Approaching its midpoint, the Museum of Television & Radio’s exhumation of John Cassavetes’s television work has been full of line revelations—including two currently on view. Flip Side, made for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation in 1963, is a half-hour tour de force with Cassavetes as “JJ the DJ,” a manic radio personality who spins records and chain-smokes while maintaining an epic off-air phone conversation with his estranged wife. “You think this job has changed me?” he demands, finally losing it under the assault of hostile on-air calls.
This solo act anticipates Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio In Pursuit of Excellence—an hour-long telefilm shown once on Shadows aside, his time had been wasted “playing games—painful and stupid, falsely satisfying and economically rewarding.” The show, which he wrote as well as directed, broods over the plight of a surly overachiever paralyzed by ambivalence. That the star Glenn Corbett is far too old to play a college senior only adds to the sense of entrapment.
Filled with grim freak-outs and turgid dream sequences, In Pursuit of Excellence is as constricted as its protagonist—if not its creator. Cassavetes, who gets a major plug from host Bob Hope in the show’s intro, was already well into the post-production of his self-financed breakthrough, Faces. In Pursuit of Excellence is a kiss-off by a man about to bust loose.