Just a thought.

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