“I am really happy the doc is even getting out on DVD. Y’know, for a forty minute short to come out on DVD is not an every day occurrence.”

A wonderful interview with Richard Shepard, director of the HBO documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale. Five films. Is it possible that John Cazale only made five films? I have written before (here and elsewhere) about the life-changing impact that Dog Day Afternoon had on me (I saw it way too early, I was 12 years old), and of course I had no idea who John Cazale was, but he haunted me in that picture, even more so than Pacino did. Perhaps because I didn’t understand yet, what he was about. I have seen Cazale’s five films (The Godfather, The Conversation, Godfather Part II and Dog Day Afternoon) more times than I can count. I watch them to enjoy them, to study them, to lose myself in the movies that I first realized were “great”, before I knew the context or the history of them. “I bet these movies are really important …” I thought to myself as a young pre-teen.

John Cazale wasn’t “John Cazale” to me. He was Sal, with the machine gun in the bank, his hair falling into his morose nervous face. As far as I was concerned, he WAS that guy.

I have not yet seen the John Cazale documentary, but I am thrilled that the damn thing even exists. It’s not on Netflix yet, but I have just ordered myself a copy. I already know it’s going to be a keeper.

Thanks for the great interview, Stephen. I love the bit about auditioning an actress who clearly “wasn’t listening”. A lesson learned for all actors.

Definitely go read the whole thing.

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9 Responses to “I am really happy the doc is even getting out on DVD. Y’know, for a forty minute short to come out on DVD is not an every day occurrence.”

  1. Glad you liked the interview, Sheila! And thanks for the plug.

    I think this doc should be required viewing in acting school. Both Pacino and Streep speak so openly about Cazale’s influence on them and, in turn, provide tons of insight into the craft–I think even more insight than if they were asked to explain acting from their own perspective.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. sheila says:

    Stephen – I can’t wait to see it. He was so so good.

  3. Jake Cole says:

    The first time I watched the Godfather films I was rooted to Pacino’s performance (I was never that mesmerized by Brando, to be honest, good as he was), but it wasn’t until I’d seen them a few times that suddenly I noticed Cazale and couldn’t stop watching. It’s so strange to think that those were his first films. When I watch him as Fredo I still think that he was a veteran character actor of the screen. He was just too natural to have only practiced on a stage (and it wasn’t until even later that I finally got it through my thick skull that both De Niro and Pacino honed their chops the same way, and that I really wish I could go back in time and watch late-’60s/early-’70s theater). Sidney Lumet talked about the sadness in Cazale, and that’s what made him so arresting. Fredo was a feckless, halfwitted ass who would have gotten his whole family killed in the end had Michael not finally dropped the hammer on him, but you pity the man instantly. Cazale makes Fredo into someone who has tried his whole life to be anyone other than himself, but he just can’t manage it, and he makes an even bigger fool of himself in the process. To this day, I cry when he gets whacked at the end of II, not only because I feel intensely for the character when all else around him is operatic, analytical and removed but because it really is the only possible course of action with that character. He breaks his brother’s heart, and mine.

  4. phil says:

    Sal, too, has stuck with me all this time.
    Maybe cause I share a birthday with Sal, I mean John.
    Would love to see the documentary.

  5. sheila says:

    Jake – Fredo haunts me. He is a simple man – he has no consciousness other than survival. He is not calculating. he cannot compete. John Cazale is able to suggest that impotence in a way that still puts other actors to shame who attempt to tread on his turf.

    Sal … caught up in situations beyond his control, does not have the intelligence to rise above.

    John Cazale plays a follower, not a leader.

    There are other character actors today who are brave enough to approach this territory, but he is one of the measuring-points. The impression he has made is indelible. It will last for all time.

    I, too, am sorry I was not here in New York in the late 60s and 70s to see all the great theatre going on, with Joe Papp and Andre Gregory, and that whole generation of actors who started out then.

    Can’t wait to see the documentary. Just so glad it even exists. It seems like a small miracle.

  6. Todd Restler says:

    I happened to catch this when it was on HBO, and it was great. I won’t spoil too much, but the most amazing thing I took from it was the way his fellow actors described working with him. Legends like Al Pacino and Gene Hackman seemed in complete awe of Cazale, sort of like how it is when I hear Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page talk about Jimi Hendrix, like he was operating on a whole other level mere mortals only dream about.

    They all said Cazale made them raise their game. It’s funny, but I always sort of thought his career was a minor miracle, that he just “happened” to be in these five masterpieces. In fact, they just might be masterpieces because he happened to be in them. Try to imagine someone else as Fredo.

    There are plenty of great anecdotes, and especially great stuff on the “process”. The only problem is it’s too short.

    Fredo Corleone: Uno… por favor…
    [to Michael]
    Fredo Corleone: How do you say “banana daiquiri”?
    Michael Corleone: “Banana daiquiri.”

  7. sheila says:

    // they just might be masterpieces because he happened to be in them. //

    I love that thought. I think he is pretty indispensable to the success of these very important pictures. I can’t wait to hear all of the actors talking about him!!

  8. Jimmy says:

    I look forward to checking out this work. Thanks for the heads up Sheila.

    Back in the mid 70’s, I was fortunate enough to see John Cazale perform in a production of ‘Arturo Ui’ @ The Charles Playhouse in Boston.

    Man oh man…what a great afternoon in the theatre that was!

    Al Pacino flyin’ around the stage, Brecht’s dialogue exploding like some kind of mini-bombs, all while surrounded by fine actors such as Cazale, Sully Boyar and Jamie Sanchez. It was quite the theatrical experience.

    Little did I know, a few short years later, he would be gone. I remember attending a memorial service @ The Improv, here in Los Angeles, put together by Allen Garfield, who had worked with John in ‘The Conversation’. I stood quietly, in the back of the room listening, while many of his friends and fellow actors took to the stage, one by one, sharing stories of this most talented, sweet and generous man.

    A sadly different afternoon.

    God bless you John Cazale and thanks for the performances and the memories.

  9. sheila says:

    Jimmy – That production of Arturo Ui is so famous in my own mind, I have heard so much about it – I am so excited to hear from someone who actually saw it. Wow! If I could only have a time machine, that’s one of the productions I would kill to go back and see.

    Thanks for the memories of it!

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