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Cassavetes, John... too classy, too artsy, too filmy for us here at Brains On Film you say? Pashaw! Me say! Updated film noir, mumbled lines, non-story, non-characters, non-dialogue cinema verite'. All of this sounds like the motherload...and it is, and I haven't even mentioned Timothy Carey yet!

John Cassavetes' 1976 film, THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE stars Ben Gazzara as Cosmo, a small-time L.A. strip-club owner in big-time hock to local mobsters. Why? Well, when he finally pays them off, he celebrates with a gambling spree that puts him right back in hock with these shylocks. They will cancel his gambling debts if he kills a Chinese bookie. Although a wiley Korean War vet, Cosmo isn't a professional killer and screws up the job. But not how you think. He is seriously injured himself, and has deftly set in motion a series of violent events from which he cannot escape. This story, partially adapted by one of the masters of the crime genre, Martin Scorsese, sends us on the way through Cassveteville as a cast of characters, many from the the Cassavetes "stable" of incredible actors which included over the years Seymour Cassel, Gazarra, Gena Rowlands (his wife), Peter Falk, John Marley, Haji (yep, Faster Pussycat) and the remarkable Timothy Carey, who is going to be featured in true webcast form right here on this site for his brilliant THE WORLD'S GREATEST SINNER, if nothing else.

With the very odd pacing, lack of any music bed and the handheld verite' style, BOOKIE takes a while to get in your blood. Virtually unreleased upon its completion, this one is an overlooked diamond, albeit a very rough one whose beauty is found easiest with a few stiff drinks. Setting up the plot really just scratches the surface when you consider this is the most "out-there" film that the "out-there" Cassavetes ever made. He was nominated for Oscars, he financed his films with money he made acting in some stellar roles in THE DIRTY DOZEN and ROSEMARY'S BABY, Cassavetes offbeat, semi-low budget fare such as HUSBANDS, FACES, MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ earned him the reputation for delivering thought provoking, sensitive stories that were not the norm for typical "Hollywood" tripe.

BOOKIE'S depiction of the strip clubs, gambling and organized crime are no where near conventional, and it all plays more as a character study of Cosmo and Carey's character Flo, a legitimate bad guy who seems to actually like Cosmo, if for no other reason than Cosmo listens to his strange ramblings about Carl Marx, Mao and others. Flo drops one of my favorite lines of any film, ever..."Money, Money Is Jesus." There is a poetry to this film that is hard to explain, but the dance all these men do, leads you to sympathize to the point of pity with everyone's plite. Well, everyone but the Chinese bookie, who really doesn't do much but look pretty in his indoor pool.

Cassavetes used a fly by your ass, unconstrained approach, filled with sharp plot twists and sustained by a meandering, start-stop-start storyline that provides a startlingly accurate portrayal of how the "wiseguys" who own Cosmo's life conduct their business; usually masked in mumbles, whispers, smiles, nods, cuss words, enough subject changes to piss off the most seasoned film maniac and obscure, near fatal irrelevancies. The majority of this buisness is usually done late at night in large luxury cars, diners, dim restaurants and clubs, where the violence central to that way of life is strangely peripheral, but inevitable, sometimes unplanned, and usually far more trouble than it's ever worth. Both Gazzara's Cosmo and Carey's Flo seem to fit prefectly in this style of business, yet they seem uncomfortable with their choices, Cosmo owns a tittie bar for Christ's sake and he is less than a happy camper, while Flo eats, drinks and seems the jovial gangster, he really just wants someone to listen to him since his father has passed away. Carey's performance is pure fucking evil, not in a brutal gangster sense, but in an artist painting a mural with his hard-on. That same cock-suredness that keeps his pecker stiff, makes you believe Carey is Flo, Flo is real, Flo hung around Carey's house long after BOOKIE wrapped. Cassavetes quote about Carey perhaps says it all. "Carey has the emotional brilliance of an Eisenstein!" What...? and no, that is not a typo.

L.A. is featured as a backdrop, yet at the same time, it is a tawdry L.A., not a glamourous or romantic depicition given the subject matter. Cosmo's Wild Horse West features no music for his strippers out side of a bizarre character known as Mr. Sophistication who lends a Caberet feel to the festivities, which the crowd basically ignores as they pant for more boobie. There is a subtext of interracial loving concerning Cosmo, there is Haji topless and there is a great scene with Cosmo checking in on the club via telephone and no one seems to know what the hell he is talking about, even though the staff has all worked there for several years.

Is this film for everyone, NO! Is this film for the normal b-movie fan-boy, NO! Is this a film to enjoy a Woodford Reserve on the rocks while wrinkling a cheap suit to? Can I get a HELL YEAH! Cassavetes over your head Argento boys, well guess what...screw you...in the words of Cosmo Vitelli..."The only people who are happy are the people who are comfortable." Jumpin' hand me that bottle. I'm getting comfortable.

Surrealist Meade Roberts as Mr. Sophistication, Fuck off Joel Grey!

There is that pesky Chinese bookie.

Cosmo drops his science..."You gotta work hard to be comfortable." Right on brother!

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The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie...are you man enough?

Cosmo Vitelli, a man who should have it all, has some problems.

Seymour Cassel, delivering like you know he can...he is still working in the biz ask Bro. George to tell you a story.

Cassavetes cinema verite' works as it shows the seamy side of L.A.

Flo, Tim Carey...he looks great here...but he says nothing....

Haji, one of my personal favorites...she liked Cassavetes.

More Flo...I am telling you if you can name an actor who can give you more slurred power...TIM FUCKIN' CAREY!

"Are they doing the Paris number, Paris! Are there signs up?

Cassavetes...now that is a shot!

This don't look good for Cosmo...

Heh heh, that's funny Seymour.

Flo, how I love ya, big guy!
Brains On Film 2003