The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, November 11-17

the-killing-of-a-chinese-bookie

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
Directed by John Cassavetes
Cosmo Vitelli, an amiable and gracious man, owns The Crazy Horse West, a burlesque club where he acts as the director, arranger and choreographer for all performances—he is also a degenerate gambler who has just paid off a massive debt. Ben Gazzara seamlessly portrays Vitelli, a character he expanded from a persona he toyed around with for his friend director John Cassavetes. Vitelli is the culmination of this 1970s brand of character, and Gazzara glides through the film in an unfettered performance. Free of restraint, Vitelli and his “entourage of biscuits” attend an underground poker game held by gangsters, rack up twenty-three grand in new debts, and in due time Cosmo inadvertently signs a contract to kill off a “Chinese bookie” in order to settle the score. The uncharacteristic car chases and scenes of physical violence are fascinating here; Cassavetes juxtaposes Vitelli’s self-loathing with his undying urge to be gallant, all while he is committing petty crimes in order to save whatever peace of mind he has left. The narrative structure, looming on the actor’s spontaneity amid handheld shots and angled close-ups, provides a blueprint for all independent cinema. Samantha Vacca (November 14, 15, 11:15am at the Nitehawk)

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