Opening Night (1977)

140 mins | Drama | 25 December 1977

Director:

John Cassavetes

Writer:

John Cassavetes

Producer:

Al Ruban

Cinematographer:

Al Ruban

Editor:

Tom Cornwell

Production Designer:

Brian Ryman

Production Company:

Faces International Films
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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Jeremy Carr, Visiting Research Fellow with the Arizona State University Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture.

The following acknowledgement appears onscreen at the beginning of the film: "Made with the cooperation of Pasadena Community Arts Center, Pasadena Community Services Commission, Inc., Cal-Neva Community Action Association." The end credits contain an "Appreciation to" credit for the following: Playboy Limousine and Colonel Sanders.
       According to 17 Jan 1977 Box news item, Opening Night began shooting 15 Dec 1976. In a 20 Dec 1977 HR article, Robert Osborne reported that the film was shot “entirely on location in Los Angeles and Pasadena, subbing for New York and New Haven.” Cassavetes told Osbourne, “We always shoot on location. I think it’s an advantage for audiences to see real buildings, real locales, real rain. Besides, since we’re always putting the money up ourselves, costs are always such a major factor. It would have been prohibitive to try to build those theatre sets on a soundstage.” According to a 17 May 1991 NYT article, the actors improvised during filming. Joan Blondell, who played playwright “Sarah Goode,” stated, “I couldn’t tell when the actors were having a private conversation and when they were actually changing the lines of the script.”
       A 21 Jan 1977 NYT article reported that extras needed to play the part of the theater audience were recruited via pink flyers distributed “in supermarkets, handed out on Pasadena street corners and sent by mail to hundreds of senior citizens ...

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The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Jeremy Carr, Visiting Research Fellow with the Arizona State University Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture.

The following acknowledgement appears onscreen at the beginning of the film: "Made with the cooperation of Pasadena Community Arts Center, Pasadena Community Services Commission, Inc., Cal-Neva Community Action Association." The end credits contain an "Appreciation to" credit for the following: Playboy Limousine and Colonel Sanders.
       According to 17 Jan 1977 Box news item, Opening Night began shooting 15 Dec 1976. In a 20 Dec 1977 HR article, Robert Osborne reported that the film was shot “entirely on location in Los Angeles and Pasadena, subbing for New York and New Haven.” Cassavetes told Osbourne, “We always shoot on location. I think it’s an advantage for audiences to see real buildings, real locales, real rain. Besides, since we’re always putting the money up ourselves, costs are always such a major factor. It would have been prohibitive to try to build those theatre sets on a soundstage.” According to a 17 May 1991 NYT article, the actors improvised during filming. Joan Blondell, who played playwright “Sarah Goode,” stated, “I couldn’t tell when the actors were having a private conversation and when they were actually changing the lines of the script.”
       A 21 Jan 1977 NYT article reported that extras needed to play the part of the theater audience were recruited via pink flyers distributed “in supermarkets, handed out on Pasadena street corners and sent by mail to hundreds of senior citizens in the area.” Fliers read, “Want to be in the movies? Opening Night , a new film by John Cassavetes with Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart, John Tuell, John Cassavetes and you…” Extras were instructed to arrive in tuxedos or dark suits and evening gowns for four days of shooting in which they would play the role of an opening-night Broadway audience. At 9am on the first day extras were to report, more than 700 people showed up. Troubles arose from Cassavetes’ recruitment of extras, because he was sidestepping the Screen Extras Guild. Cassavetes defended his choice by saying, “If I had the money, I would have used professional extras.” As reported in 31 Jan 1977 DV news item, picketing of the film was called off by members of the Screen Extras Guild after Cassavetes reportedly agreed to negotiate a SEG agreement for the remainder of the shooting, and to use SEG players on all future Faces Distributing feature films in Los Angeles.
       According to a 21 Jan 1977 DV article, nationwide picketing of the film was organized by Photographers Local 659 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees during the final stages of location shooting at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Local 659 claimed that “[Cassavetes’] indie production company, Faces Distribution Inc., [was] shooting nonunion with the exception of actors.” Local 659 business representative Gerald Smith denounced Cassavetes, president of Faces Distributing, and Peter Falk, who was listed as company vice president on SAG signatory documents, saying, “Cassavetes and Falk made a lot of money working on union films, and now they seem to be nonunion finks.” The article noted that, “Al Ruban, who doubles as producer and cameraman on the picture, is the immediate object of the photographer local’s ire.”
       Critical reception for the film was mixed. Both Var and HR lauded the actors’ performances, but acknowledged the film’s 144-minute run time as tedious. Var described Rowlands’ performance as “virtuoso,” but concluded that “for general audiences [the film] will be viewed as shrill, puzzling, depressing and overlong.” The film’s run was short-lived. A 22 Apr 1991 Var article reported that it was pulled by Cassavetes after only one week of release in Los Angeles. A 21 Jan 1979 HR news item stated the film “opened last December at the Fox Wilshire Theatre, grabbed some love-letter reviews, played briefly and – plop! – hasn’t been heard of since, not in New York, San Francisco, or even an L.A. second run.”
       According to a 1 Oct 1988 NYT article, the film was shown in early Oct 1988 again as part of the New York Film Festival. A 1 Oct 1988 New York Newsday article called Opening Night “ironically misnamed” as it had been “emerging only for an occasional festival showing.” A 22 Apr 1991 Var “Soundtracks – New York” article reported that, two years after Cassavetes passed away, the film made its New York theatrical debut on 17 May 1991 with an open-ended run at Cinema 1, distributed by Castle Hill Prods.
       For her portrayal of “Myrtle Gordon” in the film, Gena Rowlands won a Silver Bear at the 1978 Berlin Film Festival for “Best Actress.” Opening Night was also nominated for two Golden Globe awards: “Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama” [Gena Rowlands], and “Best Motion Picture Actress in a Supporting Role” [Joan Blondell].

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
17 Jan 1977.
---
Daily Variety
23 Dec 1977.
---
Daily Variety
21 Jan 1977
p. 1, 48.
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Dec 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Dec 1977
p. 3, 15.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jan 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Dec 1977
p. 12.
New York Newsday
1 Oct 1988.
---
New York Times
21 Jan 1977
p. 1, 10.
New York Times
1 Oct 1988.
---
New York Times
17 May 1991.
---
Variety
28 Dec 1977
p. 14.
Variety
22 Apr 1991.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A John Cassavetes Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Gaffer
Gaffer
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Graphics
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Chief set const
Asst set const
Prop man
COSTUMES
Ward master
Ward master
Men's ward by
MUSIC
Composed mus
Arr/Cond mus
Mus consultant
SOUND
Sd re-rec at
Boom op
Sd mixer
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod co-ord
Asst to the prod
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Accounting
Loc supv
Scr supv
Loc equip
Post prod
Teacher/Welfare worker
Stagehand, Local 33
Stagehand, Local 33
Stagehand, Local 33
Stagehand, Local 33
Stagehand, Local 33
STAND INS
Stunt driver
Stunt driver
Stunt double
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 December 1977
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 25 Dec 1977
Production Date:
began 15 Dec 1976
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Faces Distribution Corporation
24 December 1977
PA351145
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
M.G.M. Labs
Duration(in mins):
140
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

At a theater in New Haven, Connecticut, actress Myrtle Gordon and co-star Maurice Aarons act out a scene from their play, “The Second Woman.” After the performance, Myrtle goes backstage and asks for a drink from her assistant, Kelly. Leaving the theater, she is swarmed by fans waiting outside. One in particular, Nancy Stein, is especially emotional about seeing Myrtle. She seems crazed with excitement. As Myrtle’s car pulls away, Nancy gets hit by another vehicle. Myrtle’s car stops at the sound of the accident, and though Myrtle can’t see through the rain, she guesses Nancy was the victim. Myrtle's car continues on. At her hotel, she tells the concierge to contact police about the accident. Myrtle invites Maurice upstairs. Agitated, she begins drinking heavily, while Maurice is eager to get to dinner. Myrtle approaches him, and they kiss. Maurice insists that he has a very small, unlikeable role, and it would not serve him well to fall in love with her. He then leaves for dinner, and Myrtle stays behind. Late that night, after 4am, Manny Victor, the play’s director, discusses the work with his wife Dorothy. They talk about their marriage, which seems to be negatively affected by his preoccupation with the play. Myrtle calls, interrupting their conversation. Annoyed that Myrtle is calling so late, Dorothy attempts to distract Manny, but he remains on the phone, consoling his lead actress. The next day, Maurice and Manny rehearse with Myrtle on a difficult scene in which Maurice strikes Myrtle. She struggles with the scene and constantly moves away before the slap. After one of the slaps, Myrtle falls to the floor and refuses to get up. Maurice tries ...

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At a theater in New Haven, Connecticut, actress Myrtle Gordon and co-star Maurice Aarons act out a scene from their play, “The Second Woman.” After the performance, Myrtle goes backstage and asks for a drink from her assistant, Kelly. Leaving the theater, she is swarmed by fans waiting outside. One in particular, Nancy Stein, is especially emotional about seeing Myrtle. She seems crazed with excitement. As Myrtle’s car pulls away, Nancy gets hit by another vehicle. Myrtle’s car stops at the sound of the accident, and though Myrtle can’t see through the rain, she guesses Nancy was the victim. Myrtle's car continues on. At her hotel, she tells the concierge to contact police about the accident. Myrtle invites Maurice upstairs. Agitated, she begins drinking heavily, while Maurice is eager to get to dinner. Myrtle approaches him, and they kiss. Maurice insists that he has a very small, unlikeable role, and it would not serve him well to fall in love with her. He then leaves for dinner, and Myrtle stays behind. Late that night, after 4am, Manny Victor, the play’s director, discusses the work with his wife Dorothy. They talk about their marriage, which seems to be negatively affected by his preoccupation with the play. Myrtle calls, interrupting their conversation. Annoyed that Myrtle is calling so late, Dorothy attempts to distract Manny, but he remains on the phone, consoling his lead actress. The next day, Maurice and Manny rehearse with Myrtle on a difficult scene in which Maurice strikes Myrtle. She struggles with the scene and constantly moves away before the slap. After one of the slaps, Myrtle falls to the floor and refuses to get up. Maurice tries to continue in character. Slowly getting up from the floor, Myrtle performs but she soon goes into hysterics, and announces that she doesn’t understand her character. In her dressing room, Myrtle envisions Nancy, the dead girl, and reaches out to touch her hand. The play's author, Sarah Goode, arrives to discuss the character with Myrtle, but the actress receives her coldly. Back at her hotel, Myrtle buys local newspapers and finds a story about Nancy's death. She later arrives, with other mourners, at Nancy’s parents’ house. Though Nancy's mother acknowledges her daughter’s admiration for Myrtle, a man reprimands Myrtle for showing up, telling her she wouldn’t have come there if she understood what it was like to have children. Afterwards, Myrtle drinks and smokes at a bar. Manny later talks to Myrtle in her dressing room, and accuses her of no longer being any fun. She blames her conduct on the cruelty of the play. Later, Myrtle performs a scene on stage in which the other characters yell at each other and physically fight. Myrtle becomes increasingly distraught as she acts, but manages to stay in character. During the scene in which Maurice slaps her, Myrtle takes too long to get up from the floor, as she did during rehearsals. After she finally rises to her feet, Myrtle breaks character and begins talking about the play. The lights go down. After the show, Manny sarcastically commends Myrtle for the performance. Others, including Sarah, try to decipher Myrtle’s problems. Alone with Sarah at her hotel room, Myrtle reveals that she has trouble playing a much older woman and insists that if she excels at this role, then she will be typecast as older from that point forward. Their conversation turns to Nancy, and Sarah worries when Myrtle refers to the dead girl as if she is still around. Later, Manny arrives at Myrtle’s hotel and confronts the actress about her behavior. Myrtle imagines she sees Nancy in the bathroom and talks to her. Manny enters and assumes Myrtle is rehearsing her lines. Myrtle embraces Manny and kisses him. Before the next performance, Manny and Myrtle arrive together. Backstage, they are met by Dorothy, who glares at them, apparently believing that her husband spent the night with Myrtle. Manny accompanies Myrtle to her dressing room. When he kisses her, Myrtle warns him to “be careful.” The evening’s performance goes smoothly until Myrtle cannot find matches onstage to light her cigarette, props she had asked about before going on. She breaks character and calls out for a match. The audience laughs, and Myrtle continues to improvise as the play goes on. She leaves the stage, and Manny becomes visibly upset. The audience continues to laugh as Myrtle sobs backstage. Just as she returns, Manny lowers the curtain. Myrtle yells angrily and he begrudgingly raises it back up. Before long, Myrtle further deviates from her role and addresses the audience. After the play, audience reaction is mixed, with some seeming to enjoy the randomness of what just transpired. Backstage, the cast is upset. Myrtle tries to justify her behavior. Sarah questions whether the trouble stems from Nancy's death. Myrtle admits to having visions of the girl but insists the visions are under control as she is using them to get into character. While the others seem baffled, Sarah offers to take Myrtle to a spiritualist. Later, Myrtle talks to the spiritualist about Nancy, claiming that the girl exists only in her mind. A séance begins, but Myrtle stops it and leaves with Sarah. Back at her hotel, Myrtle looks for Nancy, but when the girl appears, she attacks Myrtle, who runs out of the room and persuades a maid to let her into Sarah's room. Sarah awakes, confused by Myrtle’s appearance. Myrtle bangs her head against the wall, throwing her body as if she’s being attacked and cutting her face. The next day, Sarah tells Manny that Myrtle needs to be replaced due to her mental instability, but Manny reminds Sarah of the timing – it is one day before the play’s New York premiere. Manny tries to pep up the actress, but she tells him that the play is killing her. Later, Myrtle meets with another spiritualist. During this session, Nancy appears to Myrtle, threatens her, then attacks her. Myrtle fights back. A man enters and sees Myrtle attacking something that is not there. Myrtle asks him if the girl is dead? In the evening, Myrtle visits Maurice at his apartment and tries to reconcile with him, but he resists. On the night of the premiere, Myrtle is nowhere to be found. The cast and crew grow increasingly agitated as they wait for her. Myrtle finally shows, very drunk. As best they can, the crew readies her to go on. David addresses the impatient audience and apologizes for the delay. As the first scene begins, Myrtle collapses out of sight of the audience. She pulls herself together enough to go on, and performs despite her drunkenness, almost unable to stand. The rest of the cast improvises around her. Manny cannot bear to watch and leaves the theater. Eventually, Sarah and David leave as well. Later, Maurice improvises with Myrtle and goofs around onstage. They play off of each other, sometimes addressing the crowd, and the audience loves it. The play ends, and the crowd offers a standing ovation. Manny, Sarah, and David re-enter the building and witness the reaction. Cast and crew gather backstage for a party, where everyone seems pleased with the positive, though unexpected, result.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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