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John Cassavetes director inspired by On the Bowery,

John Cassavetes director inspired by On the Bowery, a film On the Bowery, a film that inspired director John Cassavetes

By Ron Gilbert

This Oscar nominated film was considered very controversial when it was released but today we are fortunate to see the restored version in addition to a commentary on the making of On The Bowery by Michael Rogosin the son of the director.

In 1956 the year this film was made ,Dwight Eisenhower was president, Reverend Martin Luther King was heavily involved in racial integration in the South, Fidel Castro was in Mexico planning the takeover of Cuba, Boxer Rocky Marciano retired undefeated, the Brooklyn Dodgers were celebrating the winning of their first World Series while Don Larsen pitched a no hitter. In the entertainment world, fans were still mourning the death of actor James Dean who had been killed in a car accident .the musical My Fair Lady opened on Bway, Elvis (the Pelvis) Presley shook everyone up with his hit song, Heartbreak Hotel, actress Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco and actresses Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot were gracing the movies with their beauty. I mention these facts because no one is visibly aware of these moments in history or they weren’t important enough to be discussed in this entire film ,which was shot in 3 days on the Bowery known as skid row in the lower east side on Manhattan. So we are presented this rare opportunity by producer /director Lionel Rogosin who started shooting the film in free form and then realized that it was best to set up a narrative, so they started to look for characters who would embellish this alcoholic lifestyle in the Bowery where hobos and drunkards roamed. Homeless and Alcoholic Anonymous were not very prominent words spoken at that time.

When I saw the opening shot of the 3rd Avenue elevated train in New York City it immediately brought back memories of my childhood and my grandfather Francesco Adamo was a train conductor. I knew that I was in for a trip down memory lane and a part of New York history.

The cast were holdovers from the post war years who were just hanging out to pick up a days work and so the story begins with Ray Salyer arriving in the bowery where he is immediately befriended by Gorman Hendricks in a local bar and drinking with the boys making small talk and expressing his desire to look for work as everyone drinks it in or up and then we follow his character’s journey. A film showing us what we may want to forget which must be why we haven’t heard too much about it even though it won the best documentary award at the Venice Film Festival in 1957.

This revolutionary filming technique of real life combined with on the street footage also influenced the French new wavers and Cassavetes and was a major step in creating independent cinema as a result, and challenged the entire notion of "documentary." Perhaps Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh's opening in New York at the Circle in the Square theater in Greenwich Village that same year as On the Bowery was being film just a coincidence or maybe not ?

If you really want to experience true cinema verite see this film at the Nuart Theatre (Jan. 21-27) ON THE BOWERY | Directed by Lionel Rogosin | Written by Richard BagIey, Rogosin& Mark Sufrin| Milestone Films


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