Opening Night – John Cassavetes’ 1977 masterpiece in a canon already full of them – betrays an understanding that self-destruction does not have the convenience of narrative. It’s a wholesale embracing of chaos that defies reason and stricture; the act of shedding the burden of being. “Love is a stream; it’s continuous; it doesn’t stop”, a character says in the director’s penultimate picture, Love Streams (1984). This quote serves as a fitting summation of Cassavetes’ films with his wife Gena Rowlands; they are pictures concerned with directing the stream, channeling it and capturing its dips and swerves. These are films in which the current is so strong, it veers towards psychosis.
In finding madness beneath the perpetuating conventions of life – from the domestic in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) to loneliness in Love Streams – the proximity to chaos brings out something palpably human in Cassavetes’ work. Opening Night finds its madness in the shackles of artistry and the anxiety of ageing. Rowlands plays Myrtle, a famous screen and stage actress rehearsing a play in preparation for a forthcoming Broadway run. Leaving the theatre one evening, she witnesses an obsessed young fan being run over mid-serenade. As Myrtle becomes plagued by visions, a simple theatrical revival becomes an existential minefield, with each seemingly minor ask eating Myrtle from within. The image of the fan’s hand on the car window, streaked with rain, recurs throughout.