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Cassavetes' Films Get Fresh Notice

A traveling exhibit of his movies demonstrates his skill as a director, not simply as an actor

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JOHN CASSAVETES was best known as an actor. But he was nominated for three Academy Awards during his lifetime, in three different categories - writing and directing in addition to acting - and while his performances were frequently offbeat and inventive, his filmmaking was positively unique. Now a traveling retrospective of Cassavetes pictures is calling welcome new attention to his major contributions in all three categories.

Until his death a couple of years ago, Cassavetes carried on a career that he had molded to suit his own unusual talent. He spent a portion of his time appearing in Hollywood hits like ``Rosemary's Baby'' and ``The Dirty Dozen,'' and used the earnings to finance movies that he cared more deeply about - namely, movies he wrote and directed himself.

In these personal projects, he worried less about conventional storytelling than about burrowing into his characters' minds and figuring out what made them think and behave the way they did. Not all the pictures are masterpieces, and even the best have moments that don't quite come together. But they have a sense of passion, conviction, and sheer ornery brilliance that few Hollywood films can match.

Cassavetes distributed most of his films himself, and since he put his best energy into making new movies instead of peddling the old ones, his pictures haven't been seen as widely as they deserve.

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