Life Lessons from John Cassavetes

He had a reputation of being temperamental, self-promoting, impossible to work with. But he also did not compromise, could not fake anything, was completely dedicated to his work – a fiercely independent and authentic filmmaker. He didn’t like to be liked, but he wanted and fought for the freedom of doing what he liked unhindered. He begged, borrowed, stole, got bank loans without collateral to make his movies. But his movies don’t judge, don’t tell you what to think; he doesn’t judge his characters, doesn’t separate from them, he accepts their moral and emotional untidiness. The viewer gets involved with his films because they are raw, unfiltered, unpredictable, complex, overwhelming, just like real life is. And John Cassavetes loved life just as it was – and he made films about it.

He pioneered a new form of art – an art liberated from the conventional, simplistic canons of beauty, romance, heroism, right and wrong. And John Cassavetes lived for his art.

Here are a few life lessons from the filmmaker, selected from the book Cassavetes on Cassavetes (there are so many more of his words of wisdom that I have written down), by Ray Carney, one of the best, most emotionally charged and most revealing film books I have read so far.
Cassavetes on Cassavetes - Classiq Journal

“Say what you are. Not what you would like to be.
Not what you have to be. Just say what you are.
And what you are is good enough.”


“I think you can do more through positive action than in pointing out the foibles and stupidities of man. Pictures are supposed to clarify people’s emotions, to explain the feelings of people on an emotional plane. An art film should not preclude laughter, enjoyment and hope. Is life about horror? Or is it about those few moments we have? I would like to say that my life has some meaning. We must take a more positive stand in making motion pictures, and have a few more laughs, and treat life with a little more hope than we have in the past. I believe in people.”

“The artist is an irreplaceable figure in our society: a man who can speak his own mind, who can reveal and educate, who can stimulate or appease, and in every sense communicate with fellow human beings.”

“People have forgotten how to relate or respond. In this day of mass communication and instant communications, there is no communication between people. In Faces I wanted to show the inability of people to communicate; what small things do to people, how people can’t handle certain things that they hear and read in newspapers, see in films; and how, when they are not prepared to think with their own minds and to feel, how all this can become tragic circumstances.”

“I don’t want to let the moments go by. We might not be here tomorrow. I make every picture like it’s the last day of my life. You got anything to say, you put it in there now. Don’t hold back. What are you waiting for?”

” ‘To fit in’ is to give up your mind
in favor of your position.”

“Isn’t it better to fight and see your fantasies realized – fight and lose, rather than suffer and dream away in silence?”

“I hate separatism in anything. Women’s movements only spread distrust between people and move people further away from each other than they should be.”

“I don’t say I’ve been a saint in my life, but I couldn’t sell my soul for things I don’t believe in.”

“One of the reasons I make films is to make clear to people that family life is not always going to be a bed of roses. Don’t be upset if you fall out of love, because it’s gonna happen lots of times. Don’t be upset by conflict. There is something to a one-on-one relationship, something so beautiful that it is worth all the problems.”

“I’m a great believer in spontaneity, because I think planning is the most destructive thing in the world. Because it kills the human spirit. So does too much discipline, because then you don’t get caught up in the moment, and if you don’t get caught up in the moment, life has no magic. Without the magic, we might as well give up and admit we’re going to be dead in a few years. We need magic in our lives to take us away from those realities. The hope is that people stay crazy.”

“It’s not enough to be a success, to get good reviews,
or to make more movies. You need to do something
important to yourself. You need to study life.
I don’t deal with the life of others but with my own life.
That’s all I know.”

Related content: Style in Film: Gena Rowlands in Gloria / Almodóvar on Almodóvar / Talking Books and the Art of Bookshop Keeping with Vlad Niculescu

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