Thursday, July 7, 2011

Peter Falk The Troubador

By Lars Trodson

The only appropriate analogy for John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel I can think of is to the members of the Beat generation. Each group inspired each other, argued with each other, propped each other up when others were down, and generally swam against the tide even when very few people believed in them.

When Peter Falk died last week I really wasn’t thinking about Lt. Columbo, although I love that character. I was thinking of this group of actors that supported each other’s dreams and aspirations in a way you really don’t see any more. They created a body of work that is unique, just like the Beats did.

They worked for each other even though there was no money involved. Orson Welles had his itinerant group of actors that helped him out over the years - Akim Tamiroff and the like - and so did Cassavetes. This included Peter Falk.

Falk gave money to Cassavetes so he could complete “A Woman Under The Influence” in 1974. They made “Husbands” together, which is ambling but beautiful. Falk appeared in a cameo in “Opening Night.” Everytime you see these guys in an interview they’re smoking and sitting in some bar or restaurant. They’re invariably fiddling with a cigarette lighter. I suppose this glamorizes smoking but so what.
Falk acted in a theater troupe that Cassavetes started when he decided he didn’t want to make movies any more.

“No one was getting paid!” said Falk in an interview. There is nothing more inspiring to me than artists who continue to plug away, sometimes in obscurity, always against the odds, without any money. They were imbued with total belief in their art and themselves. Maybe the reason they smoked was because they were all gamblers! Most assuredly they gambled with their own lives.

Falk often said that acting the part of Columbo didn’t make him a better actor, but it did make him rich. He did, with that role, create something that very, very few people have done, which is to create a character that lives on, that is a cultural touchstone, and that people liked. That’s a tremendous thing.

But he also was part of this remarkable group of cinematic nomads, who were making art films for the grindhouse circuit, who believed in each other and, one hopes, if only because it seems romantic, that they were never judgmental of each other. They were the type of people who said, “Tell me where to show up and I’ll be there.”

Others have tried to generate this bonhomie, such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney. The Judd Apatow group has tried to think of itself as a repertory company. But their endeavors are always awash in gloss and money. Dispiritingly, their movies together seem more and more to feel like a party the rest of us are not invited to.

It never seemed that way with Peter Falk and his group. They were trying to make art, and their determination to create art despite having no money is an endeavor that, if not heroic, then certainly seems honest. They didn’t condescend to the audience’s intelligence. They tried to rise up to it, which is the nobility of it.