Killing of a Chinese Bookie, The + talk

As part of the ongoing 10th anniversary celebrations, the IFC is delighted to welcome film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who will give a lecture on John Cassavetes’s rarely seen Killing of a Chinese Bookie. One of America’s most celebrated film scholars and critics, Mr. Rosenbaum has written several books on the cinema, including Dead Man (2000), Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See (2000), Movies as Politics (1997), Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (1995), Greed (1993), and Moving Places: A Life at the Movies. He is currently film critic of the Chicago Reader.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
John Cassavetes’s first crime thriller, a post-noir masterpiece, failed miserably at the box office when first released in 1976, and a recut, shorter version released two years later, the one that’s generally made available today in prints and on video, didn’t fare much better. This is the first, longer, and in some ways better of the two versions; it’s easier to follow, despite reports thatoor maybe becauseoCassavetes had less to do with the editing (though he certainly approved it). A personal, deeply felt character study rather than a routine action picture, it follows Cosmo Vitelli (Ben Gazzara at his very best), the charismatic owner of an L.A. strip jointo simultaneously an asshole and a saintowho recklessly gambles his way into debt and has to bump off a Chinese bookie to settle his accounts. In many respects the film serves as a personal testament; what makes the tragicomic character of Cosmo so moving is its alter-ego relation to the filmmakerothe proud impresario and father figure of a tattered showbiz collective (read Cassavetes’s actors and filmmaking crew) who must compromise his ethics to keep his little family afloat (read Cassavetes’s career as a Hollywood actor). Peter Bogdanovich used Gazzara in a similar part in Saint Jack (1979), but as good as that film is, it doesn’t catch the exquisite warmth and delicacy of feeling of Cassavetes’s doom-ridden comedy-drama.o
U.S.A., 1976. Colour. 135 mins.

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