Friday, June 10, 2011


John Cassavetes, 1968
Starring: John Marley, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin, Seymour Cassel, Fred Draper

Apparently there are few things I love more than being raked over the coals by directors. When I'm forced to rattle off a list of my favorite films, usually I err on the side of fun and entertaining horror films from the sixties, but that isn't really true. The films that have had the biggest impact on my life and writing tend to be serious and kind of gut wrenching. I get a perverse sort of pleasure from suffering through long and difficult films and Faces fits neatly into that category. Clocking in at one hundred and thirty minutes, it's not the sort of two+ hours you would spend with Lord of the Rings or even Caligula. It is an intense downward spiral through the rapidly disintegrating marriage of a middle aged couple, all taking place in one, long, agonized evening.

Richard (John Marley) and Maria Forst (Lynn Carlin) are a typical, middle-aged, bourgeois couple. Richard and his friends hang out with a prostitute, Jeannie (Cassavetes' wife and long time collaborator, the wonderful Gena Rowlands) before he returns home for dinner with his wife. Dinner escalates into an argument, after which Richard and Maria go their separate ways for a night of dancing, singing, partying, mutual infidelity and then a heaping tablespoon or two of SOUL CRUSHING misery.

I don't think summarizing really does Faces justice or serves much of a point, so I'm going to stop there. Needless to say, the film has Cassavetes' usual cinema verite style, which can rub unprepared viewers the wrong way. If you don't know anything about cinema verite, it means that there is a certain degree of documentary style realism coupled with stylized editing and cinematography more consistent with conventional cinema. If you've never watched a scene shot in "real time" with lengthy, natural sounding dialogue, this might not be the film to start with. Long and difficult as it is, it is also an incredibly brilliant and rewarding film. It is actually the first Cassavetes film I saw and has made a long and lasting impression.

I'm still impressed with the film's journey from the beginning, particularly when Richard comes home for dinner, to the devastating ending. It is an honest reflection of the sad, terrible things we often do to the people closest to our hearts. And, like Godard's Contempt, shows how quickly communication can break down within a relationship and a seemingly normal day turns into a series of terrible, momentous decisions. Slings and arrows and whatnot. I think everyone who is considering marriage should be forced to watch Faces. At least twice.

The Criterion special edition is amazing. It is finally available as a stand-alone, double disc purchase or in the fantastic Cassavetes box set Criterion put out a few years ago. The transfer is restored and in high-definition and includes an impressive amount of special features, all of which I found worthwhile. There is an alternate opening and three documentaries, as well as the usual booklet. I say get the box set, but I enjoy being epically punished on a regular basis. It's probably all that ex-Catholic guilt.

On an interesting side note, John Marley and Lynn Carlin play another disintegrating married couple in Bob Clark's amazing Deathdream. Though no one in their right mind would want to sit through another depressing film after Faces, I think it would make an interesting double feature. Crumbling marriages and suburban oppression GALORE. And zombies.

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