Opening Night (1977 film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Opening Night is a 1977 American drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes, and starring Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart, Zohra Lampert, and Cassavetes.


Myrtle Gordon is a famous, middle-aged actress performing out-of-town previews of a new play called Second Woman before its Broadway run. While leaving the theatre after a performance, Myrtle signs autographs and encounters an obsessive teenaged fan, who runs after Myrtle into the street and is struck by a car. Myrtle is unsettled by the incident, and even goes to the girl’s shiva, though her family greets her coolly.

Myrtle struggles to connect with the character she’s playing in Second Woman, finding her to have no motivation beyond her age. Over the course of numerous performances, Myrtle departs from the play’s script in myriad ways, including changing her lines, throwing props around the set, breaking the fourth wall, and collapsing on stage. This frustrates others involved with the play. The writer, Sarah Goode, attempts to force Myrtle into facing her age. Myrtle admits to her that she sees visions of Nancy—the teenager killed in the car accident—which Myrtle considers a projection of her youth.

Myrtle's state of mind deteriorates. She imagines Nancy attacking her, and later she throws herself against the walls of Sarah’s hotel room, breaking her sunglasses and slashing her face. After storming out of a rehearsal, Myrtle visits Sarah’s spiritualist and has another violent encounter with her vision of Nancy, this time fighting back and “killing” Nancy’s ghost. Myrtle attempts to seduce Maurice Aarons—her leading man and a former lover—but he refuses.

Myrtle doesn’t show up on time for her call on opening night. When she finally arrives, Myrtle is so drunk that she can barely stand. With the audience growing restless, director Manny Victor demands the show go on. Myrtle struggles through the show’s opening scenes, collapsing before her entrance and again on stage. As the show continues, Myrtle finds something of a rhythm. By the end, she and Maurice go off script and improvise the play’s final act, to the producers’ chagrin and the audience’s rapturous applause.


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