Director in Focus: John Cassavetes – Minnie and Moskowitz

Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
Starring Seymour Cassel, Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes, Timothy Carey, Val Avery

The first time I ever remember being aware of Seymour Cassel was in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. When I look back, I realize it was one of those instances where an actor has an incredibly distinguished career in film, but, because its not mainstream cinema, you don’t discover them until they appear in a contemporary movie. In Anderson’s films Cassel is so muted, always a background player, with not much to do. In Cassavetes’ Faces, Cassel plays a young hipster, and this is that same character a few years down the road, a little older, but still full of energy and oddity. This is also the first (but definitely not last) film where we get to talk about Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes wive and figurehead of independent cinema in her own right. This is a film where we start to see the cinéma vérité elements pushed away for just a little bit more structure.

Seymour Moskowitz (Cassel) is a parking garage attendant in New York City who not only enjoys his job, he loves it. Moskotwitx happily jogs from one care to the next, bringing them to their owners. He visits his mother on ocassion and, as the film opens, borrows $400 to move to Los Angeles on a whim. In L.A. he meets museum curator Minnie Moore (Rowlands). Moore’s most recent relationship has been with a married man and her personal life is a shambles. Moskowitz is the last guy you would expect her to end up with, but through their bickering and frustration they see the better parts of each other and very strange romance takes root.

With Minnie and Moskowitz, Cassavetes took the bickering couple sub-genre made popular in the 30s and 40s and recast it with a 1970s filmed on the fly aesthetic. Moskowitz is his mother’s angel but lives as if he is a ramblin’ hippie. Minnie is a woman who has had nothing but problems with men, and when she meets Moskowitz its during a fight with her overly aggressive and manic date (Avery) in a restaurant parking lot. It’s Moskowitz who is the fickle one in the relationship, Minnie is typically exasperated by him. And then, through trial and error, after working through their problems everything clicks. Its a romantic comedy done in non-cliched manner, it ends on a happy note, but it also ends on an honest note.

Once again, Cassavetes is not a filmmaker who would ever appeal to a mass audience. But for people who feel that today’s romantic comedies are being spat out of a screenplay factory, his work can provide a fresh breath of air that keeps you surprised and presents characters who behave just irrationally as we all really do. There’s also great little side moments that have nothing to do with the overall narrative but still work. In particular, Moskowitz visits a diner at the beginning of the film and has a conversation with a vagrant (Carey). This scene alone could be cut out and framed as its own short film and the homeless man is a rich character unto himself that never gets fully explored.

Next up: A Woman Under the Influence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s