I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (2009) Richard Shepard

Five classic films (The Godfather, The Godfather 2, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter), five memorable performances, John Cazale died at the still young age of 42 leaving a small but everlasting legacy of work that has more than stood the test of time. More amazing, is considering his performances he never received an Oscar nomination. Casual filmgoers remember him only as Fredo, the middle brother with the permanently hurt puppy dog look on his face in The Godfather 1 and 2.

Richard Shepard’s insightful documentary, “I Knew it Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale” is a warm tribute to an actor, respected and treasured by his peers. The film traces his life growing up in Massachusetts, moving to New York to pursue a career in theater and film. The film includes many interviews including playwright Israel Horovitz (Cazale was in ten of his plays, including the Off-Broadway,”The Indian Wants the Bronx” with Al Pacino for which they both won Obie’s). Many of his co-stars including Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep, who became the love of his life, talk about working with Cazale, his talent and friendship. Directors Francis Ford Coppola and Sidney Lumet discuss his special qualities and the unexpected nuances he would bring to a role adding an unexpected depth to his characters which stretched the film’s effectiveness beyond what they imagined.   Coppola was so taken with Cazale in “The Godfather,” he expanded his role in the second film.

By the time Cazale made his last film, “The Deer Hunter,” he had already been diagnosed with lung cancer and considered uninsurable. In order for him to get the role of Stan, Robert DeNiro put up his own money as insurance that Cazale would be able to finish the film. Cazale completed his role though he died before the film was released.

John Cazale was an extraordinary actor who through his work earned the trust and respect of his fellow actors and filmmakers. Al Pacino states he learned more about acting from working with John Cazale than any other actor.  The film is a short intriguing 40 minutes long, directed by Richard Shepard (Matador, The Hunting Party).   It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, made its New York Premiere at BAM before making its way to HBO in 2010. Now available on DVD. It includes two shorts, one in which Cazale acts and is the cinematographer in the second.

****

The House in the Middle (1954)

In 1954, this handy-dandy Civil Defense Administration short film gave Americans a quick and easy way to protect themselves from an Atomic blast. Yes, it is can be done, and a lot easier than you would think, at least according to the pin heads that made this film. In the test three homes are set up next to each other, the ones on the left and right, as you can image, are in trouble while the house in the middle is a survivor.

So what is the answer, what is the magic bullet to surviving an atomic blast? Well, it seems to be keeping your house clean and free of clutter. Get rid of trash, old newspapers and magazines that have been hanging around the house, as well as other untidiness. Outside get rid of dried leaves, mow your grass and paint your house for God sake! The house that is neglected will suffer the consequences when the bomb hits!  And just in case you think they were kidding, they show you  couple of tests taken out in the Nevada Proving Ground where men are men and paint is a really strong hard shell of protection. Yes, we see an atomic blast on these three sample homes and the two on the left and right are blown to kingdom come, along presumably with the families inside, while the house in the middle is still standing only slightly charred.

The lesson here is to get rid of your trash and other junk if you do not want your home to be a tinder box ready to be torched. If you keep your home fresh with a nice paint job and tidy inside you will survive.  They also recommend your organize your neighborhood. Get the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to clean up the neighborhood planting new fresh trees to replace the dried up flammable ones.    

Even more strange is that the film was produced by the National Clean up – Paint up – Fix up Bureau with the cooperation of the Civil Defense Administration. They must have had a strong lobby to get the CDA to have produced this piece of atomic propaganda. I have no idea if this National Clean up etc. was a government organization or private but what it is hard to believe is anyone took this stuff seriously even in 1954. Mow your lawn to save yourself from an atomic blast.  

The folks at Saturday Night Live could take this short film verbatim and turn it into a classic skit. Of course maybe in ’54 mowing your grass was the best the government had to offer as protection from the bomb, just like after  9/11 all the government was able to tell us was to buy duct tape and go shopping.  

Here is the film…watch…and then for God sake go clean your house!