Media Arts Program

Monday, February 18 at 7:00 p.m.

$8 general, $6 students/seniors, $5 members

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Cultivate Cinema Circle, Torn Space Theater, & Hallwalls present

The Film by John Cassavetes: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

(Written & Directed by John Cassavetes, 1978 Director's Cut, 108 minutes)

In conjunction with Torn Space Theater's staging of their original adaptation of John Cassavetes' 1976 screenplay and film, Cultivate Cinema Circle and Hallwalls are presenting one screening of Cassavetes' 1978 director's cut of the film. (Torn Space Theater's production runs Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays, February 15–March 9, and Sunday, March 10. Tickets and production details at Use discount code CCC19 to get an exclusive 15% off your Torn Space Theater ticket purchase for their adaptation.)

The film stars Ben Gazzara (Anatomy of a Murder, Cassavetes' Husbands, and Tales of Ordinary Madness, as a fictionalized version of poet Charles Bukowski), Seymour Cassel (who also starred in Cassavetes' Shadows, Too Late Blues, Faces, Minnie and Moskowitz, and Love Streams), Timothy Carey (who memorably appeared in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing and Paths of Glory, with Marlon Brando in The Wild One and One-Eyed Jacks, and in East of Eden), and Azizi Johari as Rachel. (Johari's other most notable appearance in filmdom is as the model in both posters hanging on the walls of "Dick Halloran's" [Scatman Corothers] room in Kubrick's The Shining.)

"Of all the key figures involved in American independent cinema over the last 50 years or so, the late John Cassavetes was certainly one of the most interesting and enigmatic. When he wasn't creating seminal, free-form abstract work that defined an entire genre, he seemed content to use his brooding good looks to secure acting gigs in a variety of films, encompassing glossy, big budget mainstream outings such as The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Rosemary's Baby (1968)… No doubt the prime motivation for Cassavetes' participation in such films was money, and if those salaries bought him some time and artistic freedom, and helped bankroll mini-masterpieces like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, then all the better. Despite the film's art-house credentials, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is perhaps Cassavetes' most conventional work, and it seems incomprehensible that it was panned upon its initial release, before a hasty re-edit by the director addressed its perceived deficiencies.

"Shot in 1976, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie stars Ben Gazzara as Cosmo Vittelli, the proud owner of the Crazy Horse West nightclub on Sunset Strip. Surrounded by a seedy nocturnal world of petty criminality, things turn serious when, after losing heavily at the gambling table, he finds himself in debt to local gangsters… As his situation worsens, we genuinely feel for Vittelli. His coterie of dancing girls from the club represents a kind of surrogate family to him, and the way he clings to them for emotional stability is quite endearing. Moreover, whilst it's difficult to truly warm to him due to his social pretensions, his arrogant chutzpah, and his gambling problem, his primary motivation is nevertheless borne of a simple need to survive and succeed, unlike the avaricious, wealthy and ruthless criminals that circle him like dead-eyed sharks, always on the scam…

"A classic noirish study of the lethal combination of masculine pride and arrogant self-destruction, the film's subtle and very naturalistic tone is similar to Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese's excellent examination of Catholic guilt and the fallibility of criminals. This similarity is no coincidence, either: Scorsese and Cassavetes had together formulated a treatment for The Killing of a Chinese Bookie several years previously, during an editing session on Scorsese's film, and indeed Cassavetes even claimed to have completed the script for The Killing of a Chinese Bookie with the sole intention of handing it over to Scorsese to direct.

"Interestingly, both The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Mean Streets are a long way from the terrific, elaborate, and expensive crime films that Scorsese would come to direct twenty years or so later. By then, Scorsese was more interested in deconstructing the glamour, mythology, and iconography of famous and wealthy Mafia figures, rather than realism and the seamier, low-key experiences of small-time gangsters at street level." (Adrian Warren, Pop Matters, August 6, 2013).