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John Cassavetes once named the 25 greatest directors of all time

John Cassavetes is regularly cited as one of the most fascinated American filmmakers of the 20th century — and there’s good reason for that. His works influenced the burgeoning sensibilities of the New Hollywood movement in the 1970s, urging younger artists to think of new ways and different frameworks within which they contextualised a fresh vision of cinema.

While Cassavetes initially gained prominence as an actor, he never really planned on it and only applied to acting school because he was expelled from college as his academic performance was less than ideal. Starring in memorable films such as Rosemary’s Baby, Cassavetes gained insights into the world of performing arts and incorporated them into his own directorial efforts.

Over the course of his career, Cassavetes created multiple masterpieces such as A Woman Under The Influence and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie which showed the world what American independent cinema was capable of producing. Later in his career, Cassavetes claimed that he always had the option of being a commercial director but that prospect never interested him.

Cassavetes often mentioned his love for the works of other pioneers, especially Carl Theodor Dreyer and Frank Capra. However, he took inspiration from a wide variety of sources including Japanese masters such as Akira Kurosawa and Nagisa Ôshima as well as the leading figures of the neorealism movement in Italy – Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini.

His works continue to serve as inspiration for contemporary directors such as Sean Baker who said in an interview with Criterion:  “His films mean everything to me. And I find his way of making films just as fascinating and inspirational as the films themselves. So that is why I adore A Constant Forge. Out of all the films in this collection, Charles Kiselyak’s documentary is the film I revisit the most.”

Check out the list of the directors who influenced Cassavetes below.

John Cassavetes’ favourite directors:

  1. Carl Theodor Dreyer
  2. Frank Capra
  3. Vittorio De Sica
  4. Luchino Visconti
  5. Federico Fellini
  6. Roberto Rossellini
  7. Nicholas Ray
  8. Elia Kazan
  9. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  10. Martin Scorsese
  11. Akira Kurosawa
  12. Nagisa Ôshima
  13. Josef von Sternberg
  14. Richard Benner
  15. Robert Redford
  16. William Wyler
  17. Elaine May
  18. John Ford
  19. William A. Wellman
  20. Jean Renoir
  21. Lionel Rogosin
  22. Michael Curtiz
  23. Shirley Clarke
  24. Arthur Penn
  25. Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin

While explaining his approach to screenwriting, Cassavetes once said: “A script is a series of words strung together. When I first start writing there’s a sense of discovery. In some way it’s not working, it’s finding some romance in the lives of people.”

He maintained that it was an intimate process, adding: “You get fascinated with their lives. If they stay with you then you want to do something—make it into a movie, put it on in some way. It was that which propelled us to keep on working at it. Making a film is a mystery.”

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