divine idylle # 3 : gena rowlandsPosted: July 9, 2010
Although a successful actress in her own right, it was as John Cassavetes muse, wife and leading lady that Gena Rowlands is largely recognised. Together with her husband, they revolutionalised the direction of independent American cinema. Yet both were forced to midnight flypost many of their films to drum up interest, such was the degree to which they were sidelined and eschewed by the mainstream film industry.
Rowlands had no qualms about tackling difficult roles. In ‘A Woman Under the influence’ one of her greatest triumphs, (for which she was nominated an academy award) she plays Mabel Longhetti, a housewife whose increasingly erratic and psychotic behaviour leads her husband with no choice but to commit her to a psychiatric institute. The film makes for uncomfortable viewing, for Rowlands’ performance is both convincing and deeply emotive. The film had a non existent budget after being rejected by all major studios approached, in effect Cassavetes was forced to remortgaged his house and Peter Falk gave $500,000 of his own money to the project. Rowlands was responsible for her own hair and make-up.
In ‘Opening Night’, her character is no less challenging. She plays a stage actress, crippled with self doubt and unable to admit she has issues with aging, in addition to a drink problem which renders her incapable of acting. Her performance has a similarly compelling and devastating effect on the viewer.
Gena continued to act despite her husband’s untimely death at 59 and later roles proved equally as diverse and engaging, notably in ‘Playing by Heart’ and ‘The Notebook’, the latter of which was directed by her son Nick.
Even now, aged 80, she retains an ethereal quality and beauty which are testament to the life she has led, both fiercely uncompromising and true to her beliefs. In a recent interview given in April of this year, she was quoted as saying “It’s why so many of these indie filmmakers, even now, ask me to do their movies. They know I’m indie. Always have been.”
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