Here at Audiences Everywhere, we love movies. We must do, because we talk, watch, and write about them all the time. We don’t love all movies (as a look into our garbage pile will prove) but we give each movie we see a fair shake and can even find the good in bad movies.
However there are negative factions on the internet who, for whatever reason, seem to only want to find the bad in movies. They pass their time and in some cases make their living pointing out all the tiny faults in movies, and then they present these things to you as though they are doing you a favour. They seem fixated on letting you know that the movies you love aren’t perfect, and sometimes they even try to make you feel guilty for enjoying the movies you enjoy.
But that is not us. We find no value — entertainment, informational, or academic — in seeking out the petty “sins” of cinema. Here at Audiences Everywhere we like to look to the positive, so in that vein, we present Cinema Saints, a weekly feature discussing the people in cinema who, for various reasons, we love.
In an ideal world, everyone would know John Cazale’s name. He would be up there with Pacino and De Niro, or perhaps Hoffman and Hackman, in the pantheon of great actors. As it is, he is known mostly to movie buffs. If people have seen The Godfather 1 and 2, they would recognise a picture of him and be able to name his character, but I doubt they know the name John Cazale.
The reason for this is because John Cazale died in 1978 after a movie career spanning six years and five movies. His was a brief flash of light that was extinguished too soon. What is incredible about Cazale’s career is that all five of the movies he starred in were nominated for Best Picture (with three of them winning). He starred in The Godfather 1 and 2, Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation and The Deer Hunter. There are actors in Hollywood now who would cut off their own feet to have starred in anything as good as any of those movies.
He was never the lead in any of his five movies, but his ability to hold his own against power-house performers like Pacino, De Niro, and Hackman shone through, and his skill as an co-star elevated the performances of the actors he worked with. A good example from The Godfather Part Two: Pacino’s Michael Corleone barely shows any emotion outside of rage or cold calculation, except for scenes in which he plays against Cazale. In Cuba they share a drink and for the first time you get a sense and recollection that, once upon a time, Michael Corleone was a good man. He is smiling and joking with his brother over club sodas and banana daiquiris in a scene that feels natural and loose, unlike a lot of Michael’s other interactions that can feel stilted as we in the audience know that every word being said is hiding an intention or plotting. This looseness and lived-in relationship between the brothers (helped by Pacino and Cazale’s real life friendship) makes the betrayal that is coming all the harder to watch, and we truly believe Michael when he tells Fredo that “you broke my heart”.
In an ideal world, John Cazale doesn’t get lung cancer and die at 42. He lives to a ripe old age and I’m sitting here writing an article about how Cazale used to be good but now he phones it in. Or Cazale retires like Gene Hackman and the only time we see him is at the Oscars with his wife, Meryl Streep (his partner at the time of his death), whose career has outshone his (but he doesn’t care). Or he stays the perfect co-star and he elevates Pacino so that Pacino never appears in shite with Adam Sandler.
In the real world, though, we no longer have him, but we still have his small body of work. We still have him asking Al Pacino, “Wyoming?” in Dog Day Afternoon, and waving around a little peashooter in The Deer Hunter, and arguing from a ridiculous chair in Godfather Part 2, and riding around on the little Vespa scooter and trying to reason with Gene Hackman in The Conversation, and drunkenly trying to smooch Diane Keaton at the wedding in Godfather Part 1.
And that body of work, small as it is, will live forever.