As for the two KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIEs, I think that one has to concede that the second film is the more effective
Oddly, though, I didn't feel this way until after I'd seen the 1976 version a few times. I'd long been acquainted with the 1978 version, and didn't really "get" it -- thought it was amazingly minor for a Cassavetes film. Seeing the 1976 film sold me on the greatness of this movie, brought it home to me emotionally -- but once I felt emotionally attached to it, 1978 fast eclipsed it as being the leaner, better-structured experience. I needed 1976 to get the hook in, but now that I'm hooked, I'd rather watch 1978... anyone else feel the same way?
This box was my introduction to Chinese Bookie
, and after viewing the '76 cut, I'm afraid my reaction much resembled the anger Al Ruban describes early audiences displaying. I didn't shout at strangers to keep their money, but I felt betrayed at having spent over two hours in front of a film I found monotonous, diffuse and infuriating. But as with most transgressive works of art, those reactions often mean you've been moved and haven't yet figured out why. Certain scenes kept playing through my mind, even though I just wanted to forget about this film. So a few days later, I popped in the '78 cut, kind of not believing I was already sitting back down with a movie that had produced such a visceral response in me. And I was faced with the fact that what I was watching was a masterpiece, not just of Cassavettes', but of 70s American cinema.
For me, the film's strengths came out after
watching the '78 cut, but without the earlier version playing in the back of my mind, I doubt it would have registered quite as strongly. Pemmican, I'm with you that the earlier cut simply dives into the Mr. Sophistication routines too early and too deeply. These moments were perhaps the most difficult for me to accept and process, because they seemed purposefully divisive, so transparently awful that it was, at times, hard to watch. The '76 cut dwells on these long moments, and all I could think while watching them was how unrealistic it was to think that anybody
would pay money and sit still for this drivel - finding a peep show in late-70s Los Angeles surely couldn't be difficult enough to have patrons queuing up at the Crazy Horse West for a few glimpses of tit.
But I was missing the point. The artistic mediocrity, even total failure, of Cosmo's routines are the hinge upon which the entire film moves. It's easy to sympathize with a talented individual who's misunderstood and swimming upstream. It's also easy to wallow in shadenfreude
as a fool stumbles across the screen. But Cosmo isn't either of these. It's his total and utter mediocrity, in a benign sense, that throws the audience off. He lacks qualities that would inspire or amuse us - he's just a hack with a dream. The dream may not be much, but that doesn't matter because it's his
dream. I still think Cassavettes drags the nightclub scenes on a bit longer than necessary, but they seem better integrated in '78.
Finally, before this post becomes too rambling, Chinese Bookie
serves as a nice companion piece to another 1970s reworking of LA noir - Altman's The Long Goodbye
. If Altman saw in Raymond Chandler's books a false heroic code and sentimentality incompatible with the sleaze pit of contemporary America, he at least suggested a response, however chilling - gun down your best friend after he's betrayed you, and break into a waltz on your way out the door, a scene that plays as a triumphant middle finger to the Marlowe myth of saintly virtue. Cassavettes, if possible, dives deeper into the gloom. He offers no solutions, no wisecracks or evasive action, not even much in the way of a closing scene. Cosmo crawls into the shadows after one final travesty of a routine, perhaps to bleed to death, perhaps not. It almost doesn't matter.