FACES, JOHN CASSAVETES, 1968
There are a lot of faces in John Cassavetes’ second film, Faces. His camera is not afraid of getting close, sometimes so close that it almost feels like you can see inside the faces inside the characters heads, and behind the façade they exhibit while they are out cavorting. The extreme close-ups are unnerving, the jump-cuts jarring, but altogether, it feels as polished as ever. The story is of a broken marriage, but it is told in an unconventional matter where, of all things, the characters spend much of their time laughing, telling bad jokes, singing, and living it up.
What is Cassavetes trying to say here? Is it that behind every happy face, there is a sad one underneath? Is he saying that laughter is a way of hiding the pain? I cannot claim to have these answers, and probably neither did Cassavetes. Writing this with the benefit of hindsight, we know that he was an alcohol and that’s what led to his eventual passing. He certainly had a lot of loud, raucous nights filled with laughter, but that laughter inevitably ends, and he certainly endured his share of hardship.
He wrote a good script and wanted to do something a little different with it, and some of what happened on screen was probably a direct result of the lack of a budget. Since they were shooting in 16mm, they had to get creative, and had to play with conventions. What he had played around with in Shadows, he nearly perfected in Faces. He made the characters seem like they were real people, with real issues and problems. The fake laughter was and wasn’t acting, as the characters themselves were acting out a scene that was not exactly true to their world – that they were all playing a part in the downfall of a relationship.
And I cannot say enough about the acting. There were two Oscar nominations, for Seymour Cassel and Lynn Carlin, but I think that Gena Rowlands and John Marley brought everything they could to the roles. Even Fred Draper, playing a character with his own name, was terrific at being the schlub who eventually becomes the third wheel, with his transparent attempts to stay within the party being refused. Another terrific performance was given by Joanne Moore Jordan as Louise Draper, who plays a jilted woman trying to take solace in a younger man, Chet, who has eyes for another. The entire ensemble was the best of the few Cassavetes films I’ve seen thus far.
Movie Rating: 8/10
Alternate Opening: The original cut had been over 180 minutes, and has not survived to this day. Apparently Cassavetes buried it after he cut down the film to the theatrical length. This new opening was found later and mixes things around. It begins with the bad joke banter between the Forsts, wbich comes later in the theatrical version. It also fleshes out some of the earlier scenes, including the bar at which Freddie and Richard meet Jeannie and how they end up at her apartment. It doesn’t add much to the movie, but you see that some of what was originally shot and was later cut around was originally a little more developed.
Cinéastes de notre temps: An episode of the French program was has footage of Cassavetes talking about the filmmaking progress before the release of the film, and giving a formal interview after the release. Usually I really enjoy these TV pieces, but this one went a little long and didn’t reveal much about the movie.
Making “Faces”: This was a lot better. It was nearly a feature length documentary about the process by which Faces was made, and had a lot of interesting tidbits from the actors. One thing that struck me was how Cassavates did not direct the actors. He would let them know when they weren’t on their game, but aside from that, they owned the role.
Lighting Faces: This was very technical and probably can only be truly appreciated by those who understand the finer details of cinematography. I admired some of what was revealed about how they used natural lighting, or made the film stock fit the mood of the scene, but much of it was robotic to me.
Criterion Rating: 8.5/10