With love, even two very different people can make a future together.
A fine example of writer/director John Cassavetes' film style, Minnie and Moskowitz is a relaxed, leisurely story of how two very different people can fall deeply into love.
Independent filmmaking has in recent years come into vogue, to the point where the Sundance film festival, long a haven for maverick and un-Hollywood filmmakers, is now seen by many as too Hollywood and too commercial. However, thirty years ago such independence and creative spirit outside of Hollywood was much harder to find. One of the pioneers of independent film was John Cassavetes, who used his acting career (notably including Rosemary's Baby and The Dirty Dozen) to finance his passion for making truly independent films. His unconventional approach to filmmaking included encouraging listeners to a New York City radio show to help finance his first film, Shadows, which they did, to the tune of $20,000. With another $20,000, he created an improvisational, cinema verite film the likes of which was far from the Hollywood mold.
After Shadows, experience with Hollywood left a bad taste in his mouth, so from that point forward Cassavetes either self-financed his films or worked with complete creative control. Minnie and Moskowitz is in the latter category, but it bears the indelible stamp of Cassavetes' style, using his stable of improvisational actors (including himself) and a very intimate style of photography.
Minnie and Moskowitz is the story of two very different people who begin the movie as total strangers. Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands) is refined, well-spoken, educated, who works at a museum, but who is disenchanted with her relationship to a sporadically violent married man, Jim (John Cassavetes). In stark contrast is car-parker Seymour Moskowitz (Seymour Cassel—Rushmore, Trees Lounge, Dick Tracy), who looks like an aging hippie with his long hair, shaggy mustache, and his easygoing, loudmouthed ways. Minnie is set up on a blind date by a co-worker, but it is a record-breaking disaster. In the aftermath, Minnie meets the roguish Moskowitz but rather than instant love, the mix of matter and anti-matter has appropriately tempestuous results.
Still, the sparks are evident, and so a persistent Moskowitz wins a date with Minnie. Over the space of just a few days they grow closer and closer, despite their differences, as their simply charming love story unfolds. The rapid culmination of their love affair is a surprise marriage proposal, completing the whirlwind romance. Minnie and Moskowitz inform their respective families, leading to an amusing culture-clash when their mothers meet over dinner. Katherine Cassavetes, as Moskowitz's blunt-spoken Jewish mother, is fabulously funny. The lovebirds have a memorable yet simple wedding and we draw the curtain down as they face their future together.
The anamorphic video is rather exceptional for a film of its age. While the picture is quite soft, it is remarkably clean and free of all but a very small handful of apparent print defects. Would that some much more modern transfers were as clean! The color palette of Minnie and Moskowitz is limited and subdued to begin with, so color saturation is not much of an issue, but what is visible is adequately saturated. The entire film is quite dark due to Cassavetes' style of photography, and combined with the softness of picture, a lot of the fine detail is not visible. There are occasional touches of line shimmering due to digital enhancement artifacting, but this is a minor concern.
The audio is typical for a thirty year-old mono track. Dialogue is understood clearly and the score is restrained by the limited frequency spectrum, but this is to be accepted without much criticism, given the acting-centric focus and era of the movie.
Extra content is limited, but decent for a fairly obscure catalog title such as Minnie and Moskowitz. The commentary track is stellar, approaching the high production standards of the usual Criterion commentary track. Lead actor Seymour Cassel holds forth with a torrent of stories about this specific film as well as his long association with John Cassavetes, with co-star Gena Rowlands joining in as well. This track appears to be a well-edited compilation of two sources, one being a joint viewing of the film between Cassel and Rowlands and the other a solo commentary by Cassel. The theatrical trailer and unusually detailed bio/filmographies for the lead actors and the writer/director round out the content.
The acting center of the movie, Seymour Cassel and Gena Rowlands, take full advantage of the freedom given by Cassavetes to his actors, making their characters into seamless extensions of their own selves, very natural and simple in their style. The other members of the cast, professionals and amateurs alike, also seem very organic to the overall feel of the film. As the critic's blurb on the back of the box notes, Minnie and Moskowitz has the feel of a charming, funny home movie, and this is due in large part to the craft of the actors.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's not quite a criticism, but the modest story is not going to appeal to a wide audience. Most movies get their plot going fairly quickly, in or soon after the opening scene. In Minnie and Moskowitz, the film takes its sweet time introducing the unambitious Moskowitz, so that the story doesn't get going until a good half-hour or so into the movie. Even then, the story is a low-power look into the genesis of an improbable love affair, without a lot of gut-wrenching drama or scenery chewing.
The odd sort of keep case is better than the snapper, or the (ick) Alpha keep case, but it is still inferior in ease of use to the preferred Amaray keep case.
If you are already a Cassavetes fan, then this should be a no-brainer, particularly at the reasonable ($25) retail price. For the rest of you, if you are looking for a quirky, low-key romance leavened with humor, then give it a rental.
All parties are acquitted. The Court commends Anchor Bay for treating such a little known film as well as it did.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary Track
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