While in the midst of rehearsals for her latest play, Broadway actor Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) witnesses the accidental death of an adoring young fan, after which she begins to confront the chaos of her own life. Headlined by a virtuoso performance by Rowlands, John Cassavetes’s Opening Night lays bare the drama of a performer who, at great personal cost, makes a part her own, and it functions as a metaphor for the director’s singular, wrenched-from-the-heart creative method.
John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, the fifth and final film in Criterion’s new Blu-ray upgrade of their box set John Cassavetes: Five Films, is presented on this dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It gets a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.
In comparison to Criterion’s previous DVD edition this new Blu-ray’s transfer improves over it in all areas. The DVD had compression issues and a fuzzy look but the Blu-ray resolves those concerns, delivering a far crisper, highly detailed image that looks far more filmic in look. Colours look to be better saturated, and black levels are also rather clean.
The source looks pretty good with only a few minor issues such as specs of dirt here and there. Nothing else really stood out and film grain looks clean and natural. It’s one of the better if not the best looking presentation in the set.
The lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track delivers the film’s audio as best it can. Dialogue is easy to hear most of the time but can be muffled here and there, more due to shooting style than anything else. The audio is clean, with no damage present, and music sounds passable if a bit tinny. Again its weaknesses are inherent in the source and the transfer delivers it as best it can.
Opening Night comes with a smattering of supplemental material, all carried over from the original DVD. First is a discussion between stars Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara. These types of discussions appear on other discs throughout the set and this one, running 23-minutes, is similar to them. The two basically just chat about “the good ‘ol days,” seeming to forget that there is a crew there filming them. They share memories from the shoot, particularly the people that would walk in off the street to fill the audience seats of the film’s central play, and how they all worked to keep them entertained while things were set up. They talk about the film’s themes and characters, and then talk about Cassavetes. Gazzara takes the time to ask Rowlands about whether the two came up with scenarios for scenes the night before a shoot, because he admired how they played off of each other. She explains that they never did, playing into how the director liked to have things just unfold during the actual filming. The two also talk about the marketing of his films and the director’s work in general.
Al Ruban next provides a short 8-minute interview. Ruban talks a little about getting funding for and distributing Cassavetes’ films. He also worked as director of photography for Cassavetes and he spends most of his interview talking about how it was being the DP on one of his films when, in reality, the image was probably one of the things Cassavetes was least concerned with. He expresses some frustrations since Cassavetes pretty much refused to explain how a scene should feel or go down, so Ruban would usually go in completely blind and just film. Somehow it all worked, though. He also talks about the reception of his films, which usually didn’t do well in the States, but they did very well in Europe and apparently they got most of their funding by pre-selling the film in European territories. It’s short but it’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look.
Next is another portion of an audio interview with John Cassavetes, conducted by Michael Ciment. Similar interviews also appear on the discs for A Woman Under the Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. This 29-minute segment unsurprisingly concentrates on Opening Night, and he talks about his personal experiences working in theater and talks about recruiting the film’s audiences. Most interestingly, though, is when he talks about the film’s central play. It was incredibly hard to write since it was supposed to be an awful play the actors didn’t want anything to do with, and he had little interest in it. I found it probably the more engaging of all of the audio interviews found in the set.
The disc then closes with two theatrical trailers showcasing how they attempted to market his films.
Not a loaded edition, with barely over an hours’ worth of material, but it was all fairly engaging.
Opening Night comes with a strong upgrade in the transfer department, and is one of the better presentations in the set if not the best one.