The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
February 18th, 2019

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie [1976]

Please join Cultivate Cinema Circle and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center as we screen John Cassavetes’ 1978 director’s cut of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie [1976] in conjunction with Torn Space Theater’s own theatrical staging of an original adaptation of the film. (Torn Space Theater’s production runs Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays, February 15th – March 9th as well as Sunday, March 10. Tickets and production details here.) Torn Space Artistic Director Dan Shanahan will be on-hand to introduce the film.

  • Screening Date: Monday, February 18th, 2019 | 7:00pm
  • Venue: Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center
  • Specifications: 1976 / 108 minutes (re-release cut) / English / Color
  • Director(s): John Cassavetes
  • Print: Supplied by Westchester Films
  • Tickets: $8 general, $6 students & seniors, $5 members
  • Deal: Use the code CCC19 to get an exclusive 15% off your Torn Space Theater ticket purchase for their adaptation.

Event Sponsors:

Venue Information:

341 Delaware Ave, Buffalo, NY 14202

TrailerSynopsisDirector BioLinks

Courtesy of press kit:

John Cassavetes explores new worlds in his brilliant career with this new film The Killing of Chinese Bookie. Cassvetes’ protagonist, Cosmo Vitelli, portrayed by Ben Gazzara, the star of the Broadway theatre and films now at the peak of artistic maturity, goes on a journey through the night—but unlike Ulysses, Gazzara’s Cosmo streaks through the night-life of Los Angeles’ gambling world, strip joints, abandoned warehouses, Chinatown’s luxurious exotic restaurants, crooked streets and blind alleys, committing acts of violence and love. Although this is America of the 70s, it is also Berlin, Korea, Saigon, Paris, London, Estoril, Buenos Aires, Acapulco … it is a parable of our own time and space and a man’s struggle to exist in it. He is no lily white hero—but today’s “everyman” who will even murder to keep the pressure out of his life.

Cosmo worships this world—his club The Crazy Horse West is his world—the sensuous colors, the sounds, the bodies, tits and asses of his girls, and he wants the world to adore and worship them too.

His constellation of the stars is the steel-domed roof of his club. The spotlights of amber, violet, blues, playing on the bodies of his nudies, glazing the audience in the dark, capturing quick colored takes of humanity calling for “booze, beer, run and cokes … a hamburger … bring on the girls … take it off.” A thin pointed beam of light hitting a rotating, mirrored ball of a man made moon spinning off darting comets in the dark of Sunset Strip. But like his coming death, he refuses to acknowledge his friends’ identities. Fringe characters, pinky rings, White-on-White set up specialists surround his life with danger.

In the daytime he takes his three girls in the sparkling, dark, rental limousine that American dreams of, filled with stereophonic sound and perfumed champagne. By day he smiles and laughs and emulates the rich token dreams that substitute for “Advertised America.” Like most of us would like to be, he is a human melodrama, creating his own romantic image … reaching dead ends in love and kindness he climbs over them into his nightmare world. It is easy to mistake Cosmo as a cult hero figure for his stumbling aggressive charm is a marvelous disguise for the real gangster.

–Sam Shaw

“My films are expressive of a culture that has had the possibility of attaining material fulfillment while at the same time finding itself unable to accomplish the simple business of conducting human lives. We have been sold a bill of goods as a substitute for life. What is needed is reassurance in human emotions; a re-evaluation of our emotional capacities.”

Courtesy of PBS:

John Cassavetes was born in New York City on December 9th, 1929. After graduating from high school, he attended Mohawk College and Colgate University before graduating from the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1950. Throughout the early 1950s he worked as an actor in films including FOURTEEN HOURS (1951) and TAXI (1953). By the late 1950s he had made a name for himself, with roles in a number of movies including 1958’s SADDLE THE WIND. His big break came with a regular role on the television series “Johnny Staccato” between 1959 and 1960.

Financing his first film with the money he had made in television, Cassavetes embarked on his directorial debut. Working from only a skeleton script, SHADOWS was an experiment in improvisational acting and directing. A low-budget sixteen millimeter production with a jazz soundtrack by Charles Mingus, the film appealed to an audience longing for less mediated art forms.

Winning five awards from the Venice Film Festival, Cassavetes found himself suddenly in the position of making higher-budget films within the studio system. In 1961 he made TOO LATE BLUES followed in 1962 by A CHILD IS WAITING, but neither had the excitement or improvisational energy of SHADOWS. Resentful of studio interference in his work, Cassavetes went back to acting, appearing in a number of films including THE KILLERS (1964), THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), and ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968). By 1968, however, Cassavetes returned to directing, this time working independently.

FACES, a film about the difficulties in a suburban marriage, continued in the vein of SHADOWS, with a loosely drawn script and cinematography that worked in response to the improvised method of the actors. Though some found the work tedious (unscripted scenes going on far longer than Hollywood would have allowed), many realized in Cassavetes the possibility for more genuine and moving moments. After FACES, Cassavetes embarked on HUSBANDS, in which he starred with Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. The film centered around three friends dealing with life and mortality after the death of a mutual friend.

Though neither FACES nor HUSBANDS were very popular with the mainstream moviegoing audience, both were pivotal in the integration of cinema verité traditions in future Hollywood films. This crossover of the experimental and popular was clear in Cassavetes most successful film. Though A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) was produced with a complete script, it retained much of the intuitive and spontaneous acting of Cassavetes’ earlier films. Staring Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, the film investigated the mental illness of a woman and the disintegration of her marriage. Financed independently by the cast and crew, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE was a popular and critical success.

Throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Cassavetes continued to work as both an actor and director. He directed THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976), OPENING NIGHT (1977), and the 1980 film GLORIA which again starred Gena Rowlands, and which many believe was one of her finest performances. By the time of his death in 1989, Cassavetes had directed twelve films, creating a body of work that addressed serious topics and paved the way for a more vibrant American cinema.


  • Big Trouble (1985)
  • Love Streams (1984)
  • Gloria (1980)
  • Opening Night (1977)
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
  • A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
  • Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
  • Husbands (1970)
  • Faces (1968)
  • A Child Is Waiting (1963)
  • Too Late Blues (1962)
  • A Pair of Boots (1962)
  • Shadows (1959)

Here is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:

  • 2/17/19 – “In John Cassavetes’s personal cinema, the director was always trying to break away from the formulas of Hollywood narrative, in order to uncover some fugitive truth about the way people behave. At the same time, he took seriously his responsibilities as a form-giving artist, starting with a careful script (however improvised in appearance). Nowhere was the tension between Cassavetes’s linear and digressive, driven and entropic tendencies more sharply fought out than in THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976), one of his most fascinating achievements.” Phillip Lopate – link
  • 2/18/19 – “A post-noir masterpiece.” Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader – link

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