Friday, August 12, 2011
Happy Birthday, John Cazale
He only made five films, yet all five were nominated for Best Picture: The Godfather, The Godfather, Part 2, Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation and The Deer Hunter. John himself was never nominated, though he did receive a Golden Globe nod for his turn as Sal in Dog Day Afternoon. He was recognized for his amazing accomplishments on stage, though, receiving OBIE awards for his performances in The Indian Wants The Bronx and Line. How's this for awesome, he appears through archival footage in The Godfather, Part III and this, too was nominated for Best Picture.
John had the kind of intensity that gets into your bones, drawing you unerringly into his character. You hate the person he's playing, he's weak and broken. Who wants to be the clown, the loser, the guy who falls apart? But he had a way of seeing inside those people, of finding their pain and bringing it to the surface. You despise Fredo and yet, you understand him. He's not the man he imagined himself to be. He never planned on being third best. Or Sal, the guy in fucked up circumstances that just snowball. John was not afraid to tackle these kinds of roles, having a well of compassion for them that showed in his performances. He was so good, he made the actors around him better. Michael Corleone would not be the guy he is without Fredo.
That intensity and cool extended to his personal life as well. Known for being a bit of a Romeo, John always had the luck with the ladies. He met and fell madly in love with Meryl Streep when they worked together in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. He remarked to Pacino that he had "met the greatest actress in the history of the world." And considering her accomplishments, it's safe to say he was right. Meryl, herself, has said that John taught her about acting, to see other "possibilities" within the characters.
Tragically, John succumbed to lung cancer on March 12, 1978. He was just 42 years old. Meryl was by his side right through to the end. He made The Deer Hunter in the last stages of his disease, dying before its release. Because of his illness, he was not able to get the required insurance so Robert De Niro stepped in and paid for him. His star burned brilliantly for the briefest of times and it leaves one with a tremendous sense of what might have been.
Richard Shepherd directed and Brett Ratner produced this incredible documentary short, I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale which was featured at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and aired on HBO last year. It is an in-depth look at Cazale's brief career with lots of amazing interviews and commentary. In a rare moment of disclosure, Meryl opens up at length about John and their time together. It's a unique chance to see some of our greatest actors in another light as they talk about their friend and fellow thespian.
I have the film below in three short parts. If you have the time, please watch. It is well worth the effort. Parts 1 and 3 are here, but Part 2 is linked because for some reason the embed code has been disabled.